Now, with a berth in the TSSAA Class 4A football quarterfinals on the line, they meet again. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Friday at Citizens Bank Stadium.
Elizabethton (11-0) still carries the banner of No. 1 in the state. And South (6-5) possesses the same threat it held in the 14-13 loss on Oct. 25.
“The quick turnaround is unique because there will be a certain familiarity to the game plans, you would think,” said Rebels coach Justin Hilton, whose team appeared to tie the game in the final minutes but had an extra-point attempt blocked and Elizabethton ran out the final 2:15 left on the clock.
The Cyclones were coming off a big, 24-21 win over Greeneville on Oct. 18. But Elizabethton coach Shawn Witten said his team didn’t give South less credit than it deserved.
“I didn’t see it when we were preparing,” said Witten, whose team is trying to tie the school record for wins in a season. “Our defense played well enough to win. The offense didn’t do enough. We had third-and-1, fourth-and-1, and didn’t convert. And we were terrible in the field-position game.”
Hilton said his team was locked in for the first game.
“I liked our focus and intensity last game,” he said. “We have to take care of the ball and find a way to continue to make plays on third down to move the chains.”
The Rebels hurt the Cyclones by using tight end Cam Necessary in the passing game. The 6-foot-5, 275-pounder caught six balls for 104 yards. He has seven catches for 106 yards this season.
“The newness of Necessary playing tight end kind of caught everybody off guard,” Witten said.
Quarterback Ethan Bergeron also had his best game of the season. He was 11-of-18 passing for 192 yards, accounting for 41% of his season total for yardage (463) in one game.
In addition, South running back Julian Reed was just returning from an ankle injury. He had only nine carries for 19 yards to Bergeron’s season-high 24 attempts for 56 yards.
Reed is healthier this time around, as evidenced by his 36 carries for 248 yards in South’s 28-24 first-round win over East Hamilton. He has rushed for 1,386 yards and 16 scores on the season.
Reed missed South’s Greeneville game, a 49-0 loss, and had just seven carries in the 42-7 setback against Tennessee High in Week 11.
“Reed has speed and each carry he gets better,” Witten noted. “I would say we will get a heavy dose of the running game along with play-action passing.”
Elizabethton counters with Mr. Football semifinalist Bryson Rollins, who has 2,282 yards of total offense this season with 32 touchdowns.
“Obviously they have a Mr. Football candidate and a very talented group of players surrounding them,” Hilton said. “They are so explosive offensively and very sound defensively.”
Running back Cade Maupin has rushed for 1,215 yards and 10 TDs.
Elizabethton also gets a boost from the expected return of receiver Parker Hughes, who suffered an injury during the first game against South and hasn’t played since. Hughes has 36 catches for 663 yards and 12 touchdowns on the season. Zach Hartley (25 catches, 436 yards, 3 scores) missed a couple of games, but returned last week.
Witten said the Rebels shouldn’t be lacking in the confidence department.
“They played Greeneville at No. 1 and us at No. 1,” Witten said. “They’ve played tough teams. Their record is 6-5, but they lost to Cherokee by two points and to Boone early in the season when Charlie Cole was playing. They are a strong, physical football team.
“They are big at the line of scrimmage. The quarterback is big and the fullback is big. They have an offense built to push people around.”
But South won’t be the only team that wants to control possession.
“We’re not necessarily a big-chunk offense,” Witten said. “We’re better when we put drives together and win time of possession. I think our guys will be ready. We expect a tough challenge and a tough game.”