As the Elizabethton players rushed onto the field at Tucker Stadium on Saturday night, their destination was a trophy. It was a symbol for the fruits of their labor.
Elizabethton’s 30-6 win over Springfield gave the Cyclones the TSSAA Class 4A state football championship. It was the final game of a perfect season. Fifteen wins. Zero losses.
It was a season built from the ground up. Therefore, the foundation was sturdy.
Part of the foundation was the quarterback position. Bryson Rollins didn’t throw a single pass as a freshman. He was a complementary player on a very good team. He wasn’t the heir apparent to the quarterback position.
In the summer, Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten said he didn’t know for sure who his quarterback would be. Cade Maupin was a possibility. And going into the season opener against Science Hill, Witten said he expected both guys to get work at the position.
Once the games began, it became clear that Rollins fit like a glove taking snaps while Maupin was the perfect complement as a running back.
Still, more digging was needed. If Rollins and Maupin were going to be effective against the good teams, the offensive line had to be molded. With no seniors in the starting mix, Jeff Pierce had his hands full.
The line “worked unbelievably hard,” said Pierce. The unit became more physical and stayed more fit than opponents across the line of scrimmage. In the third and fourth quarters, this group pushed people around and flat-out dominated.
With the offensive foundation hardened and settled, the defensive framework had to be completed. The framework is the essential supporting structure of a building. Without it, beating a team like Greeneville would not be possible.
Assistant coaches Dave Campbell, Jordy Harrison and Michael Grindstaff worked in unison. As the season progressed, it was clear the defense was doing its part. By season’s end, this defense supported victory on sturdy shoulders.
Another part of the building process was the coaching staff. Brock Pittman, Brian Jenkins, Terry Moore, Ryan Witten and Devin Whitehead formed a glue unit for the entire structure.
There was one other element: Special teams. In the building vernacular, this unit provides the nice touches that creates the difference between a nice house and a mansion. A team could win a state championship without being special on special teams, but 15-0? Highly unlikely.
So all of groundwork was laid, the walls fashioned, and the finishing touches were applied Saturday in Cookeville.
But there was one more part of the groundwork that needs to be remembered. Whenever a group of people reached great heights, there were always people who paved the way.
There were many Apollo missions before man walked on the moon. The Wright Brothers flew on the wings of failures before them.
Just like those memorable parts of history, Elizabethton had many Cyclones who gave their best and weren’t rewarded at the time.
The three best examples were 1998, 1999 and 2016. The 20-16 semifinal loss to Maryville, the 20-17 semifinal overtime setback against Knox Central, and the 17-14 heartbreaker against Alcoa in the quarterfinals were building blocks.
All of the players on those teams were likely still hurting when Saturday came. But when the final horn sounded, they had a chance to share in the joy of those who came after them.
Yes, the ultimate groundwork is the blood, sweat and tears from people whose efforts came up precious inches short. Without their heartache, it’s hard to imagine Elizabethton could have experienced Saturday’s sweet taste of a victory — a win that changed the historical football narrative of our entire area.