After 35 years, it’s getting harder to imagine it will ever change.
Tri-Cities area high school football teams have so much trouble measuring up once they step outside of this little corner of the state. There’s not much to brag about since the TSSAA went to a true statewide playoff system in 1976.
Hang time is hard to find. In one swift boot, favored Elizabethton, Hampton and Dobyns-Bennett were swept out of the playoffs Friday night. All three teams had a chance to win in the fourth quarter.
And on the other side of the spectrum, underdog Science Hill was beaten so soundly that the Knoxville News-Sentinel article stated it was like Maryville had a second-round bye. Sullivan South met a similar fate at the hands of Knox West.
Yes, Sullivan North is still alive and kicking in the Class 3A playoffs after its thrilling 48-41 win over Chuckey-Doak. However, the Raiders had so much trouble with Doak, it’s hard to imagine they can beat Austin-East in next week’s quarterfinals.
One reason: North’s schedule. The Raiders can only point to Elizabethton as a signature win, and Austin-East certainly won’t be impressed with that after its 16-7 win over the Cyclones.
Another reason: Austin-East can do what Doak did on the ground to the Raiders, and the Roadrunners’ defense is much better than Doak’s unit. Even if A-E makes defensive mistakes against North’s deceptive offense, they have the athleticism run the problem down.
The Cyclones were absolutely manhandled by Austin-East’s defense. With running back Terrence Turner ineffective because of a turf-toe injury, A-E didn’t just make the Cyclones one-dimensional. They made them two-thirds dimensional.
Elizabethton did not gain a single passing yard in the middle of the field — and got almost nothing running in the middle, either. All seven of McKenly Berry’s completions were to the outside. When a team doesn’t have to cover the whole field, defense is much easier.
Elizabethton’ s defense got pounded by A-E’s ground attack all night long. But give the Cyclones’ defenders credit for picking themselves off the ground and keeping the team in the game by refusing to let the Roadrunners finish off some of their drives.
In fact, A-E’s field goal attempt with 3:07 left in the game — instead of going for it on fourth and one at the 5-yard line — was a tip of the hat to Elizabethton’s stubborn defense, especially since the Roadrunners had previously missed an extra point.
As for Science Hill, getting stronger was certainly an important step this season. But the Hilltoppers — along with every other team in Northeast Tennessee — need to get better at tackling, executing run blocks, and pass protection.
That just takes good old-fashioned hard work by the coaching staff and the players.
Knoxville-area teams are tough, it’s true. But logic says it not a major talent issue.
Here is an example from this season to prove that point: Science Hill stood toe to toe with Greeneville (26-18) and the Greene Devils beat Alcoa into cowering submission (42-14) while the Tornadoes fought to the end against Maryville (26-19).
So if it’s not talent, it must be belief or desire. Science Hill has the desire, but the belief has to follow. The movie “Facing the Giants” makes the statement, “Your actions will always follow your beliefs.” Yes, it’s a fictional story, but that statement is dripping with truth.
If Science Hill didn’t believe it would beat Maryville — that true inner belief, not the fake outward rah-rah belief — then the Hilltoppers were defeated before the game began, just like the Knoxville paper suggested.
“Actions follow your beliefs” applies to Dobyns-Bennett, too. When the first really bad thing happened to the Indians against Sevier County, the dam broke and a 28-point lead disappeared into a 35-28 overtime loss.
It was just like the Chicago Cubs in 2003 baseball playoffs. When Steve Bartman interfered with Moises Alou as he tried to catch a foul ball, the Cubs and their fans’ true beliefs were exposed.
True belief is normally only exposed when subjected to end-of-season adversity.
Again, it’s the deep-down belief, something coaches can’t see and players can’t reveal — until they step between the white lines. Saying it’s there is meaningless. Proving it’s there is the only way.
As for Hampton, the Bulldogs probably didn’t have a belief problem with Oneida in a 20-16 loss. Their issue was probably more in the head than in the heart.
One personal foul can change an entire game. Getting five in the second half of a close playoff game can only be termed as unacceptable, and deserving of a loss.
All of this leads to two important things. First, Sullivan North still has a chance to change everything for Tri-Cities football.
Unfortunately the Raiders can’t do it by just beating Austin-East. Elizabethton did that two years in a row.
No, the Raiders will have to beat the Roadrunners and follow it up with win over Alcoa or Christian Academy of Knoxville. A tall order indeed.
The other thing is Greeneville. Located just a few miles outside of the Tri-Cities, the Greene Devils feel like part of the family.
They’ve got the heart issue figured out, and they are a legitimate threat to win a second straight Class 4A state title.
Greeneville has changed the landscape for Northeast Tennessee. Which Tri-Cities area program will step into the same shoes and bring a football state championship home?
The door is still open for Sullivan North. Science Hill has a lot of talent heading into next year. D-B will still be D-B. Elizabethton will have a monster duo in the backfield in 2012.
Step up. This area is growing old waiting.