Trailing 6-0 with Chattanooga Howard driving for a potential game-controlling touchdown late in the first half, Elizabethton got a fourth-down stop — by an inch or so — and then hit a 90-yard touchdown connection from Carter Everett to Corey Russell on the next play. The Cyclones went on to record a tougher-than-expected 28-14 victory over Howard in a TSSAA Class 4A first-round playoff game on a rainy Friday night at mostly empty Citizens Bank Stadium.
The Cyclones needed nearly all of the 347 all-purpose yards produced by Russell.
“We told the guys all week long it wasn’t going to be easy,” said Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten. “(The Tigers) were tough to tackle. They played one heck of a football game. It’s the playoffs and you have to find ways to win, and guys stepped up for us.”
Improving to 10-1, the Cyclones earned a rematch at a place where their season ended last year. They will travel to meet unbeaten Anderson County (11-0) in the second round. Anderson crushed Union County, 54-0.
SWINGS OF EMOTION
The game changed with just under three minutes left before halftime. After a pair of five-yard penalties, Howard was facing fourth down and 18 from the Elizabethton 27-yard line. Quarterback Marquez Williams dropped back to pass, but edged toward the front of the decreasing pocket. He saw open field and made a run for it. After a avoiding a tackler at the 15, he was brought down just outside the 9-yard line on a nice open-field tackle by Russell.
The measurement showed the Tigers were one inch short of the first down. On the next play, Russell caught a short pass from Everett and got to the sideline. He outran the Tigers’ defense to the end zone for a 90-yard score, and Jaxton Holly’s extra point gave Elizabethton a 7-6 lead.
STILL IN DOUBT
After quickly stopping Howard on its next possession, the Cyclones got it back and faced a second and 19 after a holding penalty with a minute left before the break. Russell ran for a four-yard gain, but fumbled. The ball was apparently kicked and rolled 20 yards into the end zone, where the Cyclones recovered. The odd safety gave Howard an 8-7 lead at halftime.
The game ended on a sour note. After Howard was hit with several personal fouls, the Cyclones had a first-and-goal at the 4-yard line. Howard’s players walked to their sideline in the end zone, refusing to line up on defense.
Elizabethton could have taken a knee and run out the final 50 seconds because Howard had no timeouts remaining. Instead the Cyclones called a play and handed to Russell, who went into the end zone for the final score.
Then the Cyclones lined up and kicked an extra point, again with Howard’s players standing near their sideline in the end zone.
After the kickoff, Howard ran a play and got another personal foul. The referees then decided to end the contest with 27 seconds left.
“It’s disappointing,” said Witten. “You never want to see it end like that. (Howard) played well all game. They had nothing to hang their heads about. We’ve got to do a better job of controlling our emotions. At Greeneville we didn’t control our emotions and it cost us. Tonight it could have cost us again, too.”
Elizabethton took a 14-8 third-quarter lead on Russell’s 5-yard touchdown run. He battled through several defenders for the last two yards of the score.
The Tigers responded with a 1-yard scoring run by Eric Johnson early in the fourth quarter, but missed the extra point and the game remained tied at 14-14. Johnson was a serious workhorse, carrying 32 times for 197 yards with two scores.
Howard (5-5) displayed a power running game the Cyclones couldn’t extinguish. The Tigers rushed for 253 yards on 54 attempts and ate huge chunks off the clock with effective drives.
“Defensively we were on the field way too long,” said Witten.
On the next possession, the Cyclones went 42 yards on three plays with Everett hitting Parker Hughes on a beautifully thrown pass and nice catch from 23 yards out to make it 21-14. It turned out to be the clinching score.
“That was just clutch,” said Witten.
RUSSELL SHINES AGAIN
It was yet another big game for the Elizabethton senior. He carried 27 times for 157 yards, caught four passes for 121 yards, and completed a pass for six yards, giving him 284 total. He added 69 yards on four kick returns.
Russell scored three touchdowns, giving him 78 for his career. That moved him within one of Ethan Thomas for the school record and 10th place all-time on the state list.
EVERETT IN THE BOOKS
Everett battled the elements to complete 12 of 21 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns — and two interceptions, matching his season total coming into the game.
His touchdown passes gave him 83 for his career, moving him into a tie for ninth place on the state’s all-time list.