Chiefs last team to top 'Landers at Orr Field

By: Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
In 2001, the 4-A Cherokee Chiefs and the Cloudland Highlanders were undefeated and perfectly healthy.
But the Chiefs did something nobody else has been able to do on Orr Field in the regular season since 1997: they defeated Cloudland 27-22.
The 'Landers haven't lost a regular season game since then, and the idea that Mike Sivert's unit is going to come back to the mountain and knock them off the ladder does not set well with this squad.
It's a game that means more to the Highlanders than any other on their home schedule. Despite Cherokee's 2-2 record, they bring a solid IMAC Conference squad that's playoff bound if they run the table as expected.
After a win over Volunteer, the team was caught up with a close loss to South Greene and a 45-12 whipping at the hands of Greeneville.
Obviously, the fuel is there for Cherokee and a battle is expected tonight for Cloudland's homecoming, where the Chiefs were picked by a major area paper to pull away with a 27-14 victory.
"They've got a good ball team," said Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford. "They have stud running backs, a good quarterback with good receivers and a solid line. They are very quick, strong, aggressive and physical.
"They had a lead against Greeneville and took the ball 80 yards on the first drive to score," he said. "Big (Chris) West is a good runner and (Richardson) and (Sensabaugh) are good receivers. Their fullback (Brian McMillian) is a stud. They are surrounded with talent all-around."
The Chief team has had to work on turnovers, but feature a strong senior class and a lot of returning skill players including the seniors West (6-1, 235) at tailback and McMillian (6-1, 245) at fullback.
West and McMillian also serve as the team's linebackers and were both all-region defensively last season for the Chiefs.
Josh Groan (5-11, 190) is a solid quarterback with plenty of threats including the speedy Richardson, who caught the opening touchdown strike against the Green Devils.
Joining Richardson at receiver is a very solid pass catcher in Anthony Sensabaugh (5-10, 155), who recorded 44 tackles last season.
Steven Bowman (5-6, 147) leads the Chief attack in the secondary, while Greg Dennis (5-9, 267) and Jake Anderson (6-3, 270) will be some of the key linemen for Cherokee.
"West and (McMillian) are as hard of backs to tackle as I've seen," added Lunsford. "It would take a tankful of us to get them down. They should let us play with 12 at least, maybe 15 to tackle them on defense."
In fact, the same squad led Cloudland 14-12 at half-time in Rogersville.
But Cloudland coach Mike Lunsford was ejected from the game courtesy of legendary TSSAA official Charles McConnell and the 'Lander fans were in an uproar until their team battled back to take a 35-14 victory.
The Chiefs eventually finished last season 1-9, but that season has motivated their cause for this year and they would like nothing more for their season than to knock off the state's number-one ranked 1A team and spoil their Homecoming.
The main focus for Cherokee entering this game is Cloudland quarterback Mark Byrd, who gained over 250 yards rushing on the opposing turf last season.
"They've got good enough athletes and their probably going to stop Mark," added the 'Lander coach. "We have to have the other kids step up and make plays. If we don't then we're up the creek. We have to make plays and he has to make some too."
"I've got to play it like a normal game," said Byrd, who has gained 455 yards on 37 carries (12.3 yards-per-carry) with 8 touchdowns while throwing 29 of 38 with no picks for 447 yards (15.4 yards-per-throw) and three scores.
"They're going to be good and the pressure's there. You've just got to put it behind you and play.
"Defensively, we've been trying to learn their formations," he said. "Hopefully we can get off the ball and get pressure on their quarterback and tailbacks."
It's a game for pride if nothing else for the 'Landers, who will need each and every fan out for the contest. Cloudland will have to play a defensive game and control the clock late as the starters are expected to play the full four quarters.
Tonight's game time is 7:30, while Homecoming activities begin at 5 p.m. as Roan Mountain holds its annual Homecoming parade.