The Greeneville Greene Devils feel like they’re a better team than they were the last time they faced the Elizabethton Cyclones.
That’s a good thing because the Cyclones haven’t gotten any worse.
Going into Friday night’s Class 4A quarterfinal at Elizabethton, the Cyclones are still the defending state champs, still ranked No. 1 in the state and still riding a winning streak that has reached 27 games.
For sure, the Devils will need a more complete effort than the Oct. 16 meeting between the schools in Greeneville when Elizabethton turned a close game at halftime into a 44-10 romp.
“I think we’re a better football team because we lost that game. Had we won that game, I don’t know that we would be as good as we are right now,” said Greeneville coach Eddie Spradlen. “That game allowed us to learn a lot and we’ve continued to work hard to get better.
“Things didn’t go our way in that game, but the kids have continued to fight and they’ve continued to work to get to the point where we’re at right now.”
Greeneville (9-3) defeated Anderson County 28-24 last week to earn the rematch with Elizabethton. The Cyclones (12-0) are coming off a 35-7 win over East Hamilton.
It’s the second straight year Greeneville has played at Elizabethton in the quarterfinals with the Cyclones winning 24-13 last year.
“This is what you want to play for,” Spradlen said. “You’re one game away from practicing on Thanksgiving and it doesn’t get any more special than that. We just have to go out there and give it all we’ve got.
“I don’t want to say this is the state championship. But, dang it, to get to the state championship, you gotta win this one.”
Greeneville outslugged Anderson County, swapping touchdowns throughout the second half. A 15-yard TD pass from sophomore quarterback Brady Quillen to sophomore Adjatay Dabbs with 27 seconds to play capped an 11-play, 80-yard game-winning drive.
In order for Greeneville to have a shot at Elizabethton, Spradlen thinks the Devils need to make it another four-quarter game.
“We’ve got to go in there and be able to run the football, control the ball and keep their explosive offense off the field,” he said. “Defensively, we’ve got to limit the big plays. They have two Mr. Football guys you’re trying to defend. One can take the top off, one is as good of a runner as anybody and they have a really good offensive line.
“It’s going to be another big challenge for us.”
The two Elizabethton players Spradlen speaks of are quarterback Bryson Rollins and receiver Parker Hughes.
Rollins has completed 99 of 144 passes for 1,828 yards and 27 TDs, and he’s run for 857 yards and 17 TDs on 131 carries.
In the win over Greeneville on Oct. 16, Rollins completed 15 of 22 passes for 228 yards and two TDs, and he ran for 130 yards and three TDs on 24 carries.
Hughes has 52 catches for 1,212 yards and 18 TDs, and he also has 235 yards and four TDs on 16 rushing attempts.
Elizabethton running back Nate Stephens, who sat out last week’s win over East Hamilton, has rushed for 821 yards and 13 TDs.
For Greeneville, Quillen has gone from replacing injured senior quarterback Drew Gregg early in the season to splitting time at quarterback in the Elizabethton game to now being the Devils’ undisputed signal caller.
Quillen has completed 58 of 85 passes for 874 yards and 11 TDS, and he’s run for 221 yards and two scores on 45 attempts.
“We were going back and forth with quarterbacks for a while, trying to decide what the best thing was to do there,” Spradlen said. “Brady is my man now for sure. There is no question about that.”
Junior running back Mason Gudger leads Greeneville’s ground attack with 812 yards and 11 TDs on 116 carries. He’s also caught eight passes for 183 yards and two scores.
Anthony Petersen, a recent transfer to Greeneville from Lake Gibson High School in Lakeland, Florida, is a 6-1, 230-pound sophomore who will likely figure more into the Devils’ scheme at Elizabethton.
“He’s going to have the opportunity to carry the ball a little. We’re going to do some different looks on offense,” Spradlen said. “Mason is our guy who is going to carry the load for us, obviously, but we can do some different things with both of those guys.
“We have a stable full of running backs and receivers who have opportunities to make big plays. How the game flows, what we feel like we can do to have success as the game goes along, that’s what we’re going to do.”
Spradlen said Petersen will start at linebacker where he had seven tackles and seven assists in the win over Anderson County.
“We’ll hopefully get pressure (on Rollins) with some of the stuff we’re doing up front and then we can send linebackers,” he said. “Sometimes when you send linebackers, though, you’re going to lose something. So what we do on defense depends on what Elizabethton is trying to do on offense. We’re going to play sound base defense and have a few adjustments as the game goes on.”