Elizabethton invades Cookeville, comes away with gold

Douglas Fritz • Updated Dec 8, 2019 at 12:34 AM

COOKEVILLE — For three hours Saturday, properly functioning GPS should have directed Elizabethton travelers to Tucker Stadium. 
If the whole town wasn’t there, it surely sounded like it.

A stadium that seats 16,500 — evenly split between stands on each side of the field — was nearly half full of Cyclones’ football fans. They roared their approval for every good thing that happened.

And on this night, the cries of joy echoed from opening kickoff to the final horn. Elizabethton crushed Springfield 30-6, winning the school’s first state football championship since 1938. The Cyclones dominated from start to finish, ending their season with a perfect record of 15-0.

It was a win that resonated from this year all the way through the chambers of the past. Former player Justin Smith, who played on some of the teams that came close, said it was a special night.

“It’s the culmination of everything that not only former players, but also the city, has worked for,” said Smith. “It’s great for the kids, great for the community, for Coach (Shawn) Witten, and all these young men who have worked so hard. It’s unbelievable.”

As the postgame celebration unfolded, the hugs were many. And the tears flowed.

The final victory wasn’t unexpected. The Cyclones beat two-time defending state champion Greeneville twice this season, sending notice to the rest of the state they were ready to make this climb.

“Preacher Mike” Koruschak, who helps provide a spiritual guide as the team chaplain, said this year’s group set itself apart by focusing on the whole instead of self.

“This is a very special group,” said Koruschak. “These guys have been willing to take their talent and sacrifice for everybody. There’s not one star. Everybody plays together. It has been a tremendous year, and these guys are very special because of that fact.”

After the Cyclones played, Maryville and Ravenwood lined up for the Class 6A state championship, a game anticipated for much of the season. But looking at the attendance, Elizabethton’s crowd nearly matched the combination of those two much-bigger schools.

Certainly the TSSAA took notice. Big crowds don’t escape the eyes of that organization.

Yes, this was a special night for Elizabethton. If the Cyclones make it back next year or beyond, maybe the crowd won’t be as big. But this one is locked in history. Elizabethton has earned a gold ball the community can cherish for a lifetime.

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