'Landers breeze past Rangers

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR Correspondent

   The Cloudland Highlanders finished up the regular season on Thursday night, and they delivered a powerful blow to the Unaka Rangers by the final of 47-0 at Goddard Field.
   "We got beat by a good football team who just manhandled us, and we didn't have any answers for them," said Unaka coach Mickey Taylor.
   The Highlanders will be in action next week, attempting to advance past the first round in the 1-A playoffs.
   "We're going to try to be prepared," said Cloudland coach Mike Lunsford. "The teams we will face have been historically better than the teams in this area, and until we beat some of them, we don't have any right to say we are as good as they are."
   The Rangers struggled from the get-go as Jamin Baggett fumbled the ball, with Derrick Birchfield making the recovery and sprinting to a 30-yard touchdown return.
   Unaka's misfortune continued on its next possession with Baggett being intercepted by Mark Barnett, who took ran it down to the Ranger 23.
   Two plays later, Mark Byrd hooked up with Jason Birchfield on a 19-yard pass play to increase the Highlanders lead to 13-0 with 9:14 left in the first quarter.
   On Cloudland's next series, Byrd scampered on a 36-yard bootleg to set up a 5-yard touchdown run from Dakota Benfield.
   After being pinned at the 4-yard line on the kickoff return, the Rangers couldn't mount any kind of offensive surge. Ultimately, Josh Irick was hammered back in his own end zone with Keith Buchanan getting credit for the safety.
   This created a 20-minute delay with Irick having to be carted off the field in an ambulance, due to the hard hit he received.
   Derrick Birchfield ran a nice 28-yard kickoff return for the Landers, bringing the ball down to the Ranger 23 with under two minutes to go in the first period.
   From there it was Cole Gouge throwing the screen pass to Byrd, who ran it in from 23 yards out, making it 28-0 in favor of the 'Landers in the first period of play.
   Unaka went three and out to start the second quarter, then Brent Huskins' attempted punt was blocked by Dustin DeYoung, giving Cloudland excellent field position once again.
   Benfield struck for the second time on the night, making a cutback to the inside and blasting his way for a second touchdown on the night.
   The Rangers' best offensive play came on the next possession with Baggett pitching out to Joey Parlier on the option and picking up nine yards.
   This was Unaka's biggest gain on the night as they were unsuccessful in acquiring a first down during the contest.
   "I don't even think we got a first down," Taylor said. "We were outmatched, outgunned and they just wore us out."
   Right before the half the Landers almost struck again, with Byrd running a 53-yard touchdown on punt return, which was called back due to a holding penalty.
   Unaka managed to keep them out of the end zone before the half came to a close, leaving the score at 35-0, 'Landers on top.
   "Unaka was outmanned, but their kids played hard and gave effort," Lunsford said. "Sometimes you get in a situation where you're a lot bigger, stronger and faster than the other team, but Mickey has hung with those kids, and he'll be able to get things turned around."
   Cloudland received the ball first in the second half, and continued right where it left off in the first.
   Gouge completed a 56-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Gibbs on the 'Landers' first play from scrimmage, which went for 56 yards on the score.
   The 'Landers answered once again in the third period when David Mckinney got his only carry on the evening, and rummaged for 49 yards in for the score with 4:22 left in the third quarter.
   Cloudland went scoreless in the final quarter, but this was contributed to the bench getting an opportunity to receive some playing time.
   The Rangers finish a tough season with the record of 1-4 in conference play and 1-9 overall.
   "We don't have anywhere to go but up," Taylor said. "These kids have been through a lot, and they just need to heal up right now and get back into the weight room after Christmas."
   Cloudland ends the season at 5-0 in the conference and 9-1 overall, and will be handed the task of taking on Coalfield next Friday at home.
   "I'm very pleased with our season," Lunsford said. "We have competed against some bigger schools, so I think our competition was pretty good -- and hopefully we can hang with the other schools down in the state."