Three weeks after a one-point win over Sullivan South, the No. 1-ranked Cyclones took control in the first quarter with a 95-yard touchdown pass from Bryson Rollins to Hughes and exploded past the Rebels 49-7 in the second round of Friday night’s TSSAA Class 4A football playoffs at Citizens Bank Stadium.
Elizabethton, which tied a school record for wins in a season by improving to 12-0, moved into next week’s state quarterfinals. The Cyclones will play host to Greeneville, a 24-7 winner over Anderson County.
Elizabethton defeated the Greene Devils 24-21 in Week 9 on a field goal in the final seconds.
Rollins, a TSSAA Mr. Football semifinalist, connected on 12 of 17 passes for 334 yards and five touchdowns.
“It’s amazing,” said Elizabethton head coach Shawn Witten. “He had his best week of practice this week. We worked on throwing the ball, footwork and timing. He really came to play today. I’m so proud of him.”
Hughes caught six passes for 198 yards and three scores.
Elizabethton scored a touchdown on every possession, with the exception of the last two plays of the first half and the last four plays of the game.
“It wasn’t about revenge or payback, it was about us doing what we needed to do,” said Witten. “We just didn’t play the way we were supposed to three weeks ago. We wanted to make a statement, especially from an offensive standpoint. This is the team we’ve been waiting to see.”
Leading 7-0, the Cyclones forced a South punt that was downed at Elizabethton’s 5-yard line.
On first down Rollins dropped back into the end zone and lofted a deep strike toward Hughes, who caught the excellent throw near midfield. Hughes broke free from the defensive back and raced into the end zone.
“We wanted to take a shot,” said Witten. “We wanted to challenge our guys. Those are the plays we didn’t execute on deep balls three weeks ago. Tonight we put them on the money.”
Rollins said, “We called a stutter and go, and we just executed it.”
Hughes, who returned to the lineup after an injury, said, “Bryson threw a perfect ball, just right into my hands. Missing two games, it’s just amazing I could start the game out with a play like that.”
The game wasn’t over at that point, but the Cyclones had made their point. The rematch was going to be quite different from the 14-13 battle in Week 10.
“We weren’t satisfied with the 14-13 win,” said Rollins, who had 358 yards of total offense. “We worked hard each and every day this week. Coach Witten challenged us, and we got ready to play.”
Elizabethton scored on its first drive, a crisp four-play, 70-yard romp that took a little over a minute off the clock.
After the bomb, the Cyclones went 84 yards in five plays. Hughes capped it off by catching a 40-yard touchdown strike from Rollins for a 21-0 first-quarter lead.
After another defensive stop, Cade Maupin worked his way 13 yards for a touchdown to make it 28-0.
Still in the second quarter, Rollins hit Zach C. Hartley for a seven-yard score to send the Cyclones into the locker room with a 35-0 edge.
In the second half, freshman Nate Stephens had a 10-yard touchdown run and Hughes caught a 6-yard scoring strike from Rollins.
South avoided the shutout with Nathan Harkleroad’s 2-yard scoring run late in the fourth quarter.
OTHER CYCLONES STATS
Maupin finished with 123 yards of total offense, rushing eight times for 56 yards and catching two passes for 67.
Stephens rushed 14 times for 83 yards. Hartley caught three balls for 58 yards.
Jaxton Holly was perfect on all seven of his extra-point attempts.
Reed capped off a superb season, carrying 16 times for 122 yards. The Rebels did a good job on the ground, totaling 226 yards rushing on 41 attempts.
“I am proud of this group of seniors,” said South head coach Justin Hilton. “They have provided leadership all season and showed our underclassmen how to compete. Tonight was not the outcome we wanted, but it will not define this class. I am so proud of the investment they made in this program and proud they were Rebels.”