'Landers hammer Chiefs

Photo by Dave Boyd
CloudlandÕs Dewayne Campbell attacks the Cherokee defense.

By Wes Holtsclaw
With only one home game remaining on their schedule, the top-ranked Cloudland Highlanders wanted to go out of their homecoming battle on top.
They did it by avenging their lone single-season home loss in the past six years.
Facing the always tough 4A Cherokee Chiefs from the IMAC Conference, the 'Landers made crucial stops when they needed them and littered the end zone, despite giving up 408 yards of total offense, in a 52-18 rout on Orr Field on Friday night.
"We had more speed and ran the ball hard," said Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford. "We did a great job blocking on our traps and sweeps. I thought that was the biggest difference."
"They had a great team and pretty well whipped us in the first half," added 'Lander quarterback Mark Byrd. "We had to buckle down to get the job done. Cherokee had some big backs and they were tough to bring down. They were the best fullback-tailback combination we've seen all year. But Dakota ran like a stallion and the line did good blocking."
Cloudland gained 389 yards on the ground, led by a dominant 200-yard rushing performance from Dakota Benfield. Byrd scored from different angles once again with 229 total yards despite leaving the game early with minor cramps.
"Son, they were a tremendous team," said Benfield, who added a touchdown and two conversions. "They were one of the biggest teams and one of the hardest hitting teams we've seen and might see all year.
"(West) and (McMillen) could block and run," he said. "I felt like our offense did an exceptional job. But on defense we were hit and miss like against North Greene. We played better in the second half."
Sivert was quick to dismiss many of the positive things his team did, directing all the attention to their opponents.
"They've got a great team and we had a few things going early," said Cherokee head coach Mike Sivert. "We battled around early and made some mistakes. We got down and they stayed on it."
"I've always said Byrd and Benfield are outstanding athletes no matter what division or level they're at," he added. "The men in the trenches played well and I'm a Cloudland fan from here on out. They've got a lot of heart and determination and I wish them the best."
Big 230-pound tailback Chris West led the Chiefs with 116 yards on the ground while fullback Brian McMillan gained 97 on the 'Lander defense with big plays throughout the night.
However, the unit only scored one touchdown on the Cloudland first string, tacking on two late scores against some replacements.
"They were every bit of what I expected," Lunsford said of West and McMillan. "I had a lot of respect before and after the game for them. We had a hard time tackling them."
"We can play better defensively, but we played good first series in the second half before we put some of the younger kids in," he said.
The 'Landers scored on their first six possessions of the game, with their lone punts occurring in the fourth quarter.
Cloudland took the ball to open the game and battled down field with some solid gains before Byrd was shifted back to tailback. The game exploded from their as Byrd roared down the sidelines with a 40-yard touchdown.
Cherokee's West battled back on their first play with a 43-yard run, but Cloudland made some crucial stops, holding the squad to four downs.
The 'Landers appeared in trouble after three dismal downs in the next possession, but the Chiefs left Benfield wide open for an 80-yard fake punt pass from Byrd to set up a five-yard touchdown from Jonah Horney.
Like many other games in previous memory, Byrd broke the play of the night and had it called back. After two solid gains from Benfield, Byrd broke three attempted sacks and seven more tribe members on a spectacular romp towards pay dirt.
But Cloudland didn't leave the area empty handed, as Benfield used gains of 20, 15 and 12 en route to a two-yard end zone plunge to put Cloudland up 24-0 on Cherokee.
The 'Landers had the tribe held on their next series, but a facemask penalty on fourth down put Cherokee in great position to score, which they did after a 22 yard dash from West to pull the game within 18.
Cloudland fired right back when Benfield cut loose with a 32-yard run, setting up Horney's second score of the night, this time a dominant 20-yard scamper.
Byrd tacked on a 15-yard score on the next Highlander drive to put the squad up with a 38-6 half time lead as Star Baker and 'Lander footballer
Aaron Stocton were crowned homecoming queen and king.
The three-time all-stater wasn't through, however, as Cherokee went to the air to open the second half. But the second time they threw Byrd's way on the night, he grabbed it and made some nifty cuts on his way to a 62-yard interception return for touchdown.
The Chiefs fumbled on their next drive setting up a Dewayne Campbell 10-yard reverse, which would be Cloudland's final score of the night at 52-6 before the subbing began.
Cherokee added two scores in the fourth quarter when Dusty Sandefur hauled a Cloudland fumble 16 yards and Rusty Thompson blazed 61 yards on a reverse to score.
Although Cloudland's 75th anniversary homecoming was special to those in attendence, the win was bittersweet for Horney, whose grandfather passed away early Friday.
He picked up 65 yards on seven carries, stating his case for the future of the 'Lander football squad.
"My papaw passed away today and that motivated me," the sophomore fullback added. "I just wanted to run them over and make something for myself."
The down note for the Highlander team was their defensive performance, even though the first unit gave up one score.
"The line did real good on offense, we just weren't executing on defense," said Jeff Lunsford, who came away with two big sacks in the game. "They got way too many yards and we managed to stop them somehow. Our line needs to get in better shape."
Chris 'The Bus' Sheets added ten tackles for Cloudland, while Jon Pritchard, Campbell, Byrd and Benfield all contributed seven.
Added Dane Christman, who also recorded 10 tackles: "It was real rough; (West's) a load. I wish we would've played a little better. We've got to practice and improve on things. Wherever we keyed, they ran away from us."
The 'Landers face a big road trip this Friday night as they travel to face a Jellico Blue Devil unit whose only put up six points all year, that coming in a big loss to Coalfield.