Watauga takes on Elizabethton, Tenn.
by Steve Behr Sports Editor
Watauga steps out of its conference schedule tonight to take on Elizabethton (Tenn.).
Last year, Elizabethton beat Watauga 14-7 on a cold, windy night at Jack Groce Stadium. The Cyclones scored two touchdowns in the first quarter, with the wind at their backs, and held on for the win.
Pioneers coach Tom Wright knows it’s not the ideal time to play a nonconference game, but also knows that Elizabethton is going through the same problems.
“They’re having to step out of their league schedule to play us. We’re having to step out of our league schedule to play them, so there are no excuses,” Wright said. “We have to show up and play Friday night.”
This year, it probably won’t matter which direction the wind is blowing. Elizabethton (4-2) averages 261 yards rushing per game, and running back Ethan Thomas already has 931 yards rushing in just six games.
Fellow running back Terrance Turner ran for 243 yards on 39 carries against the Pioneers last year. He scored on a touchdown run of 39 yards, and also had a 62-yard gain on another run. That run did not lead to points.
The running backs are a part of an offense that is deep at every position. The Cyclones have two quarterbacks in D.J. Arnett, who is the “running” quarterback, and Caleb Bailey, who has completed 19-of-34 passes for 216 yards.
His favorite receiver is Zach Moore, who has 11 catches for 88 yards and two touchdowns. Moore also has rushed the ball 23 times for 172 yards and two touchdowns.
Making sure the quarterbacks have time to throw, and the running backs room to run, is a deep and experienced offensive line.
“That’s the area where we are probably the thinnest,” Wright said. “We just don’t have a lot of linemen. We’ve not been blessed with that this year. The linemen we have do a great job and play hard for us, but they have to play on both sides of the football. We’re just going to have to do the best we can.”
This season, Elizabethton lost its first two games, but has won its last four.
Watauga (4-2) has injury issues. The Pioneers won’t have receiver Cam Baker, who sprained his thumb last week in Watauga’s 22-6 loss to Hickory. Baker will miss at least two weeks.
The Pioneers got some good news when Nick Williams practiced. Williams left the Hickory game because of a bruised thigh, but he’ll play tonight. Linebacker Collin Augustine is still out of the lineup with a broken collarbone.
“They are two of the most effective offensive players we have,” Wright said of Williams and Baker. “It does hurt the team when you have those types of injuries, but that’s part of football. Football is a game of injuries and you’re going to have lots of injuries, so we’ve just got to overcome those things.”
Hickory made life difficult for Watauga’s offense by holding the Pioneers to just 57 yards in rushing. The Pioneers’ lone touchdown was a 57-yard run by T.J. Poulos on a trap play up the middle.
The passing game wasn’t all that successful either. Quarterback Tripp Taylor completed just 6-of-14 passes for 49 yards.
Hickory outgained Watauga 323-85 in total offense.
“They have plenty of talent and plenty of team speed,” Wright said. “They were a bigger team than I expected them to be. They were stronger than what they looked on film and they played a good ballgame, so you have to give them credit.”
Watauga returns to its Northwestern Conference schedule Oct. 5 at Alexander Central.