Jr. 'Landers withstand Happy Valley


Photo by Rick Harris
Happy Valley's Blake Duvall tries to escape the grasp of Cloudland's Michael Shadduck (25) and Nick Sluder (27).

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com
After falling behind at the beginning, the Cloudland Jr. Highlanders were able to bounce back and put away Happy Valley in a 14-6 Little Watauga final on Thursday night, keeping hope alive in their chase for the conference title.
Cloudland had another slow start, but as they have been able to do recently, they came back to take control with the ground game and a tough defense.
"The past three games we have had a let down to start the first quarter, but luckily we've been able to come back every time," said Jr. 'Landers coach Robbie Turbyfill. "We didn't quite play to our potential today, but we will get out here and practice until we learn how to. If we can get past Johnson County and Unaka upcoming, then we have a shot at winning this conference."
The Warriors took their first drive of the night and marched the ball down the field behind tailback Garrett Dykes and fullback Jesse Richardson.
A screen pass to Blake Duvall from Tyler Blevins ended with a gain for the Warriors to move the ball down to the 'Landers' 30 yard-line.
The Cloudland defense stiffened, forcing Happy Valley to go four and out on downs turning the ball over to Cloudland.
A couple of nice runs from Mike Austin and a quarterback keeper by Lunsford moved the sticks for Cloudland, as they tried to put together their first scoring drive of the contest.
The drive ended when a pass over the middle from Lunsford was picked-off by Anthony Hollifield and returned inside the 'Landers 35 yard-line.
This set up Happy Valley's only touchdown of the night, after an 11-yard sweep to the right from Dykes made it first and goal for the Warriors.
Richardson moved the ball down to the four after a five-yard gain, and Blevins capped off the drive by keeping the ball and taking it in for the score.
"The line blocked well today and the backs ran tough, but even though we came out of here with a loss I'm glad to have the chance to coach this great group of kids," said Happy Valley coach Alex Payne.
The Warriors led 6-0 with 5:52 left in the second period, but the 'Landers would respond by moving Lunsford into the tailback position and Jonathan Moore to quarterback.
After receiving a 35 yard kick-off return by Josh Dugger, Cloudland fed the ball to their strong horse Lunsford who carried the ball six times for 30 yards.
Lunsford scored from eight yards out with 2:22 left in the half, and also added the two-point conversion off a run to give Cloudland an 8-6 advantage.
"Michael Lunsford did a good job in our backfield, along with Mike Austin and Josh Dugger, but we still have some backs who need to step it up and decide that they want to play," said Turbyfill.
After stopping the Warriors on three consecutive downs, the 'Landers got another chance to put it in the end-zone, but an interception by Anthony Hollifield at the buzzer denied Cloudland the scoring opportunity.
Cloudland had a nice opening drive in the second-half, after a reverse from Dugger moved the ball down to the Warrior 29 yard-line.
The 'Landers drive ended with a fumble, as Happy Valley recovered the ball at their own 23 yard-line in an attempt to mount some kind of offense.
After another three and out by the Warriors, Cloudland got their second chance to add to their lead and potentially put away the ball game.
"We have Michael Lunsford at middle linebacker and Billy Markland and Mike Austin on the outsides, and all of those guys played well and are a tough group to run against," said Turbyfill.
A 51 yard 14-play drive consumed half of the third and fourth quarters, as Cloudland scored with just 3:55 left in the contest.
Aimed and determined, Lunsford converted two fourth downs, and made it first and goal on the Warrior nine yard-line after a 16 yard run.
Lunsford continued to build steam the more the game wore on, as he finished the night with 127 yards on 27 carries.
The Warrior defense concentrated on Lunsford once inside their own 10 yard-line, and on a fourth and long play the ball was given to Billy Markland who virtually scored uncontested.
Happy Valley's offense was shut down for zero total yards in the second-half, and the game ended with a near touchdown pass from Lunsford to Markland at the Warrior five yard-line.
"We've had our problems on both offense and defense this season, but I'm proud of the effort these guys have given all year long," said Payne. "As bad as things have been for us this year, these guys could have quit but they didn't, and all my seniors have played hard and I'm proud to have the opportunity to coach this bunch."