'Landers ready for showdown
Asst. Sports Editor
The moment of truth has finally come for the Cloudland Highlanders.
The Mountain East Conference championship will be decided this Friday night at Orr Field when the undefeated Unaka Rangers will travel to Roan Mountain.
As anyone who follows Mountain East football knows, the 'Landers (3-4 overall, 3-0 in the conference) have been in a rebuilding year with a new head coach after coming off a perfect 10-0 season last year.
If you know that, then you also know the Rangers are currently 7-0 (2-0 in conference), the best team record in history, and Unaka has a No. 7 single A state rating to show for it.
With that being said, it is obvious that both teams want to win this game more than any other game on the schedule.
"I am looking forward to it," Cloudland senior Jimmy Johnson said. "I think it is going to be a pretty good game. This is going to be our last year as seniors. We are going to try real hard. Hopefully, the younger ones will try their best and I believe they are going to.
"I would say if we do a real good job, we block good and we have a real good night on defense, I'd say we should come out on top."
After defeating Cosby this past week in a conference affair, none of the 'Landers could really relish in the win. The only thing on their minds was this week's game against the Rangers, and that includes their head coach.
"It has been very hard since the second week to convince this bunch that we had to win all of these," Cloudland head coach Gary Keith said after the Cosby game. "They have been chomping at it bit by bit to get the opportunity to play Unaka. I hope a lot of people come out and support us. I think they will.
"Unaka has a good ball team," he said. "I am not taking anything away from them. I have never denied that. Unaka has a lot of speed. They have a lot of different weapons. They have that (Charles Lee) Guinn kid and it's not just him either. They have a good quarterback. (Cody) Hurley is a good ball player, too.
"They are just a good, well-rounded ball team. They will get after you. (Daniel) McInturff is as good as a receiver as you will find around here in single A or AA. I've seen him. It will be a challenge."
Probably the biggest hindrance for the 'Lander team will be the Rangers who played in last year's game. Last year, under head coach Mike Lunsford, Cloudland ran all over the Rangers in a 72-13 controversy.
Even though this team is in every way a new team and they have a new head coach, the defeat of last season can not be far from the minds of those Rangers who were in that game.
In fact, most of the Highlanders are expecting a very hard-fought game.
"It going to be tough to beat them," Toby King said. "They are going to be good. Everything has led up to this game. We will have to play real hard. It means a whole lot to us seniors, being the last time we will ever play Unaka. The win would mean a lot.
"If we do our best, then maybe we will come out with the win. They have some real good players. We're hyped up a lot and we have been worrying about them too a lot. With them being ranked seventh and everything, it is definitely going to be a tough game."
Luke Sparks said: "This is what we have been waiting for all year long. I have looked forward to this ever since day one. As far as the game, I think we will be all right as long as we pick up our blocks and the backs run hard and try to come out on top for this."
"It is definitely a big change," Sparks said about his team being the underdogs on paper going into Friday's game. "Usually they are the underdogs and we are up top, but it's just the other way around this year. They have some really good running backs. They have some good receivers and a good quarterback. They will be hard to stop.
"I hope we can do it. I think we can get a good pass rush on them. I don't worry much about [their passing game] because we have a good secondary. If we can just get good pressure on them up front, we can rely on the secondary to do everything else."
Only a couple of the 'Landers even saw time in last year's game. For the some of the seniors, they are simply looking forward to playing their last county rival of their high school career.
"I am just glad we get to play Unaka [for the championship]," Jonathan 'Possum' Pritchard said after the Cosby game. "I have heard they are good. They are ranked ninth [seventh this week] in the state. I am just really glad we will get to be on the field with them.
"To get to play a team that is ranked, you don't really get to see that, especially in a conference in single A. I am just glad we get to play with them. It's different this year, a lot different."
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