Jr. 'Landers top Unaka in OT thriller

Photo By Rick Harris

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR Staff
In a season filled with good junior high football games, Goddard Field possibly held Carter County's best Thursday night.
When the Cloudland Junior Highlanders and Unaka Junior Rangers knocked heads for the first time, it took an extra period for the dust to settle in their Watauga Valley Conference battle.
But once the smoke cleared, the 'Landers used solid play from quarterback Michael Lunsford to battle back from a 24-16 deficit to eventually take a 30-24 victory.
"It was just a good middle school football game," said Unaka head coach Matt Wilson. "We've got a lot of respect for the Cloudland football program and we knew Coach (Robbie) Turbyfill would have them ready to play. Penalties just hurt us."
"We started out slow, but we pulled it out," said Cloudland head coach Robbie Turbyfill. "We were lucky to get a win. They scored on their first run like Hampton did, but my line played great and we got settled down and did well. Coach Wilson's doing a great job with that bunch."
The Rangers had two touchdowns called back on holding penalties during the game that cost the team in the long run.
Leading 16-8 with a couple of minutes remaining in the second quarter, Unaka turned the ball over and Cloudland took the ball inside its own 20 and tied the game with a Josh Dugger run going into the half.
In the third quarter, Jeff Wilson broke a long touchdown run to take a 24-16 lead. Cloudland fired right back later in the half when Lunsford found Michael Shadduck through the air to send it into the extra period.
The Rangers fumbled on their third play in the stanza and the 'Landers stopped them to earn a chance to win the ballgame. Cloudland quickly scored on a Lunsford keeper to take perhaps its biggest win of the season.
"It was one of the best middle school football games I've ever seen," added Coach Wilson.
Billy Markland added a touchdown after a reception for the 'Landers, while Michael Austin and Dugger had close to 50 yards on the ground.
Lunsford gained well over 100 yards in total offense through the air and running the football, being a viable threat yet again.
Jeff Wilson and Mickey Campbell gained over 100 yards rushing for the Rangers in the contest; Campbell after an opening 60-yard run.
It was a gameplan going in for Cloudland to stop Wilson.
"Wilson is a hoss, and that was our plan," Turbyfill said. "(Campbell) was good, too. They've got two great backs."
The game closes the conference standings even more than it was at the beginning of the season, aside from Hampton, with all the other four teams in contention to play in the championship game
"Even with Hampton, it's the closest I've seen it in five years," the 'Lander coach added. "Any team can win on any given night. Maybe we can keep playing well and stay in contention. I'm tickled to death to be 4-3."
The Rangers go on the road to face Camp Creek for a 7 p.m. contest on Tuesday, while Cloudland next faces Johnson County on the road Thursday, Oct. 2.