'Landers derail Powell Valley, 44-24

By Travis Brown
STAR Staff

   The top-ranked Cloudland Highlanders all but wrapped up the Region 1-A title Friday night with a hard-fought victory over the Indians of Powell Valley by a 44-24 tally.
   In a game characterized by momentum, the Indians played better against the 'Landers than any team yet this season. With a stellar passing attack that could not be stopped, the Indians posed a significant threat to the favored Highlanders.
   Offensively, though, the 'Landers remained unstoppable, amassing 363 yards rushing with quarterback Mark Byrd and tailback Dakota Benfield both surpassing the 150-yard mark.
   Cloudland (4-0, 8-0), which secured the league's No. 1 playoff seed, took the lead early in the first period. On their first possession, the 'Landers marched down the field and punched into the end zone on a four-yard scamper by Byrd. The conversion failed and Cloudland led 6-0.
   The second period saw the 'Landers take firm control as touchdowns by Mark Barnett and Benfield moved the 'Landers out to a comfortable 22-0 lead. Just when it looked like Cloudland was going to seize control, Powell Valley (3-1, 6-2) woke up.
   Quarterback Corey Russell dropped back on third-and-long and hit a streaking Rusty Loza down the boundary. Loza did the rest taking the pass 47 yards to the house. Cloudland's lead dwindled to 22-6.
   Byrd then made the play of the game. On the following kickoff he took the kick at his own 10-yard line and would not be denied. His 90-yard kickoff return stole the momentum away from the Indians and proved to be a key score.
   Heading into halftime the Indians were able to put the ball in the end zone one more time on a fine run by Marvin Moyers. Moyers' run sent Powell Valley to the half trailing 28-12.
   The second half saw the Powell Valley passing attack explode. Russell would eventually throw for 248 yards total with a pair of touchdowns.
   After the game Cloudland head Coach Mike Lunsford spoke of his defense's difficulty in stopping the pass.
   "Defensively we were horrible," Lunsford said. "We controlled the line of scrimmage but we were hesitant when the ball was thrown."
   Following a 17-yard touchdown by Byrd, the Indians busted a big run of their own. After a series of completed passes, Tyler Francisco took the handoff over the left side and rumbled 25 yards for the score. Yet another failed two-point conversion ensued and the Indians were staying somewhat close, 36-18.
   Cloudland's ball-control running game began chewing up clock in an effort to preserve the victory. A series of controversial penalties cost the 'Landers the following possession and allowed the Indians to get another big score.
   Loza was once again the target as Russell hit his favorite flanker for a 40-yard touchdown strike. With the score 36-24, the 'Lander running attack would seal the deal as grinding out first downs became first priority.
   With less than a minute to go, Cloudland slammed the door with a 2-yard run up the middle by Benfield. When the dust settled the Highlanders were victorious by a 20-point margin.
   Despite securing the conference lead, Lunsford was concerned after the game.
   "We have to move before the ball is thrown," he said. "We have to make plays. They played hard and they have a good football team. We just have to keep getting better."
   Russell had some respectful postgame words about the 'Lander performance, saying: "Everywhere we wanted to run they adjusted. They are a good team, but we will keep playing hard."