'Landers maul Rye Cove

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
It was two similar styles of play, but two very different teams.
In their first battle against one of three Virginia squads, the Cloudland Highlanders left the opening paragraph of their 2003 season with a bold statement Friday night.
Using another 100-yard rushing performance from Dakota Benfield and a three-phase attack from Mark Byrd, the 'Landers sent the Rye Cove War Eagles packing with a 58-0 beating on Orr Field.
"We picked up the blocking pretty well," said Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford. "We made a few mistakes early, but we had an idea of what they were going to do on offense. We talked to Appalachia, Virginia, so we were pretty well prepared for what they did."
"We gave a great defensive effort and they can move the ball," he said. "They moved the ball real well on Appalachia, from what I understand. They are a good football team and well-coached; we had a little more talent."
Four other players got into the end zone during the outing for Cloudland, which only allowed 57 total offensive yards.
"We came up against a team that was a lot more skilled than we were," said Rye Cove head coach Tom Callaway. "We've got a very young team and we're still learning to play football, basically, but Cloudland's a very good football team. They're one of the best single-A teams in Tennessee.
"What can you say about a team who has a quarterback that runs a sub 4.5-40 -- a tremendous athlete (Byrd) -- and the Benfield kid. Both of them are great and we couldn't keep up with them."
The Highlanders only punted once, during their first drive, scoring on every additional drive until the fourth quarter.
Benfield made use of a 24-yard gain on the second drive, with Byrd scoring from 11 on the second play. An Aaron Stocton grab in the end zone made it 8-0.
On the next defensive series, Stocton made another catch, this time turning a tip into an interception.
"We've practiced that tip-drill for a while and it finally came handy," Stocton said. "I kept my eye on the ball and finally came down with it."
An incomplete pass set up Benfield, who blasted 26 yards to paydirt. A Jeff Lunsford conversion put Cloudland up 16-0.
Cloudland's defense kept the pressure cooker on high, forcing one of five War Eagle punts.
The ball sailed deep into Cloudland territory, where Byrd fielded it at the six-yard line. Byrd cut right, dodging tackles, then cut through a Rye Cove regiment and went left before Benfield hammered the Eagle kicker.
Said Byrd: "I picked it up on a good bounce and took it. I got through, weaved and saw Dakota. He hit the end and killed the punter. I knew I was going to score after that."
Mark turned the corner and finished the 94-yard haul with a trip across the goal line. Benfield garnished one of his two conversions to add to the lead.
A 12-yard sack from Byrd quickly hit the off-switch on Rye Cove's offense during their next stanza. Cloudland used an 11-yard pass play from Byrd to Bebo Hughes, with an 23-yard scamper from the quarterback to give Benfield a one-yard plunge.
Two sacks and a blocked punt put the 'Landers in position for their final score of the half, this time a Jonah Horney seven-yard run.
The home team utilized their passing game in the third quarter as Byrd hit Benfield twice, including a 33-yard shovel pass to set up a Dewayne Campbell scoring plunge.
Toby King made a 28-yard grab in the next series for Cloudland, with Dane Christman making a 5-yard cut across the goal line. The squad made one final scoring effort to begin the fourth quarter as sophomore B.J. Johnson scrambled 23 yards to the state line, sealing Cloudland's 18th straight regular season victory.
Offensively, Rye Cove's biggest threat in Zach Berry was shut down. Berry rushed for 56 yards on 22 carries to lead the Eagles.
It says a lot about the Cloudland defense led by 17 tackles from Christman and 10 hits from Jon Pritchard. The unit collected five sacks.
"We did real good and did what we needed to," added Pritchard. "We came out and stopped (Berry)."
Said Stocton: (The defense has) been switching spots here and there and it's kind of hard to get one position down, but everybody came together and played pretty good tonight."
Benfield had 190 total yards rushing and receiving, while Byrd was 7 of 9 passing for 100 yards with his 77 on the ground.
"I didn't know how we would face up with a Virginia team," Byrd said. "Traditionally, they've been great. Just to come out and play like that was superb."
"I was real nervous coming into the ball game," Benfield stated. "We didn't watch any video on them. We guessed as much as we could and talked to Appalachia a little bit, so we had an idea what they might do on defense.
"The linemen did an exceptional job and we switched up our backfield a little bit this week to a Power I, and Jeff (Lunsford) did a great job as the blocking back."
It's a good way to enter an off week, as Cloudland next faces North Greene in two weeks. It means a lot of improvement is in store during this week's practices.
"Everybody on the team has got to focus on making themselves better," Coach Lunsford added. "Every player has to find some way to improve. That's how a team gets better. When individuals get better, a team gets better."
Cloudland racked up 396 yards of total offense on the game, behind a pace-setting 'beefy boy' line.
Said Cloudland senior lineman Zach Cook: "All I've got to say is good job fat boys!"