Trailing by two touchdowns to the two-time defending state champions, the Cyclones dominated the last three quarters of the game and walked out of Citizens Bank Stadium with a 24-13 victory in a TSSAA Class 4A quarterfinal contest.
The Cyclones, who are ranked No. 1 in the state, scored 24 unanswered points for the emphatic victory.
“It takes a lot of willpower and a lot of guts,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten. “We talked about having grit. You gotta dig deep. We got knocked down, I’m telling you. We absolutely got knocked down, 13-0, and we stormed straight back. It’s an incredible feeling. Our guys stayed poised and we believed in each other tonight.”
The Cyclones (13-0) set a single-season school record for wins and ended Greeneville’s streak of 12 straight playoff victories.
“Thirteen wins and a school record, it’s unbelievable,” Witten said.
Elizabethton advanced to play Nolensville, a 42-6 winner over DeKalb County, in next week’s state semifinals. Nolensville, located about halfway between Murfreesboro and Franklin, will travel to Elizabethton.
On the western side of the bracket, Springfield defeated Hardin County 28-21 in overtime. Haywood outlasted Crockett County 41-35.
THE EXCLAMATION POINT
Leading 24-13, the Cyclones got the ball on their own 20-yard line with a little over seven minutes left in the game. A brute-force drive sealed the Greene Devils’ fate with Cade Maupin and Rollins simply willing the team to first downs behind a terrific performance from an impressive offensive line.
“Give all the credit to the line,” said Maupin, who carried 25 times for 120 yards. “None of those holes would have been there if not for our linemen. Greeneville has some big guys and they were moving them like they were nothing.”
Witten said, “Bryson Rollins and Cade Maupin were men running the football.”
THE MOUTH PUNCH
Greeneville (10-3) didn’t have its entire arsenal healthy. Running back Mason Gudger was clearly limited with a leg injury reportedly suffered last week against Anderson County and carried only three times for 2 yards.
It didn’t make much difference early because the Greene Devils came out with a mighty dose of quarterback Drew Gregg. A 12-play Gregg-heavy drive culminated in a 21-yard touchdown pass to AJ Stewart. The extra point was blocked and Greeneville led 6-0 before the Cyclones touched the ball.
After an Elizabethton three-and-out, Gregg hit Nick Iezzi with a 58-yard pass on the next series. That set the stage for a 7-yard touchdown run by Ty Youngblood and a 13-0 Greeneville lead.
That was it. From there to the start of the fourth quarter, Greeneville managed only one first down. The Greene Devils had 153 yards on the first two drives, but the Cyclones outgained them 328-227 for the game.
Elizabethton responded with a 10-play drive that ended with Parker Hughes’ superb catch in the corner of the end zone for a 12-yard score.
After a short punt by Greeneville, the Cyclones struck again on a stunning catch by Zach Hartley. Hartley jumped, and as he was falling to the ground he pinned the ball to his shoulder with his left hand.
“I saw it in the air, and it happened to get in my hands,” he said. “I think it gave us a whole lot of momentum, but it was a team effort. Our defense really stepped up. And Bryson Rollins, he was crazy tonight.”
The Cyclones took a 14-13 lead into the locker room. And after the teams traded punts, the Cyclones drove deep into Greeneville territory and got a 24-yard field goal from Jaxton Holly.
On the next drive, following a Deuce Morton sack, Hughes picked off a pass and set up the Cyclones for the insurance score. Rollins powered into the end zone from 5 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Greeneville drove into Elizabethton territory but turned over the ball when Jake Roberts picked off a pass in the end zone on fourth down.
Rollins carried 25 times for 99 yards. He completed 7 of 10 passes for 91 yards and two touchdowns.
Gregg had 16 carries for 46 yards. He was 10-of-15 passing for 152 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions. Iezzi finished with six catches for 110 yards.