It was the way the Cyclones did it, ending any doubt about which school had the better football team this year.
Trailing by two touchdowns to the two-time defending state champions, the Cyclones dominated the last three quarters of the game and walked out of Citizens Bank Stadium on Friday night with a 24-13 victory in a Class 4A state quarterfinal contest.
The Cyclones, who are ranked No. 1 in the state, scored 24 unanswered points for the emphatic victory.
“It takes a lot of willpower and a lot of guts,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten. “We talked about having grit. You gotta dig deep. We got knocked down, I’m telling you. We absolutely got knocked down, 13-0, and we stormed straight back. It’s an incredible feeling. Our guys stayed poised and we believed in each other tonight.”
It set a single-season school record for wins as the Cyclones improved to 13-0.
“Thirteen wins and a school record, it’s unbelievable,” Witten said.
It ended Greeneville’s streak of 12 straight playoff wins. And it moved Elizabethton into the state semifinals next week against Nolensville, a 42-6 winner over DeKalb County. Nolensville, located about halfway between Murfreesboro and Franklin, will travel to take on the Cyclones.
On the western side of the bracket, Springfield defeated Hardin County, 28-21 in overtime. Haywood outlasted Crockett County, 41-35.
As for the Greene Devils, they finished their season with a record of 10-3. Two of losses came against the Cyclones on the same field with the first one a 24-21 thriller on Oct. 18.
THE EXCLAMATION POINT
Leading 24-13, the Cyclones got the ball on their own 20-yard line with a little over seven minutes left in the game. A brute-force drive sealed the Greene Devils’ fate with Cade Maupin and Rollins simply willing the team to first downs behind a terrific performance from an impressive offensive line.
“Give all the credit to the line,” said Maupin, who carried 25 times for 120 yards. “None of those holes would have been there if not for our linemen. Greeneville has some big guys and they were moving them like they were nothing.”
Witten said, “Bryson Rollins and Cade Maupin were men running the football.”
THE MOUTH PUNCH
Greeneville didn’t have its entire arsenal as running back Mason Gudger was clearly limited with a leg injury reportedly suffered last week against Anderson County. The standout running back carried only three times for two yards.
It didn’t make much difference early as the Greene Devils came out with a mighty dose of quarterback Drew Gregg. A 12-play Gregg-heavy drive culminated with a 21-yard touchdown pass to AJ Stewart. The extra point was blocked and Greeneville led 6-0 before the Cyclones touched the ball.
Elizabethton went three and out, and on the next series Gregg hit Nick Iezzi with a 58-yard pass. That set things up for a seven-yard touchdown run by Ty Youngblood for a 13-0 Greeneville lead.
That was it. From there to the start of the fourth quarter, Greeneville managed only one first down. The Cyclones outgained Greeneville 328-227 for the game after the Greene Devils had 153 yards on the first two drives.
Elizabethton responded with a 10-play drive that ended with Parker Hughes’ superb catch in the corner of the end zone for a 12-yard score.
After a short punt by Greeneville, the Cyclones struck again. This time, it was Zach Hartley with a stunning catch. He jumped, and as he was falling to the ground he pinned the ball to his shoulder with his left hand.
“I saw it in the air, and it happened to get in my hands,” said Hartley. “I think it gave us a whole lot of momentum, but it was a team effort. Our defense really stepped up. And Bryson Rollins, he was crazy tonight.”
The Cyclones took a 14-13 lead into the locker room. And after the teams traded punts, the Cyclones drove deep into Greeneville territory and settled for a 24-yard field goal from Jaxton Holly.
On the next drive, following a Deuce Morton sack, Hughes picked off a pass and set the Cyclones up for the insurance score. Rollins powered into the end zone from five yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Greeneville drove into Elizabethton territory, but turned the ball over on downs with Jake Roberts picking off a pass in the end zone on fourth down.
Rollins carried 25 times for 99 yards. He completed 7 of 10 passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns.
For Greeneville, Gregg had 16 carries for 46 yards. He was 10 of 15 passing for 152 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Iezzi finished with six catches for 110 yards.