ELIZABETHTON — Even in the heavy favorite role, head coaches hope for consistent play and good execution.
Check and check, for Elizabethton’s football team Friday night.
The Cyclones looked like a fine-tuned machine at times, running away from Unicoi County in the first quarter and finishing it off for a 52-0 victory in a Three Rivers Conference contest at Rider Field.
Elizabethton improved to 2-1 in league play and 5-3 overall. The Blue Devils slipped to 1-2, 2-5.
“I think our effort was a reflection of how we practiced this week,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten. “We got the kids’ attention, got physical and got back to the basics. The coaching staff did a good job.
“I’m extremely proud of the guys. We made some huge strides, and we need to continue going forward.”
The Cyclones were a picture of precision and efficiency in the first quarter. Four plays, touchdown. Three and out. Four plays, touchdown. Three and out. Six plays, touchdown. Three and out.
It was 21-0 and Unicoi County was reeling.
“I was very pleased,” said Witten. “We wanted to play a fast tempo, and we outmanned them a little bit.”
Receiver Wes Montgomery got the first score, hauling in a sweet throw from McKenly Berry for a 58-yard connection.
Running back Terrence Turner got into the act next, outracing the Blue Devils’ defense for a 28-yard touchdown.
On the next possession, Drew Holsclaw caught a lob fade from Berry from 13 yards out to make it 21-0 just 10 minutes into the game.
Elizabethton stalled on its next drive, but it turned into an opportunity. After a bad shotgun snap on third-and-1 from the Unicoi 10, the Cyclones sent place-kicker Christine Hardin out for a 33-yard attempt. The junior booted it through with plenty to spare for her second field goal of the season.
Hardin later missed a 32-yard attempt, but was 7 of 7 on extra-point attempts despite some snapping and holding issues.
The Cyclones finally got stopped by Unicoi’s defense, turning the ball over on downs in Blue Devils’ territory. However, after Unicoi’s fifth straight three and out, the Cyclones needed just three plays to strike again. This time, Turner scampered 29 yards to make it 31-0.
In just one half of work, Turner totaled 160 yards on 16 carries. The junior has rushed for 765 total yards in his last four games.
And the Cyclones weren’t finished. After another three and out, Berry threw a sizzling strike to hit a crossing Montgomery in stride. The 44-yard hookup made it 38-0.
By the end of the first half, Berry had completed 11 of 15 passes for 209 yards and three touchdown passes. Berry hit six different receivers, and the second scoring strike to Montgomery was probably his best toss of the evening.
“(Berry) was looking at me, but at first I was covered,” said Montgomery. “I kept going and tried to find a hole. He was patient with the ball and then he hit me in stride.”
Sometimes a defensive unit will let down a bit when the score gets out of hand, or sometimes the second-stringers will give up some points. But Elizabethton locked down from start to finish, allowing Unicoi only 74 total yards — including 24 yards on 24 rushing attempts.
Senior defensive lineman Dustin Phillips said it just goes back to practice.
“We had a really rough week of practice,” said Phillips. “We worked hard and got better. We’re trying to make ourselves better for the playoffs. And tonight we played with heart and emotion.”
The Cyclones defense sacked Unicoi quarterback Austin Hensley four times, intercepted two passes, and forced Unicoi to punt seven times in 11 full possessions.
In the second half, Elizabethton’s offense kept right on rolling. The Cyclones got a powerful 33-yard touchdown run from Clayton Smith in the third quarter, and Caleb Armstrong capped off the scoring with a three-yard run with 5:30 left in the game.
Montgomery said he believes the Cyclones will be tough to stop on offense from here on out.
“When the running game is clicking and McKenly is absolutely slinging the ball, it’s almost impossible to defend us,” said Montgomery.