Cloudland ready to tackle Pats

By Travis Brown
STAR Staff
tbrown@starhq.com

   The Cloudland Highlanders began another successful campaign last Friday with a sound defeat of the Hampton Bulldogs by a 42-14 tally. This week they will look to unleash the same offensive firepower this week against the Patriots of Sullivan East.
   Last season the 'Landers soundly defeated the Pats, with a steady dose of running the football. Head coach Mike Lunsford is looking to continue his running ways against the improved squad from East.
   Despite the positive outlook, Lunsford is still respectful of the upcoming opponent.
   "They got better as the season went along last season," said Lunsford. "They're awful big and quick and they have some good athletes this season, too."
   No one knows what to expect from the troubled Patriots as they have not garnered a victory in over two years. Many predict they will break that slide this season as the talent level of the program has improved somewhat. The question is, is it enough?
   Defense is still a question mark for East as well. The offensive side of the ball has seen at least a moderate supply of talent over the years. However, the defense has struggled somewhat during the recent string of losses.
   With athletes at the quarterback position, and most skill positions, the Patriots showed marked improvement against the Bulldogs in a preseason scrimmage.
   But that was a scrimmage. Friday will be for real and it remains to be seen if the boys from East can handle the strong power game that Cloudland brings to the table.
   During this week of preparation, Lunsford has drilled his troops not only on what they will see against the Patriots, but also on the discipline his football team shows so well.
   "We have to be a smarter team," said Lunsford. "We had some problems in the first half last week and our players picked it up in the locker room on their own."
   Against the Dogs, the Highlanders allowed one drive in the second period in which the 'Landers showed some signs of tunnel vision. However leadership on the defensive side of the football answered the call and showed up big time in the second half.
   Lunsford also looks to see a different approach deployed against his 'Landers as he prepares to take what the defense will give him.
   "If I was in their shoes, I'd put people outside to stop Byrd," he said. "It would be a high priority on my list."
   The strategy that Lunsford is referring to could be dubbed the Byrd dog approach.
   Teams that are focused on stopping Cloudland's north/south running game get trapped inside. Consequently they leave themselves open for quarterback Mark Byrd to bounce the ball to the outside.
   Last week the Bulldogs learned this lesson the hard way as they were burned for 125 yards and 3 touchdowns in the first half alone by the stellar junior.
   This game should be a solid contest for both teams as the 'Landers look to continue their improvement into last season's prime condition.
   Meanwhile East will be hungry for its first victory in nearly three years. One thing is for certain, this week will be yet another measure for just how good the 'Landers will be this season.