East figures to be tough foe for Cloudland


Asst. Sports Editor


  The Cloudland Highlanders are down but not out. After a ballyhooed loss to the Hampton Bulldogs on Friday, they will face another tough opponent tonight at Sullivan East against the enthusiastic Patriots.
  The entire 'Lander team has been practicing hard all week in preparation for the matchup, which is expected to be a tough one.
  "They may have to best team at East in the 25 years that I have been around," Cloudland head coach Gary Keith said.
  But don't expect the Roan Mountain team to go to Blountville and lay down.
  "I am impressed with the kids' attitude this week," Keith said.
  He said that every player has shown up dressed and ready to go.
  "We have to learn from this [loss] and get better," the coach said.
  The Patriots come back this year with nine offensive starters and eight defensive starters from last season. Another plus to the East team is having five sets of brothers which brings some friendly competition amongst the Patriots.
  Senior quarterback Matt Eads (6-0, 165) also returns after rushing 147 times for 537 yards last season, completing 53-of-144 passes for 409 yards and five touchdowns. He also scored nine TDs last year, placing third in the Mountain Lakes Conference.
  In last year's game, the Patriots were offered plenty of penalties and turnovers to keep the game close after some long runs and key passes from Eads. But the 'Lander defense picked up after a 30-14 lead at the half.
  Twins Charlie (6-4, 280) and Wayne (6-0, 210) Smith will also be a force to reckoned with at the ends. Charlie and Eads have been three time all-conference players.
  The rest of the defense will be held down by Nathan Shockley ( 6-5, 210) and Austin Peterson (6-5, 250) at tackle, cornerbacks Hunter Crowder (5-11, 165) and Jeremy Banner (5-11, 150), strong safety Justin Hicks (5-11, 175) and Eads, the free safety.
  East head coach Ralph Nelson, a former University of Tennessee lineman, is looking for his team to raise the bar at a school who had averaged two wins per season in the 33-year history of the program.
  In his first season as head coach, the team had only two victories. Last season, the team went 4-6 overall, 2-5 in the conference, including a big win over the Elizabethton Cyclones after being shut down for 30 years. East's overall program record is 66-261-1.
  Wes Spurgeon (6-2, 185) , Banner and Crowder will be at wideout while Josh Tester (5-11, 175) and Michael Nidiffer (5-9, 170) will be handling the backfield. Nidiffer will be bringing in a lot of speed for the team as a 4.6 second sprinter.
  Also in last year's game, the 'Landers scored on the first three drives in the game for a 52-21 victory. They had five sacks in the second half and the team totalled 35 tackles.
  Nidiffer had a 62-yard touchdown for the Patriots and led his team with 80 yards on the ground. Eads totalled over 100 total offensive yards with 86 of them in the air.
  Jonah Horney racked in some quality gains on offense and Jonathan "Possum" Pritchard got a sack last year for Cloudland, but they are expected to be the keys on offense and defense tonight.
  Cody Jones was providing the blocks last Friday at Hampton, and also had 9 rushes for 22 yards. Horney topped the offense by gaining 92 yards on 19 carries.
  This will be an interesting season opener for the Patriots while the Highlanders will be looking to improve on their performance and even out their record.