By Jamie Combs
Elizabethton came out like a tiger. Sullivan North finished with the lion’s share of points.
Not fazed by an early quick strike from the eighth-ranked Cyclones, underdog North took a stellar game by quarterback Cory Rowe and captured a 41-20 Three Rivers Conference victory at Brown-Childress Stadium on Friday night.
“Their quarterback did a good job of keeping the ball a little bit, and that kind of kept us off-balance sometimes,” said Elizabethton coach Shawn Witten. “The turnovers just killed us. The third quarter, we just didn’t close the gap. We just missed too many tackles and made too many mistakes. We just weren’t good enough tonight.
“You’ve got to give credit to North. They did a great job and came in here 4-0. It was a challenge for them tonight, and they stepped up.”
Gaining the inside track to the conference title, the Golden Raiders (2-0, 5-0) ran the football 61 times for 379 yards — with Rowe gaining 191 on 20 attempts.
Kyree Thompson collected three touchdowns in a 23-carry, 92-yard output, Jacob Jasper (10-50) ran for a pair of scores and Chase Arnold turned one of five Cyclone turnovers into six points, reaching paydirt on a 32-yard interception return.
“We expect that good things are going to happen,” said North coach Robbie Norris. “I know nobody really gave us a chance, but it wasn’t like we were all surprised on the sideline when good things started happening to us.”
Elizabethton (1-1, 3-2) was apparently pointed in the right direction barely one minute into the contest. As part of an 18-carry, 206-yard performance, tailback Terrence Turner zipped to a 58-yard touchdown on the game’s third play.
The Raiders, however, countered with a 13-play, 80-yard march that Jasper punctuated with a 3-yard TD.
From there, a bad punt snap and lost fumble handed North a short field on back-to-back possessions. The first opportunity resulted in a missed field goal, but the second chance paid off as Jasper scampered 18 yards to paydirt for a 14-7 Raiders lead.
“We were pumped, we were ready,” said EHS linebacker Stephen Holtsclaw. “We were ecstatic about the game. We really let the first half and the mistakes we made get in our heads.”
Two possessions later, it was Turner again making his presence felt in a big way — scooting for a 30-yard score that pulled his team into a 14-14 tie at the 3:50 mark of the second quarter.
For the Cyclones, though, things started to unravel when Arnold, with 28.5 seconds remaining till halftime, sniffed out the end zone to stake the Raiders to a 20-14 advantage. He picked off a McKenly Berry screen pass intended for Zach Moore.
“(Assistant) Coach (Mike) Copas and his defensive backs, they work on that screen,” Norris said. “I mean it’s on and on and on and on and on. Obviously, that was a big momentum play of the game.”
Ordinarily a considerable asset, Berry endured a rough night. He suffered three first-half interceptions and started 0-of-11 before closing out at 6-of-19 for 84 yards (1 TD).
“Part of it was bad play-calling on my part,” Witten said. “Wewere just trying to get things going in the passing game. Terrence was running the ball extremely well, and we should have kept it on the ground.
“I feel like we had some chances, had some opportunities with the things that were going to us, but great game plan by Robbie Norris. They did some things on defense to kind of confuse us, and got us out of rhythm a little bit. I have a lot of respect for Coach Norris, and it was just a big win for them tonight.”
Turner did the bulk of his damage in the opening half, rushing 11 times for 158 yards.
On offense to begin the third quarter, the Raiders pieced together a 10-play, 80-yard foray that ended in a Thompson 4-yard TD — and 27-14 game. The key play of the march had Rowe picking up a fumble at the line of scrimmage and galloping 48 yards to the ‘Betsy 13.
A Wes Montgomery INT throttled North’s ensuing offensive series, setting up the Cyclones with good field position (EHS 48) — and Turner followed up with a 23-yard run. But when Berry broke through with his first completion to open the fourth period, the 16-yard gain to Drew Holsclaw on fourth-and-8 ended badly as Rowe stripped the ball away at the 11.
Although a penalty erased an 89-yard scoring return by Rowe, the Raiders embarked on a 13-play, 90-yard scoring drive. Thompson wrapped it up with a 5-yard run, leaving the Cyclones in a 34-14 hole with 4:26 left.
“They just had pure power,” Holtsclaw said. “They outpowered us when they pulled. They had too many people — we had three to their five. They outpowered us and played better than we did tonight.”
Elizabethton answered with a rapid march that saw Holsclaw grab a 13-yard TD pass from Berry. Right after the Cyclones were unsuccessful on an onsides kick, Rowe picked up 44 yards on a sneak — which led to a 1-yard scoring plunge by Thompson.
“For 24 hours, they can think they’re Super Bowl champions,” Norris said of his Raiders. “After that, we’ve got to get back to work on Sunday.”
Chad Pritchard and Zach Treadway, two of the Cyclones’ main receivers, defensive backs and special teamers, didn’t play because of disciplinary reasons.
“It’s unfortunate the situations that happened,” Witten said. “You’ve got to move on, you’ve got to deal with them. But definitely, that was not a factor in tonight’s game. We just didn’t do a good-enough job. We just made too many mistakes.”
According to Holtsclaw, Elizabethton can learn from Friday night’s setback — and turn a negative into a positive.
“Absolutely,” he said. “We’re going to get back to work on Monday. We’re going to look to South, and then we’re going to look to the next game and the next game — one week at a time.”
Elizabethton will be out of conference play next week, entertaining Sullivan South.