In each of the last two seasons, Austin-East has played its final football game at Rider Field.
Can Elizabethton make it three in a row?
The Cyclones will play host to the Roadrunners in a TSSAA Class 3A playoff game tonight. Kickoff is set for 7 o’clock.
“This game has kind of been our signature win, but anytime a Northeast Tennessee team plays a Knoxville team you know what you’re up against,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten.
The Cyclones are 8-3 while A-E comes in with a record of 7-4.
In the other area Class 3A game, Sullivan North plays host to Chuckey-Doak. In Class 4A, Greeneville has a home game against Strawberry Plains Carter.
Elizabethton earned its second-round spot with a 38-18 win over Happy Valley, while the Roadrunners stopped West Greene 21-6.
It all starts for Austin-East with senior running back Curtis King. He has rushed for 1,630 yards on the season and has topped the 200-yard mark twice. Backfield mate Cordy Cox is also a threat as a power runner.
“They are a very run-oriented team,” said Witten. “King is explosive. Both of them have a number of carries, and they are their most experienced players.
“We’ve got to tackle well, and we can’t give up the long run. We’ve got to gang tackle and get to the football.”
Size could be part of the issue.
“This is probably the biggest A-E team we’ve faced,” said Witten. “They are really big on the offensive line.”
However, depth is a factor.
“They play a lot of guys both ways,” said Witten. “We’ve got to do a good job of wearing them down.”
When Elizabethton has the ball, it will rely on its 1,000-yard pass-run combination of quarterback McKenly Berry and running back Terrence Turner.
Berry has thrown for 1,555 yards and 21 touchdowns on the season. His favorite target is Chad Pritchard, who has 30 catches and eight total touchdowns.
Meanwhile, Turner has rushed for 1,275 yards and scored 12 touchdowns. Witten said Turner is close to 100 percent (turf toe) for the first time in a month, and is the Cyclones’ X factor.
When Turner isn’t carrying the ball, freshman Ethan Thomas will get some looks. Thomas rushed for 96 yards on 10 carries against Happy Valley.
“Anytime we run the ball well, we’re a better passing team,” said Witten. “We’ve got to do a good job of mixing it up.
“We can’t make critical mistakes. We’ve need to allow them to make mistakes and put pressure on them.”
Special teams could also play a role. The Cyclones struggled mightily on special teams in the first-round game, including missed extra points and poor punting.
“We’ve put an emphasis on it,” said Witten. “We started and finished practice on it.”
Chuckey-Doak (8-3) at Sullivan North (11-0) — The Black Knights have enjoyed a banner season and can tie a school record with a win here.
However, nobody has touched the Raiders this season, who have set their own school record with 11 wins.
Ball control will almost surely decide the issue here as each team will be interested in keeping the other team’s offense on the sidelines.
Carter (7-4) at Greeneville (10-1) — Being focused remains the Greene Devils’ key to marching forward in the playoffs as they are again a heavy favorite.
Carter can put some points on the board, having totaled 25 or more in six games this season. However, Greeneville has not allowed more than 18 points in any game.
Greene Devils’ head coach Caine Ballard is 10-1 in his career in the playoffs.