But what sets the Elizabethton coach’s teams apart from others with consistent success is his Cyclones have not suffered a true upset over the last 10 years.
Witten guided the Cyclones to victory for the 100th time with Friday’s 38-10 whipping of Daniel Boone.
Upsets happen, and Elizabethton won’t be able to dodge them forever. But during this 91-27 run — dating to the start of the 2009 season — 18 of those defeats came at the hands of four perennial powerhouse teams: Science Hill (8), private school Christian Academy of Knoxville (4), Alcoa (3) and Greeneville (3). Two losses came against a strong out-of-state program (Asheville, N.C.) and two against Sullivan South in a couple of the Rebels’ strong years (including 2014, when they reached the Class 4A quarterfinals).
Four others came in: 2017, Anderson County (which went 12-1, its lone loss to 4A state champion Greeneville; 2014, Knox Catholic (which finished 10-2, its losses to Alcoa and 4A state champion Fulton; 2011, Sullivan North (the Golden Raiders finished 12-1); and 2011, Austin-East (second round of the Class 3A playoffs).
The only game that might have been viewed as an upset at the time was the 2012 loss to Daniel Boone. But the Trailblazers went 8-3 that season with their only losses to Science Hill (9-2), 6A quarterfinalist Dobyns-Bennett (12-1) and 5A quarterfinalist Tennessee High (8-5).
BEST IN THE STATE?
Greeneville is one of the best football teams in the state, but are the Greene Devils THE best, regardless of classification?
They got a boost for this thought with Alcoa’s surprising 34-28 win over Maryville on Friday. The Rebels have been Tennessee’s measuring stick for most of the last two decades. And this year they own a win over Oakland, which was ranked No. 1 in 6A at the time. To say a smaller school couldn’t hang with Maryville is off the board (while also acknowledging the rivalry between Alcoa and the Rebels, it was still 3A against 6A).
So here’s the check-down: Alcoa hosts Dobyns-Bennett on Sept. 21. If the Indians are even reasonably competitive against Alcoa, it shines more light on the Greene Devils — who crushed D-B 43-3 on the Indians’ home field.
Greeneville’s 42-0 thumping of Science Hill was a shocking picture of football perfection. The Greene Devils were without fault in every phase of the game.
Word of mouth and on-field results taken into account, here is my Top 10 public-school rankings, regardless of classification, after Week 4:
A STAT WORTH SEEING
This may be the most impressive statistic in the history of Northeast Tennessee football.
That’s a big statement, but look at this: Greeneville quarterback Cade Ballard has thrown more touchdown passes (11) than incompletions. Ballard has connected on 47 of 54 tosses (87 percent) — just seven misses in four games.
How far Ballard can carry this streak is anybody’s guess, but the Greene Devils have already navigated the toughest part of their schedule.
And Ballard has done this without shying away from the difficult throws. Arguably his most impressive tosses against Science Hill came on the same drive in the second quarter. From the Hilltoppers’ 40, he threw a sweet spiral that hit Dorien Goddard, running full speed, right in the hands in the end zone. Goddard only got one hand on the ball as he tried to fight off a Science Hill defender — and was called for offensive pass interference — and it fell incomplete.
Two plays later, from Science Hill’s 48, Ballard lofted a touch pass toward the middle of the field that landed in Garrin Shuffler’s hands between a pair of Hilltoppers’ defenders for a 45-yard gain.
Ballard has earned a spot on the short list of the greatest quarterbacks in NET history: joining the likes of Elizabethton’s Shawn Witten, Dobyns-Bennett’s Malik Foreman, Science Hill’s Malik McGue and Sullivan South’s Curt Phillips.
Dobyns-Bennett wouldn’t normally fit into this category because the Indians are usually rolling ahead of the curve.
But after getting manhandled in their first two games, the Indians faced a crossroads under first-year head coach Joey Christian. A 24-21 win over Science Hill got them on track, and D-B followed it up with a 55-0 smash-pound victory over Sevier County — the Indians’ biggest-ever margin of victory against the Smoky Bears.
After weathering the initial storm, the Tribe has built momentum for a three-game stretch (at Alcoa on Sept. 21, home for Bearden on Sept. 28, and at Farragut on Oct. 5) that doesn’t look a whole lot easier than the first three games of the season. Alcoa, Bearden and Farragut are a combined 12-0, and Alcoa is fresh off a win over Maryville.
Football games of the week
Science Hill at Bearden
David Crockett at Cocke County
Tennessee High at Morristown East
Hilltoppers vs. Bulldogs — It’s getting pretty serious for Science Hill. A loss here and the Hilltoppers’ playoff hopes could be in jeopardy. Certainly their hopes of a home game would be greatly damaged.
Pioneers vs. Fighting Cocks — It’s a battle of undefeated teams, and both are off to surprising starts. Cocke County is averaging 39 points per game, although its opponents have a combined record of 2-10.
Vikings vs. Hurricanes — It’s pretty much a must-win situation for Tennessee High if it wants to keep its Region 1-5A title hopes alive. The Vikings stormed the Hurricanes 41-21 last year at the Stone Castle.
Pick of the Week
David Crockett 37, Cocke County 32
The Pioneers will likely need quite a few points to pull this off, and they have the weapons to score plenty.
Picks record: 2-1.
Player of the Week
Cade Larkins, David Crockett
David Crockett needed some offensive explosiveness Friday night against Gibbs, and Larkins delivered in the 55-28 victory. He connected on 18 of 24 passes for 352 yards and five touchdowns. Over the past two weeks, Larkin has thrown for 705 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Hogs Award
Johnson County Longhorns
Trailing 13-0 at halftime, the Hog Horns burrowed in at the line of scrimmage and powered their way to a 34-27 win over Sullivan Central.
Defensive unit of the Week
The Indians held Sevier County to 109 yards of offense, and Nic Bristol added a pick-6 during the 55-0 victory.
Dobyns-Bennett finds a path to No. 3, up two spots in this week’s Northeast Tennessee High School Top 10 (only teams in the Johnson City Press/Times News coverage area are ranked).
Team (W-L) — Last Week
1. Elizabethton (4-0) — 1
2. David Crockett (4-0) — 2
3. Dobyns-Bennett (2-2) — 5
4. Tennessee High (3-1) — 4
5. Daniel Boone (2-1) — 3
6. Science Hill (1-3) — 6
7. Sullivan North (4-0) — 7
8. Sullivan South (3-1) — 8
9. Johnson County (3-1) — 10
10. Volunteer (2-2) — NR