It was an exciting step.
And it was a necessary step.
But for Elizabethton to get where it ultimately wants to be, it was the first of six important steps the Cyclones still face.
Elizabethton’s thrilling 24-21 win over Greeneville on Friday night at Citizens Bank Stadium was everything a high school football fan could want. It featured a shocking comeback from a two-touchdown deficit, a pair of impressive goal-line stands that each went in Elizabethton’s favor, a pair of critical third-down conversions by the Cyclones, and impressive determination running the ball by Greeneville’s Mason Gudger and Elizabethton’s Cade Maupin.
And of course, it was capped by The Kick. Jaxton Holly’s 34-yard boot with seven seconds left on the clock was the ultimate play of the game. But this contest featured many big moments.
The next step for the Cyclones is taking care of league business. A win over Sullivan South next week or a Week 11 victory against Sullivan Central will lock up first place in the region.
The next four steps would be playoff victories, which would put the Cyclones in the state title game for the first time since 1938. Yes, 81 years ago.
Of course, facing the challenge of needing to beat Greeneville a second time appears likely to be part of the path.
The Cyclones struck first, and it was the kind of play that seemed to signal they were in the business of winning. Receiver Parker Hughes used his height, size and athletic ability to win a jump ball at the goal line for a 38-yard score.
It was a superbly thrown pass by Bryson Rollins and actually a good effort to defend by Greeneville’s Keyontae Harrison.
Trailing 14-7, the Cyclones put together a terrific goal-line stand. It was especially notable because Greeneville has lived on being a team that wins these types of in-game battles almost every time.
The Cyclones could have hung their heads. Being down 21-7 late in the third quarter, it seemed like the outcome was signed, sealed and delivered.
But Dobyns-Bennett transfer Cade Maupin said, “Everybody believes in everybody. We kept saying, ‘What does this game mean to you?’ This game means the world to everybody on this team. We fought with everything we had in us.”
There’s no denying that Maupin has impacted this team in a highly positive way.
CHANGING THE NARRATIVE
It was going to take something special to spark a comeback, and Rollins hooked up with Zach C. Hartley to provide it.
On third and 10 from the Cyclones’ 41, Rollins escaped pressure. When he broke loose from the pocket, Hartley went into scramble mode. He went deep as a Greeneville defender set his sights on Rollins. Wide open down the sideline, Hartley caught the pass in stride. He broke a tackle near the 5-yard line and dove to the pylon for the score. It was 21-14 and the Cyclones had a thumping heartbeat.
Greeneville had the ball at Elizabethton’s 37-yard line in the fourth quarter. It seemed like time for the Greene Devils to put the game away.
But two running plays were handled by the Cyclones’ defense, followed by a false start. An incomplete pass forced a punt, which was downed at the Cyclones’ 5-yard line.
Elizabethton’s defense, a key part of this season’s success, stood up time after time.
“Relentless effort by our guys,” said Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten of his entire team. “We are humbled and appreciative to win this game. Greeneville is so tough. You have to expect to win, and that’s what our kids did.”
Cade Maupin’s 50-yard run on first down changed everything. First, it changed field position. Second, it put Greeneville on its heels for probably the first time in the game. And third, it gave the Cyclones needed evidence that it could tie the game.
Rollins and Maupin took turns pounding the Greene Devils’ defense. The Cyclones eventually needed a dramatic fourth-down quarterback sneak by Rollins at the end of a tough goal-line stand by Greeneville to knot the score.
ONE MORE STOP
Halting Greeneville at this point in the game may have been the finest work of the Cyclones’ defense.
Gudger got a first down with a pair of carries, but the Cyclones sniffed out a bubble screen for a two-yard loss. Then they stuffed powerful Ty Youngblood for no gain.
On third and 12, Parker Hughes made the defensive play of the game. Covering Greeneville’s Will Albright, Hughes’ leaping deflection of a pass at the first-down sticks gave the ball back to the Cyclones.
WHAT THE WIN MEANS
Things still have to shake out.
Assuming the Cyclones earn the top spot in Region 1, Anderson County must defeat East Hamilton on Friday. That would likely mean the Mavericks would land on the same side of the playoff bracket with Greeneville.
If Anderson loses to East Hamilton, the Cyclones would potentially face Anderson in the second round again — although it would be at home.
“We know what it’s like to go to Anderson County two years in a row,” said Witten. “We want to have home-field advantage all the way through, and be right here on this field.”
There’s still plenty of football remaining. Stay tuned.