'Landers elevated to top spot

By Wes Holtzclaw
STAR Staff
wholtzclaw@starhq.com

The Cloudland Highlanders are number one in the state (for now at least).
   The first Associated Press Tennessee high school football poll of this season has officially been released, and the boys from Roan Mountain squeezed past defending champion Ezell-Harding to take the first place spot in this week's 1-A poll.
   It's the first time in school history that the 'Landers have held the number one spot in the weekly poll. Coach Mike Lunsford was surprised when he heard the news last night.
   It's an honor to just show how far the program has come, up to that level, said coach Lunsford. It's just an honor to even be considered in the top ten of the state.
   The Highlanders will travel to Rogersville to take on its second 4-A opponent of the season in Cherokee. The Chiefs will be a threat to Cloudland, as they gave the 'Landers their only regular season loss last year.
   Two strong sets of line on both sides of the football, backed behind a strong rushing and passing attack will be what Cherokee brings to the table.
   Cloudland will need excelling games from its secondary and offensive line to take the upper edge in the match-up.
   Riverdale, Maryville, Goodpasture, Covington, and Brentwood Academy won their respective classes in the polling. Cloudland received four first place votes compared to Ezell's seven, but topped them by five points.
   IMPROVEMENT A BIG PART AT THIS POINT
   When things mattered the most in their game against Happy Valley, the Hampton Bulldogs clicked on all cylinders.
   The Bulldogs rallied after a 20-14 half-time deficit in favor of the Warriors to pull out an amazing 34-20 victory.
   The game proved that the battle up front is a major key to any contest, and when you combine that with speed, you will have a successful ball team.
   That is something that coach Mike Ensor and the Unaka Rangers have been working towards this season, and the improvement has been shown.
   The Rangers played a tough second half against a strong Jellico squad, bouncing back with three touchdowns in their 47-21 loss.
   Right now at this point in the season, improvement is a must for some squads across the state of Tennessee. Playoff hopes are on the line, and one game could make the difference in post season hopes.
   Teams across the state, from Bristol to Memphis have emphasized this in advancing their teams. However, there are some teams such as Maryville, Riverdale, and Brentwood Academy that must utilize this tactic to contend amongst the top each season.
   WESLEY'S OFFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: MICHAEL PETERSON, HAMPTON
  
Peterson was the big gun for the Hampton Bulldogs in their victory over the Happy Valley Warriors this past Friday night. Peterson rushed 27 times for 166 yards and a score.
   WESLEY'S DEFENSIVE PLAYER OF THE WEEK: ADAM POTTER AND JIMMY SARRETT, HAMPTON
  
Both of these guys were instrumental in spearheading the Hampton defense, and led the county with ten tackles a piece in last week's game with Happy Valley.
   WESLEY'S LINEMAN OF THE WEEK: DALE BAKER AND JASON GRANT, CLOUDLAND
  
Cloudland had strong performances from their linemen against North Greene. Senior's Dale Baker and Jason Grant spearheaded an attack, as the improved players worked hard against the Huskies.
   WEEK THREE PICKS
  
Last week, I lost three contests in my weekly statewide picks. Austin-East was defeated by Knox Fulton, Elizabethton lost to Tennessee High and Smyrna fell to Oakland.
   This week, I will look at more local contests. I currently hold a 24-6 record in my picks.
   Cloudland 24, Cherokee 10
   Hampton 38, Johnson County 12
   Unicoi County 12, Unaka 10
   Sullivan East 21, Volunteer 20
   Sullivan North 34, Sullivan South 28
   West Greene 22, North Greene 12
   Greeneville 24, Dobyns-Bennett 18
   Greenback 46, Jellico 28
   Trousdale County 38, Westmoreland 21
   Sweetwater 48, Tellico Plains 20
  
(Wes Holtsclaw can be reached by e-mail at wholtsclaw@starhq.com.)