Cloudland braces for unfamilair foe in Rye Cove, Va.

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
It will be a much harder task for the Cloudland Highlanders this week.
Going into their third game of the season against the Rye Cove War Eagles of Virginia in their first-ever meeting, the team hasn't seen any tape and has had a hard time preparing for the outing.
"To be honest, I haven't seen anything and haven't been able to get anything on them," said Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford. "So you can't tell what they have. We've never went into a game like this, and it makes it tough."
"You just prepare from the previous week and hope that you have things that they don't," he said. "We try to find ways to improve ourselves to make us better."
Cloudland (2-0) comes into the week after impressive victories over Hampton and 4-A Sullivan East, while Rye Cove lost 34-8 to defending Virginia single-A Division I runner-up Appalachia.
The offseason wasn't as fruitful as the War Eagle team would've hoped.
The squad had some trouble in the off-season with hazing. Four upperclassmen were charged with sexual assault and conspiracy to commit a felony against three juveniles during a team 'initiation' that took place this past summer, according to the Kingsport Times-News.
Rye Cove's second-year coach Tom Callaway was unavailable for comment Thursday night as the one 18-year old involved was found guilty of five misdemeanors and sentenced Wednesday to nine months in jail in the Scott County Courtroom.
Adding to that situation, the squad was moved up to the larger Division II this year within the Cumberland District, and has worked within its weight program as a rebuilding club behind running back/fullback Zach Berry, who rushed for 151 yards and a touchdown last week.
It's undoubtedly been a tough period of time for the War Eagles. However, if the 'Landers utilize their solid offensive attack as in previous weeks, Rye Cove will have a hard time keeping up during Friday night's game on Orr Field.
The Cloudland rushing attack has been fruitful as the team has gained 649 yards in the past two games, courtesy of a 210-yard performance from Dakota Benfield and two straight 100-yard outings from quarterback Mark Byrd.
The 'Lander offensive line has held its own, but the boys in the trenches and the team must be better on their feet despite a week of sickness, according to Lunsford.
"First, we've got to get in better shape," added the coach. "We've done a good job, but we've had a lot of sickness this week. It's been hard to get a good day in at practice, but we've been working on our blocks and moving faster."
Defense has been a solid note for the 'Landers during the previous two weeks, only allowing 34 points thus far in the season. Dane Christman leads the squad with double-digit outings in tackles during the past two games.
"I've been pleased with our defense," the coach added. "We haven't gave up a lot of points except late in the games. The early scores have been a few mistakes and first game jitters. We can get sharper mentally and physically, but we've played pretty good."
--LANDER NOTES--
- The Cloudland defensive line hasn't allowed a large rushing game this season.
The troop, including Jeff Lunsford, Jake Gibbs and Chris Sheets, has allowed the linebacking core of Christman, Aaron Stocton, Jonah Horney and Jon Pritchard to put added pressure on the opposing quarterbacks and tailbacks.
- The 'Landers obviously entered the 2003 season as one of the favorites to win the 1A state title. After their first two wins, their rankings have steadily rised.
The 'Landers rose to fourth in Sonny Moore's state rankings, while Earl Nall has the squad at a steady third. Ken Massey's ratings have computed Cloudland at seventh at the level.
- The 'Landers will be off next week, then travel to North Greene for their first conference test of the season.