ELIZABETHTON — Offense, defense, special teams — Elizabethton got big efforts in all phases of the game Thursday night to rout Sullivan East 48-6 and wrap up second place in the Three Rivers Conference at Brown-Childress Stadium.
It assured the Cyclones (4-1, 7-3) of home-field advantage in the first round of next week’s TSSAA Class 3A playoffs.
“We’ve got some weapons, even when people are down,” Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten said. “I like our effort and I like how we are playing smart football. Under the conditions, we still wanted to do a lot of things. We played a good football team tonight, but we’re excited about the progress we’ve made.”
The Patriots, who will play in Class 4A, ended 3-2 in the Three Rivers and fell to 7-3 overall.
With starting tailback Terrence Turner seeing limited action, freshman running back Ethan Thomas led the Cyclones efforts with 131 rushing yards on 13 carries. But it was a big defensive play that led to Elizabethton’s first score.
Wes Montgomery lowered his shoulder and knocked the ball free from East’s Chase Castle which Chad Pritchard scooped up for a 25-yard touchdown return.
“I saw Wes put the helmet on him and the ball popped straight up,” Pritchard said. “Luckily for me, I was already running that way and it bounced into my hands.”
Montgomery talked about the collision that got things rolling for Elizabethton.
“We ran Cover 2 and I followed my guy, the outside receiver,” Montgomery said. “I saw him breaking on an out route. Then I saw the ball was high and I had a shot at it. I saw him sprawled out and just unloaded on him with my weight on him.”
After that momentum builder, the Cyclones strung together an impressive nine-play, 64-yard drive on their next offensive possession to take a 13-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.
In the second quarter, Caleb Bailey’s 57-yard punt return gave Elizabethton field position at the East 17. Three plays later, Clayton Smith plowed in from eight yards for a 20-0 lead.
East came back before the half, as the Cyclone defense committed a roughing the passer penalty on a fourth-down stop to keep the drive alive. With the second life, the Patriots’ Daniel Truett found Dylan Ratliff in the right corner of the end zone with six seconds left in the half. It made it a 20-6 game at the break.
However, Elizabethton put the pedal down in the second half, scoring on all four possessions.
Thomas broke free on a 64-yard run only four plays into the half, and Pritchard added an interception moments later. Luke Nidiffer scored on a 16-yard run three plays later to give the Cyclones a 34-6 lead at the 8:19 mark.
Quarterback McKenly Berry added a touchdown run later in the third quarter and Landon Pearson ran in the final score in the fourth.
Overall, Elizabethton outgained East 359-173 and forced four Patriot turnovers.
“We knew they had most of the momentum coming into the second half,” Pritchard said. “We were up by two (scores) coming into the third quarter, so we wanted to have the same momentum we had at the start of the game. We did that and played good in the second half.”