'Lander players buzzing after Friday's conquest

By Wes Holtsclaw
SPORTS CORRESPONDENT
wholtsclaw@starhq.com

   "Tonight was awesome," said Cloudland tailback Dakota Benfield after Friday night's contest with Cherokee. "We marked it on our calendars.
   "Last year, we had a great team, but we got beat twice. Cherokee was first, and now we've gotta take it one game at a time."
   After Friday night's 35-14 victory over the 4-A Cherokee Chiefs, the Cloudland Highlander football team took another step towards their goals for the 2002 season.
   With the victory over Cherokee behind them, the Highlanders now explode into their conference play, pushing towards their goal of reaching the state championship game.
   The contest marked the first time in school history that they have defeated two 4-A schools in the same season.
   But the Highlanders had to work for their victory. After a slow first half, they bounced back and shut the Chief offense down.
   Said lineman Nathaniel Baker: "First, we were slow and confused, but the support of the crowd had our blood running. When they threw Lunsford out, we knew we'd win it."
   "The line blocked great, everybody did great in the second half," said Cloudland senior Cole Gouge. "We got worried out there, but the defense stepped it up and put them to sleep."
   Added Dale Baker: "This was for Keith (Buchanan), John (Hicks), and the seniors on last year's team. I'm proud of this game, Mark Barnett and the backs were great tonight."
   Cloudland had stellar performances from their offensive line and defensive units, but nobody can deny the game played by Mark Byrd whether at the quarterback or tailback position.
   Said Byrd: "(Coach Mike Lunsford) kinda threw me into the fire. I felt comfortable back there. It just felt good to come into their place and get a win after last year."
   Byrd tallied 246 yards on 19 carries with two scores for the 'Landers, and had over 300 total yards in the contest.
   "Every yard I've got goes to the lineman," said Byrd. "Dan Winters and all of the coaches do a great job with them. They all did a great job."
   The game took an ironic turn in the fourth quarter for Cloudland linebacker Dane Christman. Christman picked up an interception, almost identical to the one against Cherokee last season. Only this one seemed to seal the deal.
   Said Christman: "Nathaniel Baker had a hold of (Lance Abernathy), and the guy just tossed it to me. The fans were great, when they got it started you could just feel it.
   Cloudland had great senior leadership throughout the second half. Mark Barnett, Dustin DeYoung, Cole Gouge, Jason Grant, Josh Johnson, Dale Baker, Nathaniel Baker, Derrick Birchfield,
   Jason Birchfield, Dustin Sluder, Gregory Birchfield, Jeremy Ward, Israel King, Derrick Guinn, and Jimmy Dison all showed leadership in rallying their squad on the field and the sidelines.
   All of the Cloudland players were in consensus after the contest about their impressive fan support and the backing of their junior varsity players.
   "The JV really supported us," said Jason Grant. "When we got down they kept us up. Our fans were awesome, they really took a lot out of Cherokee's support."
   Said Byrd: "The fans did a heck of a job, they got our blood flowing."
   Cloudland must now focus on the next half of their season, which features trips to Hampton, South Greene and Powell Valley.
   Improvement must be continued in some aspects of Cloudland's game, but for this week Roan Mountain is still behind their top team.
   Said Dakota Benfield: "They've been preaching to us, 'play high-headed football,' we did it out there tonight."