'Landers rout Eagles, 59-6

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
COSBY -- This past Friday night, the 'Killer B' Farewell Tour made its first and final stop at Virgil Ball Stadium. When it left, there were a flock of Eagles left stung.
Backed behind 100-yard rushing performances from Dakota Benfield and Mark Byrd, with Benfield hurdling over the 1,000-yard mark and Byrd gaining an additional 100 through the air in the first half, the Cloudland Highlanders secured at least a tie for their fifth straight conference title with a 59-6 victory over the Cosby Eagles.
"Well shoot, we got beat by an outstanding football team," said Cosby head coach Randy Sturgill. "The kids came out, fought hard and we didn't back down a bit, but Lord goodness, I've never seen a more explosive backfield in my coaching career as that. Coach Lunsford and his coaching staff are a class act."
"Benfield and Byrd did a super job, and don't overlook their line," he said. "We're real proud of our kids. We're young and we've got four seniors. The rest are sophomores and freshmen. We fought."
Cloudland rolled on seven scores in the first half, with Cosby's lone score coming after a 69-yard kick return when Bo Brewer dashed six yards into the end zone in the second quarter.
With the exception of the special teams blooper, Cloudland's starters and reserves did an exceptional job on defense, only allowing the Eagle squad six first downs, while forcing and recovering four fumbles.
"We played hard and they fought hard and did some things, of course," Cloudland coach Mike Lunsford said. "We expect perfection sometimes a little too much out of the kids. But I don't think I'm going to change my expectations, so they better make sure they make any mistakes. But we played well. Cosby is not a bad ball team."
It says a lot about the success of the Cloudland program in recent years as Lunsford collects his seventh regular season conference title since 1993.
"A lot of good football players have came through and done their job. That's the result of that," he said. "When you've got good football players, you don't have to do a lot of good coaching."
Cloudland's Jonah Horney forced a fumble on Cosby's first possession and the squad used three solid runs from Benfield and Dewayne Campbell to set up a three-yard scoring plunge from Dane Christman.
The Eagles got the upper hand with a 15-yard facemask penalty on the 'Landers during the next frame, but another fumble, this time to Jeff Lunsford, put Cloudland in position to score after Byrd hit Aaron Stocton with a 22-yard throw before running through the middle of the Smokies with a 31-yard jog to paydirt.
The interior defensive line from the Cloudland squad came through with a big play in Cosby's next frame when Chris Sheets and Jake Gibbs jarred Eagle Richard Worley in the backfield coughing the ball up at the 31-yard line.
It only took one play for the 'Landers to put more points on the board, as Stocton made a solid grab and bolted the distance.
After an Eagle punt, Benfield and Jonah Horney took over with some long gains before Benfield made a three-yard touchdown score.
Four plays later, Cloudland went to the air again as Benfield and Toby King made clutch grabs. Byrd broke a 39-yard run before stepping out of bounds, capping things off with a 9-yard score to make it 38-0.
The Cosby fans had something to cheer for on the next play as Jody Lowe returned a short kick 69 yards, with Byrd being his only obstacle. Byrd forced a fumble, knocking the ball out at the six-yard line for the Eagles.
Bo Brewer made the most of it on the next play as he powered his way for a score to close the gap somewhat for Cosby.
Cloudland followed back with two short passes, before Byrd scampered 38 yards back to the end zone with Cody Jones connecting on his second PAT attempt of the night.
A punt put the ball back in Eagle territory for the 'Landers, but they rallied back with key grabs from Bebo Hughes and Horney to give Byrd room for a five-yard touchdown to give Cloudland a 52-6 halftime edge.
Cloudland took the opening kickoff and made some valiant plays with their reserves, with Campbell and Bryan Simmons driving for good yardage on Cosby.
It set up Jones, who broke three tackles en route to an 8-yard score, which was the last points in the game.
Both teams battled throughout the remainder of the half, with Cloudland running the clock as much as they can before securing the win.
Byrd led the 'Landers with close to 300 yards of combined rushing and passing yards with 149 on eight carries with 144 through the air. He thought the line was the key to the victory.
"I thought we played pretty well, the line done great, of course," he said. "They struggled a little bit at the first and I believe it's where they haven't seen a lot of film. But once they figured that out, I give all the credit to them, they came through again."
For Benfield, even though he racked up 129 yards on ten carries and passed the 1,000-yard mark, he still wasn't up to his own expectations.
"Personally, tonight I didn't feel like I played up to par," said Benfield. "But the line did a good job and I went over 1,000 yards. Which that is one of my personal goals that I set every year. I couldn't do it without the linemen, they've done a terrific job this year."
Aaron Stocton also came through as one of the 'Landers' key threats with 75 yards receiving on only three grabs.
"The line's blocking well and Byrd's coming through with the passes and hit me up good," Stocton said.
Defensively, Dane Christman led Cloudland with 15 tackles, while Jon Pritchard added 10. The interior group of Jeff Lunsford, Jake Gibbs, Chris Sheets and a rotation of Jon Webb and Steven Frye tallied a combined 25 hits.
"I thought we done real good, especially in the second half," said Christman. "We corrected a lot of mistakes and got a good win."
Added Jeff Lunsford: "I'm pretty pleased, but we could've done better. We've got to play our assignments and try to do our best job."
Sturgill has saw improvement in his team all year and contributes that to the squads' first playoff appearance since 1997.
"We're very excited about the playoffs," he said. "It's been 1997 since we last made them. We've got three more football games before then, but its a real plus for our program."
Right now, Cloudland's focus is on the Unaka Rangers, who whipped up on Oakdale and carry a home-field edge into Friday night's game on the Creek.
"They are a much better team than they were at the beginning of the year," Lunsford said of Mike Ensor's group. "I think they're going to be a test. We're going to have to really prepare well and know what they're doing. We've got to be sharp and not make mistakes. We've got to play well."
Said Benfield: "We've probably got three of the toughest games we've faced all year in the last three on the schedule. This week, we've got to go in, got to prepare and come out ready to play on Friday."