Jr. Warriors victorious in close battle at Cloudland
By Seth Butler
A defensive second half keyed the action on Tuesday evening, when the Happy Valley Junior Warriors (5-5) closed out the Little Watauga Conference race by knocking off the Cloudland Junior Highlanders (4-4), 14-12 at Orr Field.
"I think this shows the character of our football team," said a jubilated Happy Valley head coach Josh Wandell. "We haven't had the same starting lineup since the first game of the year. We've had injuries, after injuries, after injuries. Our starting quarterback is in a cast. It's just good to see them step up and play like this."
Said Cloudland head coach Jon Julian about his team's loss: "Yeah it was real tough. It is like I was telling the boys, I think a lot of times we have lost the games due to our mental mistakes. I think we have a good team, and our players can play with anyone, but our mental mistakes take us out of the ball game."
It was Cloudland seizing the early momentum of the contest, however, as Highlander quarterback Nick Sluder baffled the Happy Valley defense with a double-fake keeper, eluding Junior Warrior defenders into the end zone to make it 6-0 in favor of the home team after the failed extra point try.
Happy Valley quickly answered as Bradley McVey took the ensuing kickoff the distance to knot the score at six.
Just before the half, Lucas Clawson found paydirt for the Junior Highlanders to give Cloudland the 12-6 halftime advantage.
Any momentum that Cloudland established in the first half was wiped out only one play into the third quarter. On the first play from scrimmage, Matt Gouge, playing quarterback on the play, scampered down field virtually untouched for a 58-yard scoring run, to pull even with Cloudland at 12.
On the conversion try, Gouge again performed a flawless quarterback draw, getting into the end zone as the Junior Warriors took the 14-12 lead with 7:45 remaining in the third period.
The defensive battle continued, as both teams forced each other into a three and out, giving the ball to Cloudland at the midway point of the period. Happy Valley would allow the Highlanders a first down, but forced a punt with 1:30 to play in the quarter.
The Junior Warriors battled from a hole, as penalties and two tackles for loss faced the visitors with third-and-25. After a five-yard pickup by McVey, a 21-yard punt by Cody Vanover gave the Junior Highlanders superb field position at the Happy Valley 39.
After Clawson picked up 14 yards on the first three plays, he would leave the game with an apparent ankle injury. Picking up the slack was Randal Johnson, who carried eight yards to set up Cloudland with a crucial third-and-17 from the Warrior 23.
On the ensuing play, Clawson would scamper for an apparent 23-yard scoring run; however, the Highlanders were flagged for a holding call, bringing the ball back to the 20. Forced to a fourth down, Sluder, the Cloudland quarterback, rolled to the left on an option keeper, but was brought down seven yards shy of the first down, turning the ball back over to Happy Valley.
The Warriors, in the victory formation, saw Adam Williams take the honors in running out the remaining one minute, closing out the game in favor of Happy Valley.
This contest sees the conclusion of the Little Watauga Conference slate for both teams.