ELIZABETHTON — Stone cold defense with a side of speed.
Elizabethton didn’t order it, but Austin-East still delivered it.
The end result was a 16-7 victory for the Roadrunners in the second round of the TSSAA Class 3A football playoffs Friday night at Rider Field.
It was a season-ender for the Cyclones, who finished 8-4. Austin-East improved to 8-4 and will travel to play Sullivan North in next week’s quarterfinals.
Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten said A-E’s team speed was the difference.
“With their pass rush, we had trouble staying on our blocks,” said Witten, whose team didn’t complete a pass until the third quarter. “Their speed on defense was a really big factor.”
Cyclones quarterback McKenly Berry agreed.
“They blitzed on every single play,” said Berry. “It was hard to keep my eyes open down the field. They were just the better team.”
Elizabethton had just 17 yards of total offense in the first half, and finished the game with 30 yards rushing on 21 attempts. Leading rusher Terrence Turner was limited because of an ankle injury, and he carried only seven times for 35 yards.
On the other hand, Austin-East’s ground game was dominant. The Roadrunners had 62 rushing attempts for 299 yards.
Leading the way was Curtis King, who carried the ball 31 times for 206 yards. Cordy Cox added 62 yards on 13 carries.
Despite all of those staggering stats in A-E’s favor, the Cyclones still had a chance to win in the fourth quarter. Trailing 13-0 after Keshawn Johnson’s 1-yard touchdown run in the first quarter and King’s 8-yard scoring run in the third, the Cyclones seemed to get some life by stopping A-E on downs late in the third quarter.
Berry, who finished 7 of 19 for 125 yards, finally got the passing game on track. He hit Zach Treadway for 41 yards and Drew Holsclaw for 32 yards, the latter a touchdown that made it 13-7 with 11:03 left in the game.
The Roadrunners drove to the Cyclones’ 18, but were stopped on downs again. Elizabethton began attacking through the air and moved near midfield. However, a penalty, a pass for a 7-yard loss, and a sack forced a punt.
“My kids came to play today,” said A-E head coach Robert Gillard. “Our kids are more mentally tough than they’ve ever been. Our defense has been doing this all year against everybody we’ve played.”
Austin-East linebacker Jarod Henderson led the defense with 14 tackles and a sack.
Elizabethton stopped the Roadrunners again, but this time Austin-East went for a field goal on fourth and one from the Cyclones’ 5-yard line. It was an interesting decision because the Roadrunners lost last year’s game when they went for a 2-point conversion instead of attempting an extra point. And the Roadrunners had missed an extra point in this game.
“I thought about going for it, but we’ve really been working on kicking this year,” said Gillard.
Jyshon Forbes booted the 23-yard attempt through the uprights to pretty much seal the outcome with 3:07 remaining.
Elizabethton drove into A-E territory again, but turned the ball over on downs.
“Our kids fought hard and played extremely well,” said Witten. “We fought to the end. The kids’ effort was tremendous.”
Witten said the seniors should go out with their heads held up.
“We’ve won 28 games in three years,” he said. “There’s a lot to be proud of. These seniors have accomplished a lot.”
Luke Nidiffer paced led the Cyclones’ defense with 15 tackles.