And it showed Friday night.
Yes, the Cyclones have standout players and good athletes. But this is a unit that seems to be getting better as a team every week — still, after 14 games.
Cyclones fans might have pointed to quarterback Bryson Rollins, a TSSAA Mr. Football semifinalist, as the impetus for victory. Others might have taken notice of running back Cade Maupin, or an offensive line that has risen above expectations. Some folks might have seen a defense that didn’t take a lot of chances but made a ton of plays.
Of course some people could have looked at head coach Shawn Witten, witnessing the togetherness his team displayed.
There were plenty of angles to view it, but Friday’s 34-12 win over Nolensville in the TSSAA Class 4A state semifinals was blended into a composite picture of many things.
The Cyclones have done a tremendous job this season of adapting to the moment. It started in Week 1 against Science Hill and never stopped. Whatever it takes on a given Friday, the Cyclones have won the game that way.
It took a couple of big-time late-game plays to get past William Blount. It took a stirring comeback to strike down Greeneville the first time.
A blocked extra point was the necessary element to avoid getting upset by Sullivan South after beating the Greene Devils.
In the rematch with Greeneville, it took another comeback and one of the best defensive efforts of the season.
In Friday’s game the Cyclones took command shortly after Nolensville lost its Mr. Football finalist, Tim Coutras, to a knee injury in the first quarter. Yes, it possibly changed the game immensely as Coutras is a Division I-level player as a safety and also a big-time receiving threat. The Knights had to rely more on their ground game than any time this season.
But keep in mind the Cyclones had two interceptions before Coutras went down. Elizabethton’s defense was ready to play. If Coutras hadn’t been injured, it would have been a different game but not necessarily a different outcome.
In fact, Nolensville rode its ground game to cut a 14-0 deficit to just two points before halftime.
But the Cyclones used halftime to make their own adjustments to the new Nolensville attack, and they controlled the second half.
It was so impressive to watch Elizabethton utilize all of its ability to win this game. Rollins took care of the football in the air. He ate a pass or two to avoid interceptions, taking a negative play over the potential loss of possession. Against most teams, aggressiveness tends to be better. Against the ball-hawking Knights’ defense, caution was sometimes more friend than foe.
Rollins has shown time and time again he’s a heady player. He’s a sophomore beyond his years, and he’s a big part of the winning equation.
Maupin also played a big-time role, churning out the tough yards that kept the Cyclones in user friendly down and distance. And Elizabethton basically rode Maupin to its first second-half score.
Receiver Parker Hughes proved to be too tough of a matchup for the Knights on the outside, especially without Coutras in the mix.
Add it all up, and the Cyclones are headed to Cookeville for the BlueCross Bowl. As the No. 1-ranked team in the state, the Cyclones will be favored against Springfield, which was ranked No. 9 in the final poll.
But when the game kicks off Saturday in Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium on Saturday, it will come down to which team plays better in every phase of the game — something the Cyclones have been very good at doing this year.