This may be the first time it has ever happened in Northeast Tennessee.
Second-ranked Elizabethton will play host to two-time defending Class 4A state champion Greeneville in a battle for first place in Region 1-4A at Citizens Bank Stadium on Friday night.
|How they compare
|Class 4A state ranking
|Record since 2015
|Last win in series
|Total offense leader
|Head coach (seasons)
||Dan Hammonds (1)
||Shawn Witten (13)
The game will be televised locally by WCYB-TV on Tri-Cities The CW.
“I think any time you get to a big game where there is a lot of hype, you have to focus on the small details,” said Witten. “You can’t get away from what you do. The kids don’t have to do anything but just play hard, execute things, and be really sound. We keep reminding our kids, it’s discipline.
“We have to get multiple guys to the ball. We have to finish blocks. And we have to take care of the ball. We want to make sure our guys understand that no matter what happens, they need to play the next play.”
Perhaps the biggest thing at stake for this game is gaining the inside edge for a home playoff game if they meet again in the quarterfinals, and also avoiding a potential second-round matchup with No. 4-ranked Anderson County.
Elizabethton enters the game with a perfect overall record of 7-0 while the Greene Devils have won six straight games since a season-opening loss to Knox Powell. Both teams are 3-0 in region play.
Elizabethton hasn’t beaten Greeneville in a decade, and the Greene Devils have bagged four state championship trophies and one runner-up finish since that setback to the Cyclones.
Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten said Greeneville is still Greeneville, despite heavy graduation losses and a new coach in Dan Hammonds.
“Not a lot has changed,” said Witten. “It’s still a Greeneville team that expects to win, and still has the same mentality running the football. They are strong and want to punish you with a very physical game.
“It’s the same schemes. Greeneville has never done a lot as far as Xs and Os. You just have to stop it. They are about wearing you down and imposing their will on you. If you stop it one time, you have to stop it the next. They keep bringing it to you.”
Hammonds, who took over for Caine Ballard, said his team should be ready for the environment.
“I would hope that previous experience would pay off for our guys to play on TV and in front of a large crowd,” said Hammonds. “We talk as a team about how they have earned, through their work and play, the opportunity to play in games like this.
“These seniors were at Elizabethton two years ago with the same implications on the line. We have been through some big games the last few years, but at the end of the day someone will kickoff and a ballgame will be played. We have to settle in and play our game.”
GREENE DEVILS’ OFFENSE
The Greene Devils have gotten good production from the quarterback position with Blayne Ferguson throwing for 660 yards and six scores while Drew Gregg has contributed 360 yards and four touchdowns. Gregg has also rushed for 301 yards and six scores.
“At times they use both of them,” said Witten. “Gregg took more snaps in the last two games. Both guys do a great job running the system, and both bring the same thing to the offense.”
The ground attack is tough with Mason Gudger leading the way with 544 yards and seven scores. Ty Youngblood is a power runner who has gained 461 yards and scored nine times.
“They obviously have a lot of size up front and two great running backs,” said Witten. “Both are difficult to tackle, and both are playmakers.”
Elizabethton has its own set of standout players. Leading the way is quarterback Bryson Rollins, who has 1,533 total yards on the season with 988 passing. He has accounted for 24 total touchdowns.
Running back Cade Maupin (665 yards rushing) and receiver Parker Hughes (501 yards receiving, 10 touchdowns) are also threats, and the skill players work alongside a rock-solid offensive line.
“Our offensive line has been able to give us a running game,” said Witten. “It brings physicality, and it is tough and strong. We are more balanced than last year, where we had to throw it almost every play against Greeneville.
“And we have guys who can make some plays. We still have speed. We can create some mismatches.”
WHAT HAMMONDS SEES
Hammonds said Elizabethton has many things working for it on offense.
“They are balanced,” he said. “They have playmakers at every position. You have to account for the quarterback on every snap. The offensive line plays hard and comes off the ball well.”
Greeneville will attack that offense with a defense led by Ty Youngblood (67 tackles, 12 for loss), Leyton Mitchel (45 tackles, 8 sacks) and AJ Stewart (4 interceptions).
When Greeneville has the ball, Hammonds said his team will face a good line.
“They are strong in the defensive line,” said Hammonds. “They do a good job playing off blocks. They fly around and get to the ball. It’s hard to get them out of position.”
Deuce Morton has been a big factor at linebacker, totaling a team-high 67 tackles. Joseph Kechter (44 tackles), Carson Stresemann (41 tackles, 5 for loss) and Jake Roberts (3 interceptions) are also key components to a strong unit.
Witten said his team has come a long way on the defensive side of the ball.
“We’ve tightened up some areas,” he said. “We really have a lot of confidence. Against Greeneville you try to avoid giving up the big plays. You want to make them put some drives together. That’s the way we’ve done it in the past.”
Elizabethton’s Jaxton Holly has made all 39 of his kicks this year with 37 extra points and two field goals.
Greeneville kicker CeJ Jones is 35 of 38 on extra points — all three misses came against Science Hill — and 2 of 3 on field goal attempts.
LAST YEAR’S IMPACT
The Cyclones played Greeneville its closest game last year, losing 35-20 in a contest that had a one-score differential in the fourth quarter. In 2017, it was a 24-10 Greeneville win in a game that was tied 3-3 at halftime.
But Witten said his team can’t rely on history.
“Just because we played well against them in the past, the kids can’t expect it’s just going to happen again,” he said. “It’s different people and a different team. We have to focus on the little things.”