Over the last three seasons, the Class 4A state football championship trophy has resided in Greeneville or Elizabethton.
During that stretch, those teams have split four games. And this year’s meeting carries the same type of implications.
Defending state champion and No. 1-ranked Elizabethton will travel to take on the No. 10 Greene Devils with the Region 1-4A title likely the reward to the winner. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. at Burley Stadium.
Greeneville athletic director Brad Woolsey said the game will be available via livestream at http://bit.ly/GHS-BETSY.
Carrying a 22-game winning streak, Elizabethton (7-0) enters with a 3-0 league mark. Greeneville (5-2) is also 3-0 in region play.
In another Region 1-4A game, Sullivan Central hits the road to play Grainger. On Saturday at noon, Sullivan East will play host to Sullivan South.
Playing at Greeneville is part of the storyline. Witten’s teams have not won at Greeneville, losing all four meetings that include a pair of playoff decisions. And since the winner will likely earn home-field advantage for a possible playoff rematch, there’s plenty at stake.
“You have to be strong mentally to win in these difficult environments,” Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten said. “You can’t show any weakness in the way you play. Greeneville doesn’t lose very often at home. You can’t expect them to make mistakes and turn the ball over. What it will really take is a relentless effort.”
Witten said his team has no shortage of respect for the Greene Devils.
“They made our program better,” Witten said. “It was their discipline, relentless effort and not beating themselves.”
The Cyclones used those elements to beat Greeneville twice last year, a 24-21 decision in the regular season and 24-13 final score in the state quarterfinal rematch.
This season the Greene Devils, battling COVID-19 issues, struggled out of the gates. They were clipped 35-34 by Daniel Boone and a couple of weeks later they were handled 45-25 by Science Hill.
But over the last four weeks, Greeneville has three blowout wins — including last week’s 41-7 decision against Sullivan South — and a come-from-behind victory over Tennessee High.
Witten said the Greene Devils’ success starts up front.
“They are very strong with physical play,” he said. “Every play is a physical play. It’s a nasty type of football, and they like to run the ball. (Running back Mason) Gudger is as good as it gets. Every time he touches it, he can go the distance. You really have to tackle him.”
The injury-forced change at quarterback hasn’t stopped Greeneville’s offense from producing points. Brady Quillen took over and has completed 72 percent of his passes with 272 yards passing and four touchdowns in three games. He has also rushed for 136 yards and a pair of scores.
“He makes good decisions and gets them in the right situations,” Witten said.
Gudger has rushed for 537 yards with six touchdowns. Jaden Stevenson and Adjatay Dabbs are the Greene Devils’ top receiving threats in terms of yardage. Stevenson had 274 yards and six scores.
“The key is tackling,” Witten said. “They are really tough to tackle. We have to gang tackle and swarm to the ball. We can’t give them easy scores.”
Elizabethton is led by Bryson Rollins. The junior has passed for 1,072 yards with 16 touchdowns while rushing for 413 yards and nine scores.
Receiver Parker Hughes leads the state with 12 touchdown receptions. He has 30 catches for 797 yards and 14 total touchdowns.
Running backs Nate Stephens and LaDarian Avery have combined for 641 yards rushing and 10 scores.
The Cyclones didn’t play last week because of Union County’s forfeit.
“It was disappointing not to play because we were lights out against William Blount,” Witten said. “We lost a little momentum. But the kids used the extra time preparing and with film study. Attention to detail will really help pay off for us.”
SULLIVAN CENTRAL (1-2, 3-4) at GRAINGER (1-2, 4-3)
The Cougars are still the playoff hunt, but haven’t won on the field since Aug. 28. This game will likely decide the fourth and final playoff spot in Region 1-4A.
Central hasn’t beaten Grainger in five tries.
SULLIVAN SOUTH (3-1, 6-1) at SULLIVAN EAST (1-1, 2-3)
The Patriots haven’t played since Sept. 25 because of COVID-19, and the Rebels are likely ornery after a 34-point loss to Greeneville. So this figures to be a massively tough challenge for East.
South is 30-7 all-time against the Patriots, but East has won three of the last five.