Cloudland reaching for new heights

By Travis Brown
STAR Sports
tbrown@starhq.com

   The Cloudland Highlanders have been busy putting together an impressive resume over the past couple of seasons, but this year could possibly be the most impressive 'Lander squad to play at Orr Field.
   At least if running backs and skill positions are the frame of reference.
   Cloudland has fielded some fine squads in the past, but concerning pound for pound talent, the 2002 'Landers are tough to top.
   This season still holds some big surprises for the Highlanders, and their success will depend on how those challenges are met.
   One area of improvement this season has been the passing game. Although the statistics are unclear, both Cole Gouge and Mark Byrd have looked markedly better throwing the football.
   Coach Mike Lunsford has implemented some new formations and the approach allows his young signalcallers to open it up at times. When the 'Landers have decided to throw the results have been solid.
   With playoff time in sight, Cloudland will continue to develop that passing attack. If it becomes prolific, the running game will be the biggest beneficiary, as defenses will have to respect the throw, and commit less personnel to stopping the run.
   The backfield is no problem at all. With a virtual cornucopia of runners to choose from, the Highlanders are in good shape when it comes to ballcarriers.
   With the offensive and defensive lines improving since the preseason, continued improvement from the "big uglies" will spell W's for Cloudland in the post season.
   The remainder of the regular season for Coach Lunsford and his staff is a big experiment of sorts, as Lunsford and his staff are looking for the right formula to strike playoff gold.
   The only two question marks are on special teams and in the defensive secondary. With the kicking game always posing problems for the 'Landers, this comes as no surprise.
   However, this season has seen an effort to improve in this facet of the game. Senior Mark Barnett has shown promise but still needs some consistency. His kickoffs are looking impressive, by far the most improved portion of the Highlanders attack.
   Concerning the defensive backfield, there is still work to be done. However, with the passing attack becoming a more effective weapon for the Highlanders, the defensive backfield for Cloudland will see more balls in practice.
   Perhaps this practice ethic will spur improvement in the pass umbrella.
   There is no question that Cloudland can stop the run, or at least slow it down, but a prolific passing threat such as they will see in the playoffs still remains a mystery.
   With five games remaining on the schedule, Lunsford and his mates will have ample time to solve the problems of last season's championship matchup.
   If the lessons are taken to heart, and the 'Landers continue to play with passion and intensity, perhaps they will show the rest of 1-A that the #1 ranking is no hoax, just a simple fact.