'Landers stymie Bulldogs

By Jamie Combs
Sports Editor
jcombs@starhq.com
The Cloudland Highlander performance was the water inside a tea kettle, and Orr Field was the top of a hot stove. The 'Landers started off with a slow simmer, and by the early stages of the second quarter, their game was beginning to boil.
Going against a Hampton club that kept the score close for a while, the 'Landers broke loose for 22 points in the second quarter and went on to post a 38-13 victory in season-opening football action on Friday night.
"I was a little nervous at first," said Cloudland senior Mark Byrd, who totaled 348 all-purpose yards and had a hand in seven Cloudland scores (three touchdowns, four two-point conversions). "I knew it was going to be a tough test coming in. Hampton's got a good football team -- they have good players. They scared us a little bit."
The 'Landers were only leading 8-6 at the end of the first quarter, but Cloudland's fears started to subside when Toby King hauled in a 29-yard TD pass from quarterback Byrd with 9:01 remaining before halftime. Byrd then connected with Bebo Hughes on the conversion, making the score 16-6.
King's touchdown was set up by a 46-yard pass from Byrd to Dakota Benfield on a fake punt, pushing the ball inside the Bulldogs' 5-yard line. A couple of infractions sent the 'Landers in the opposite direction, yet failed to prevent the score.
"One thing that was good out of (the win) was that we threw the ball," said Cloudland coach Mike Lunsford. "I don't think people are going to be able to put 10, 11 people up there blitzing us. I think we've got some people who can catch the ball -- people who have speed and can get open.
"Tonight, I really felt like, basically, anytime we wanted to throw the ball, we could complete a pass. It's been a long time since I felt that way. Mark did a great job of throwing the ball. Of course, he's done a great job in the past and we dropped the passes."
Byrd would fire a second touchdown pass before the night was through, and finish 7-of-9 for 164 yards through the air.
However, it was Byrd's 62-yard TD on a punt return, with about four minutes till the halftime break, that took the 'Dogs out of striking distance.
"The line and the backs did a good job setting up the wall for me," said Byrd, who followed with a conversion run for a 24-6 Highlander advantage.
An errant Hampton punt snap led to the next Cloudland score. Awarded possession on the Bulldog 7, the 'Landers scored two plays later on a 3-yard run by Benfield, and went to the half with a 30-6 lead.
"We made so many mistakes, Lord have mercy," said Hampton coach J.C. Campbell. "We couldn't even get the people on the field. We ran a pass play there once, came back to run a wham and didn't even have a tailback. We weren't even lined up at tailback.
"We've got young kids and they're going to make mistakes, and I understand that. But that's stupid stuff."
Fumbling away the football on the first play of the third quarter, Hampton quickly set up Cloudland's final touchdown -- a 43-yard strike from Byrd to Hughes. Byrd broke the goal line for another conversion, extending the 'Lander lead to 38-6.
Hampton finished up the scoring with a 66-yard TD toss from backup quarterback Zack Crabtree to Jacob Moss as time expired in the third quarter, and a Cody Walsh extra-point kick.
The 'Dogs didn't get the ball back until 19 seconds were left in the game as Cloudland mustered a 64-yard drive on 20 plays, taking a knee on its final four snaps.
"I thought we did pretty well," said Byrd of the team's overall performance. "We didn't play superb. We had a couple of miscues in crucial situations. I think that was just first-game jitters. Hopefully, we'll get them worked out."
The first quarter saw the 'Landers seize an 8-0 edge on an 18-yard TD run by Benfield and a conversion pass from Byrd to Aaron Stocton.
A couple of big plays by Walsh, however, enabled the 'Dogs to retaliate. The junior player ripped off a 56-yard run to put Hampton in scoring position, and two plays later he caught a 16-yard TD pass from quarterback Mitchell Morton.
"I'm at least glad we had (the momentum) for a minute," Walsh said. "It's not like we just came up here and didn't play at all. We know we could have (stayed in the game) if it wasn't for mistakes. Maybe a little extra effort out of some more people, and learning, will make a difference."
According to Lunsford, overall skill was the deciding factor on Friday night.
"We gave up a big play to them," Lunsford said of Walsh's 56-yard scamper, "which kept them in the ballgame. Obviously, we had more talent. They were playing with a lot of heart and a lot of determination. But I think talent eventually prevailed, to be honest."
Byrd carried the ball 12 times, adding 103 yards to a 436-yard offensive effort by the 'Landers, and totaled 81 yards on returns. Benfield ran for 77 yards on 15 carries, with Dewayne Campbell collecting 52 yards on 10 second-half carries.
Spearheaded by Dane Christman's 13 tackles, the 'Landers allowed only two first downs in the contest. Jonah Horney contributed nine tackles to the Cloudland cause, while Jon Pritchard and Benfield, who recovered a fumble, had eight hits apiece.
For the 'Dogs, Walsh also had a 39-yard run to his credit and finished with 100 yards (on nine attempts) on the ground.
He said his performance was a personal confidence builder, adding: "I know that I can get a lot better. I see some things I did right, and I see some things that I did wrong that I can correct for the next time and try to do a lot better with."
Justin Waycaster, with 11 tackles and a fumble recovery, topped the Bulldog defense. Sean Moody recorded 10 tackles, and Martin Winters had eight.
"We're going to work -- we're going to rectify some things," J.C. Campbell said. "In the past we've gotten a little better as things have gone along. I just couldn't see us playing well tonight because we hadn't practiced well, and we didn't.
"We had some good plays, but we can't go out there and have one good play and 10 bad ones. We see some things we can possibly get better at."