Highlanders rip J.J. Kelly

By Wes Holtsclaw
STAR STAFF
wholtsclaw@starhq.com
The new season begins today.
In their final regular-season home outing, Mark Byrd and Dakota Benfield ran wild while the remaining Cloudland Highlander seniors made things unpleasant for the J.J. Kelly Indians.
The 'Landers took advantage of a much better overall performance with a 46-0 lead at the half. Cloudland held Kelly scoreless more than halfway through the third quarter, with the junior varsity giving up the Indians' lone points in a 53-14 win on Orr Field during Thursday's Senior Night.
"Film doesn't do them justice, how good they are," said J.J. interim coach Brian Crutchfield. "Those two backs (Byrd and Benfield) are unreal. Both are very fast and they keep you out of the game. The line comes off the ball well and Cloudland's very good."
"I think we gave a little more effort, but we'll have to look at the film and see," said Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford. "I think we did a good job."
"This is a much better team than we played last week," he said. "But they had a harder time getting a first down than Appalachia did. Our kids played like they can play."
Byrd broke loose with the third 200-yard rushing game of his career with 217 yards on nine carries and two touchdowns, while Benfield grinded out 127 yards on 12 carries with three touchdown runs and a 19-yard catch from Byrd.
"We played tremendous tonight, for the last two or three weeks, we've been hit and miss," said Benfield. "The line did an excellent job and this is the way we've got to play to keep our intensity in the playoffs."
"Practice was cut short this week and we had to prepare, so it kind of hindered on some things," Byrd said. "I thought the line came out superb tonight and we played good on defense. It was an overall good performance."
The 'Landers will meet the loser of tomorrow night's Oneida-CAK game, unless CAK and Coalfield both win. In that case, Coalfield will make the venture to Roan Mountain next Friday.
Either way, Cloudland will begin preparation this afternoon with a practice.
"We've got to find out who we play first," the coach said. "We've got to scout first, but whoever we play, we've got to be ready."
Cloudland got out to an immediate scoring spree when Benfield broke a tackle up the middle en route to a 62-yard trip to paydirt. He tacked on the conversion with 11:04 remaining in the first quarter.
After a quick defensive stall, it was Byrd's turn.
Byrd took off on the first play of the next Cloudland drive with a 49-yard trip to the end zone, with Benfield tacking on another pair of points.
The 'Landers were all over Kelly early on defense, as the tough defensive line of Jeff Lunsford, Chris Sheets, Jake Gibbs and Zach Cook were too much, opening things up for the linebacking core of Dane Christman, Jon Pritchard and Jonah Horney.
Cloudland got on the board one final time in the first quarter, as the squad went to the air. Byrd hit Benfield with a 30-yarder before making a 9-yard grab of his own from Toby King.
Byrd went to a shovel pass; as Benfield broke loose with a 19-yard grab pass the pylons. Byrd added the conversion run.
Benfield added a two-yard score on the first play of the second quarter, before using some gains to set up a 20-yard end zone sprint with 4:44 left in the half.
Cloudland played strong pass defense and the starting unit got the ball one more time before the end of the half. Benfield gained six and four on gains, but a holding penalty kept the 'Landers at bay while Byrd rested his legs after cramps.
On his first play back in the game, Byrd broke wide open from the quarterback slot, busting 92 yards over the state line, giving the 'Landers a 46-0 lead after the Benfield conversion.
Cloudland scored on their second possession of the second half after runs from Dewayne Campbell and Cody Jones set up Jon Harrison with a one-yard bust up the gut.
The 'Landers kept Kelly scoreless until the end of the third quarter when quarterback Clay Christian broke a 64-yard run, with good blocking giving him room to score.
The Indians went to Grant Kilgore after stopping Cloudland's eighth graders, and Kilgore helped put Kelly back in scoring position with some solid gains.
He finally broke into the end zone with 12 seconds left in the contest, making an eight-yard run count.
The Cloudland linemen were pleased with their efforts this week against a bigger and stronger squad after a dismal performance against Appalachia.
"We had more competition and we knew it would be a little bit harder, so we stepped it up a bit," said Chris "The Bus" Sheets. "We've got to step it up and get better now for the playoffs."
Benfield admits he and Byrd are not satisfied with their performances on a weekly basis, but things are getting better.
"I'm never really satisfied with our performance and I'm sure Byrd's not either, but we played a lot better tonight than we did last week," he said. "Now we've got to come out and have a good week of preparation. We've got to practice hard and get ready for whoever we play (in the playoffs)."
Cloudland's seniors can take them the distance, as the playoffs run through Roan Mountain until the state title game if the squad advances that far.
"You just take it one game at a time," added Byrd. "We've got to spend hour-by-hour, minute-by-minute and second-by-second preparing. The teams we meet in the playoffs are going to be a whole lot better than the ones we've faced. We've just got to be prepared for them."
GAME NOTES: Rolling Thunder bikers club dedicated an MIA/POW flag before the game in a moving ceremony before the large crowd. The group lined their bikes in front of the 'Dawg Pound and roared them off the field to a rousing applause.