'Landers finish regular season versus J.J. Kelly

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
Playoffs are around the corner, but that doesn't mean the Cloudland Highlanders are forgetting this Thursday night's battle with visiting J.J. Kelly.
After a disappointing showing in Appalachia, Va., last Friday despite a 52-6 win, the 'Landers have finetuned their preparations for the Indians, who should bring a good battle to Senior Night on Orr Field.
"They are a very well-coached team and they run a lot of formations," said Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford. "They run most of the same formations that we run. As a matter of fact, you'll see them do the same things as us."
"One play they'll be in a Power-I and the next play they'll have four wideouts," added Lunsford. "The biggest challenge is going to be lining up in the correct defense with what they present to you.
"It'll be very difficult. It will take a lot of studying and a lot of coaching to be able to pick it up. If we don't, it makes us look like a bunch of idiots."
The Indians were on a roll early in the season, until they hit arguably one of the toughest four-game skids in the area, losing their last three battles to Gate City (47-0), Powell Valley (54-13) and Clintwood (50-9), and now facing the 'Landers.
It poses an obstacle, as Cloudland has less time to prepare for another team from Virginia that they have never faced before.
"I wish we had more time to prepare," the coach said." We really need time to prepare for them because they do more things."
The 'Landers hit a smaller team with a lot of heart last Friday night against the Bulldogs. Lunsford expects the same fight out of the Indians, who bring more size and numbers to Roan Mountain.
"I think they're a better team and they play hard, like Appalachia," he said. "Appalachia plays the hardest of any team I've seen this year, but J.J. also has more size and they play hard too. Maybe it's the coaching they get up there, they give effort and from what we've seen on film, they get effort all the way around."
The Indians have given up a lot of points this year, surrendering an average 26.43 points per game. Offensively, they've gotten out an average of 18 per game, so the 'Landers could have their hands full.
Chris Mullins has been the big name for the Indians throughout the season on the ground, racking up several 100-yard rushing games.
One thing that does work in Cloudland's favor is the absence of Kelly's head coach, Kevin Saunders, who was suspended from coaching and teaching due to a violation.
Lunsford doesn't think that will be a problem for the Indians in this game.
"At this point in the season I think you're assistant coaches are doing most of the work anyways. I'm sure that's the same case up there," he said. "You set out at the beginning of the season with certain goals. And you do it as a staff. One person is not that significant. It's more of a team thing like it would be here."
As the season comes to a close, Cloudland quarterback Mark Byrd has a week left to add more numbers to his state quarterbacks rushing record, while Dakota Benfield is still on pace to eclipse Tim Clipse.
"I'm not much on record keeping. But I think it's great for them and I think of it as a team thing," Lunsford said.
Dane Christman has over 120 tackles thus far in the season, while 'Lander linebackers Jon Pritchard and Jonah Horney are nearing the 60-mark.
Cloudland defensive linemen Jeff Lunsford, Jake Gibbs, Chris 'The Bus' Sheets and Zach Cook are all nearing the 60-mark as well on the season.
The Highlanders are going to need a big overall performance in order to stop the Indians this week. The coaching staff was full of motivating words when speaking to the team during their practice on Monday.
The squad went through their arguably toughest stretch of the season in the last four weeks, not because of the strength of the teams they faced, but because they were given great odds to achieve wins.
Cloudland must rebound from that this week and display a tough final regular season home performance before the TSSAA 1-A playoffs run its course through Roan Mountain.
Game time for the 'Killer B's' Farewell Tour home regular season finale is set for 7:30.