Saturday night at Tucker Stadium, the Cyclones didn’t leave a whisper of a doubt. Eighty-one years after the only state football championship in school history, the Cyclones crushed Springfield 30-6 in the TSSAA Class 4A finals.
Along the way, Elizabethton became the first team in District 1 history to win a state football championship under a true statewide playoff system, which started in 1976.
It wrapped up a stunning 15-0 season, and was highlighted by sophomore quarterback Bryson Rollins setting a championship-game record for completion percentage en route to being chosen as the game’s most valuable player.
Cyclones’ head coach Shawn Witten couldn’t hold back the tears as he hugged family members while a thrilled Cyclones’ crowd — estimated at 6,000 — roared their orange-and-black approval.
“We’re here because we had 11 seniors who believed in the process,” said Witten. “They worked for it. Greeneville challenged us to get better over the years. In order to get here you have to be tough, physical, tenacious and disciplined. The biggest thing for our guys is we did it the right way this year. We had to earn every bit of it, and today we proved we were the best team in Class 4A.”
Springfield finished with a record of 11-4.
“Everybody talks about you can’t be perfect, but that doesn’t mean you can’t chase it,” said Witten. “Our program for 13 years, we demand excellence. We demand the work you’ve got to put in to be the best. I’m glad this happened for our kids because they sacrificed a lot. They proved a statement every time they went out on the field. It’s really special because of how we did it and the way we went about our business.”
ROLLINS TAKES OVER
It was quite a performance for Rollins as he hit on 11 of 12 passes with the only incompletion caught in the corner of the end zone by Parker Hughes, whose foot landed out of bounds. Rollins passed for 105 yards while also rushing a man-like 30 times for 136 yards.
He especially dominated on the ground in the second half, carrying 17 times for 95 yards.
“Springfield is obviously a good team,” said Rollins. “They made it to the state. But we’re a strong physical team.”
Elizabethton held Springfield to just three first downs for the game. The Yellow Jackets finished with 133 yards against the Cyclones’ rock-solid defense.
“Our defense was stellar today,” said Witten. “We did a great job of putting pressure on (Springfield quarterback Kevontez) Hudson, hemming him in and not letting him get to the outside.
“It was a total team effort. It’s amazing how this team came full circle. The offense was putting up big performances, but down the stretch the defense dominated.”
Elizabethton outgained Springfield, 339-133.
Good football teams get yardage between the tackles and that was Maupin’s job. He worked hard for 81 yards on 18 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns.
“It’s just our team mainly,” said Maupin. “We’re a brotherhood out here.”
Defensively, Maupin came away with two interceptions.
“The defensive line and linebackers, there are some men out there,” said Maupin. “They didn’t let them get anywhere. Shout out to the defensive line. They busted their butts out there.”
Elizabethton didn’t take advantage of good field position on its first possession, but the Cyclones drove deep enough for a 35-yard Jaxton Holly field goal on possession No. 2.
Springfield gambled on fourth down and one at its own 41 late in the first quarter. The Yellow Jackets decided to pass, but a leaping Jordan Haynes got his hand on the attempt and knocked it down.
The Cyclones drove five plays, including a big 16-yard run by Rollins to the seven-yard line. Maupin pounded in from the 3-yard line for a 10-0 Cyclones’ advantage.
After Elizabethton missed a field goal in the second quarter, the Cyclones’ defense held and got the ball back with 4:24 left on the clock. After eight plays, the Cyclones faced third down and six from the Springfield 28-yard line.
Rollins scrambled one way and rolled back the other direction, finding Zach Hartley all alone on the left sideline. Hartley caught the pass at the 15 and made a nice move at the 5-yard line to find a path into the end zone.
“I was just watching (Rollins), and I saw him roll back out,” said Hartley. “And I saw the corner was completely on the other side of the field. So I was just standing there waiting for him to throw it.”
Hartley said he was thinking about making a move when he got close to the end zone.
“I was thinking about making a spin move, but about halfway through I stopped and just lowered my shoulder,” he said.
The extra point was blocked, but the Cyclones took a 16-0 lead into halftime.
ONE SHINING MOMENT
Springfield didn’t get its initial first down until the third quarter, but it was a doozy. One third and 11 from the Yellow Jackets’ 34-yard line, Hudson lofted a deep ball to Gabe Kelly. Parker Hughes appeared to have the ball in his sights, but Kelly high-pointed the ball, came down with the catch, and raced into the end zone.
It was the only highlight for Springfield, producing half of the team’s offensive production for the game.
After seeing a drive stopped in Springfield territory midway through the third quarter, Jaxton Holly’s punt was downed at the 1-yard line. A penalty forced a re-kick, and this result was better for the Cyclones.
Springfield muffed the punt and Elizabethton recovered at the 6-yard line. Rollins burst into the end zone on the next play, and Elizabethton led 23-6.
Hughes finished with seven catches for 50 yards. Hartley had two grabs for 39. Braden Holly added a pair of catches.
Freshman Nate Stephens got a pair of late-game rushes for 34 yards.
For Springfield, Hudson finished with 25 yards on 15 attempts. He was 5 of 14 passing for 106 yards.