'Landers bombard Jellico

By Travis Brown
STAR Staff

   JELLICO -- Clearing one of the last hurdles towards a conference title, the Cloudland Highlanders treated the Jellico Blue Devils to a little smashmouth football on the way to a 66-12 victory Friday night.
   Compiling 463 yards rushing and averaging better than 8.7 yards a carry, the 'Landers simply steamrolled the unfortunate Devils, who never managed to get their potent passing game up to speed.
   The passing threat was canceled by some solid pass defense by the 'Lander defensive backfield, perhaps one of the best performances in recent memory by a Highlander secondary.
   'Lander head coach Mike Lunsford was pleased with his secondary play.
   "Our defense was prepared, our defensive coaches had our boys ready," said Lunsford. "I was impressed with how we adjusted."
   The contest started off slowly as the Devils took the opening kickoff and managed to convert a first down before punting it away to the 'Landers. Enter Mark Byrd.
   The stellar sophomore took the kick at his own 30-yard line and found daylight down the right side. Seventy yards later the Highlanders were in the lead 7-0, and they would never look back.
   The next three Cloudland touchdowns would showcase more of number 10 as he rushed for two and hit Jonathan Gibbs on a 25 yard pass to help the "Landers to accumulate 30 points in the first quarter.
   The lone Jellico score came when 'Lander tailback Dakota Benfield was stripped at midfield and the resulting fumble was returned by the Devils' Justin Watts for a touchdown. Despite the heroics, Cloudland lead 30-6 after one stanza of play.
   The second quarter saw the same results with just different faces as the 'Lander coaching staff began to spread the wealth heading to halftime.
   Mark Barnett capped off a 10-play drive with a four-yard run early in the second quarter to continue the Cloudland scoring spree. The rest of the 'Lander backfield would get their turn as well, as Benfield and Derrick Birchfield added touchdowns of their own before halftime.
   Brandon Odom, who intercepted a pass late in the second period, converted on 5-of-5 extra points and the Highlanders took it to the locker room in command, 53-6.
   The second half saw more solid defense and a chance to let some future starters get some playing time. Wholesale substitutions in the second half did not weaken the 'Landers on either side of the football, as they would add two more touchdowns, only to surrender a freak score on a missed field goal.
   The final score of 66-12 should cause some analysts to stand up and take notice that the 'Landers are contenders, and they are for real. Aside from the defensive success against the pass, a questionable part of Cloudland's defense all season, this game displayed Cloudland's ball-control, power offense at its finest.
   With the Cloudland machine running on all cylinders, the playoffs are looking good. But first things first, there is a season to finish.
   Next week offers up some well-needed rest for the 'Landers, who have some minor bumps after the first half of the season. Odom, who has had a nagging ankle problem, will certainly enjoy the break.
   After the contest, Lunsford was proud of his squad.
   "We came out ready to play," said Lunsford. "I was very impressed with the way we came out, we blocked well and our runners gave great effort."
   Cloudland will take the week off, then crank it up yet again for their match with the Indians of Powell Valley on October 12.