ELIZABETHTON — This time, Happy Valley came to play.
However, once Elizabethton realized it was in a fight the Cyclones responded with a fury.
The Warriors scored the game’s first two touchdowns, but Elizabethton ran off 38 unanswered points and eventually earned a tougher-than-expected 38-18 victory in the opening round of the TSSAA Class 3A football playoffs at Rider Field on Friday night.
Elizabethton improved to 8-3 with its fourth straight win, and moved into the second round. The Cyclones will play host to Austin-East, a 21-6 winner over West Greene.
Happy Valley finished the year at 6-5, but the Warriors made sure Elizabethton knew they were not going to roll over. Clearly, the Cyclones underestimated them.
“I feel like since we beat them 41-0 the first time, we thought we could come out and not play that hard and still get the win,” said Cyclones’ receiver Chad Pritchard. “We found out it was not going to be that way.”
Happy Valley muffed the opening kickoff, but Elizabethton couldn’t come up with the point-blank recovery. Dodging that bullet seemed to ignite the Warriors, who pounded down the field and nearly had a touchdown pass on fourth down from Elizabethton’s 21-yard line.
Then on the Cyclones’ first play from scrimmage, Terrence Turner fumbled and Zack Ball scooped it up for a 22-yard touchdown. The extra point, as would happen for each of the next four attempts for the two teams, was no good.
It would seem like that play would have shaken the Cyclones to life. However, Elizabethton went three and out and the Warriors responded with another brutal drive. Jaylen Simmons pounded in from the 4-yard line to make it 12-0.
At that point in the game — still in the first quarter — Simmons had nine carries for 91 yards and Happy Valley was dominating the line of scrimmage.
Still struggling to deal with the Warriors’ enthusiasm, the Cyclones made another mistake by turning the ball over with an unexpected snap that Happy Valley recovered.
However, the Cyclones defense forced a punt and set the stage for a game-changing play. On first down, McKenly Berry zipped a strike to Chad Pritchard for a 51-yard score on the last play of the first quarter.
“McKenly put it right where it needed to be, and I took it to the house,” said Pritchard.
Cyclones head coach Shawn Witten said the team had worked on that play during the week.
“It was an empty set with Chad in the slot, one on one with a linebacker,” said Witten. “Chad ran a great route and McKenly did a good job hitting him.”
The Cyclones went to their freshman in the second quarter, and running back Ethan Thomas responded with a 39-yard touchdown run to make it 12-12 with 3:08 left before halftime.
The Warriors tried to throw from deep in their own territory, but Wes Montgomery picked it off. He fumbled, but the Cyclones recovered and maintained possession.
Elizabethton took full advantage of the turnover as Berry lofted a 30-yard pass toward the pylon and a leaping Pritchard made a “Saturday Catch,” getting both feet down for an 18-12 lead by the Cyclones.
Pritchard had dropped an easy touchdown pass earlier in the quarter.
“I felt I had to make up for that drop, so I concentrated hard,” said Pritchard, who had four catches for 117 yards and two touchdowns.
The Cyclones came out with fire in their eyes in the third quarter. Terrence Turner broke free for a 42-yard touchdown run on the first series, and the Warriors were staggered with a 25-12 deficit.
“That took the air out of us,” said Shively. “We were really tired. Our depth got us some tonight.
“But we had a great effort. I couldn’t ask for anything better from this group of football players.”
Happy Valley went for it on fourth down at its own 40, but failed to convert. Four plays later, Berry hit Drew Holsclaw with a 25-yard scoring strike to make it 32-12.
Happy Valley punted and the Cyclones drove again. This time, Zach Moore powered in from six yards out to make it 38-12.
At that point, the outcome was not in doubt. But the Warriors, to their credit, kept battling.
Simmons pounded in from three yards out to make it 38-18. The junior finished with a very impressive 24 carries for 161 yards and two scores.
Happy Valley recovered an on-sides kick, and Seth Davis hit Brady Potter for a 23-yard gain to Elizabethton’s 22. But an interception ended the drive and Happy Valley’s last threat.
For the Cyclones, Thomas finished with 96 yards on 10 carries while Turner had 68 on nine carries. Berry finished 6 of 12 for 166 yards.
“The kids faced adversity, and this was a great learning experience,” said Witten.
Nearly 200 yards worth of penalties caused the game to last nearly three hours. The Warriors were flagged 11 times for 102 yards while the Cyclones were hit with 10 penalties for 96 yards.