“There is a huge unknown playing Howard,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten. “They have the ability to make plays when plays break down. They find ways to make something out of nothing.”
In the opening round of the TSSAA Class 4A football playoffs Friday, the Cyclones (9-1) will play host to Howard (5-4) at Citizens Bank Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
In another Class 4A game, Sullivan South (7-3) hits the road to battle Chattanooga Central (5-5).
Howard was 1-4 at the midway point, but rallied with four straight wins.
Running back Eric Johnson carried 21 times for 132 yards — including a 79-yard game-clinching touchdown run in the fourth quarter — in the 19-6 season-ending win over East Hamilton. Quarterback Marquez Williams is another threat. He had a touchdown pass and a 30-yard scoring run against Hamilton.
“Our defense has to rise to the occasion,” said Witten. “We have to be disciplined and know the situations. Our experience needs to play a factor.”
Overall, Witten said he believes his team is ready.
“We are playing good football right now, and the kids are confident,” he said. “We have prepared ourselves for this all year.”
The Rebels will try to reverse a 45-42 loss in last year’s first-round matchup.
“Last year was tough,” said head coach Justin Hilton. “Our kids went down there and laid it on the line, but came up a little short. The leaders of our team need to be sure we bring the same intensity and focus this year.”
Central has dealt with its share of injuries, including the loss of standout running back Michael McGhee. Hunter Jones rushed for 75 yards in the regular season finale, a 34-0 loss at the hands of Class 2A power Tyner.
“They have a lot of speed and athleticism,” said Hilton. “They will be a great challenge for our football team, and a win would be a huge step for our program.”