'Landers gear up for Jackets

By Travis Brown

STAR Staff

   After a successful season, The Cloudland Highlanders will set out for new hights Friday night, in the first round of the TSSAA state playoffs, against the Coalfield Yellow Jackets.
   This playoff run is shaping up as one of the greatest opportunities Cloudland High School has seen in the state playoff race, as home field honors will reside at Orr Field until the final round.
   With the future looking great, the 'Landers must take it one week at a time, after all its playoff time an loosing is not an option. This week offers up a sound opponent in the balanced Yellow Jackets who finished up the 2001 campaign with a 5-5 mark.
   With solid athletes in many positions, Coalfield may not be giant killers but they are still a matter of concern on Roan Mountain.
   'Lander Skipper Mike Lunsford displayed his usual concern about the upcoming opponent saying, "They've got a good ballteam, they've been in every ball game they have played, and they have played quality opponents," said Lunsford.
   Lunsford garnered his first playoff victory against Coalfield in 1992, defeating the Yellow Jackets 14-8. This week the "Landers will look to repeat that performance by doing what they do best, control the football.
   This year the 'Lander rushing attack has had the benefit of many contributors. With many games decided early, the Highlander backfield was rarely forced to go 4 quarters.
   Despite the limited action, tailback Dakota Benfield has accumulated over 700 yards rushing, while quarterback Mark Byrd has amassed over 1100 yards in total offense.
   This week the 'Landers begin the daunting task of facing teams from the west, traditionally teams on the other side of Sullivan county have posed a problem for the 'Landers.
   Since 1985 the Highlanders have made the playoffs 15 times and have compiled 7 wins in 22 games. This year's team will be looking to add some W's to that total, as this has the potential to be a record breaking year.
   As it customary with these play-off games, neither team has any information on their opponent, so Lunsford and his staff are looking to cut down on mistakes and play sound, fundamental football, "When you haven't seen a team, its hard to judge how to play them," said Lunsford "We just want to do what we do well, and stay basic with what has got us here."
   Coalfield will look to control the tempo with their defense. Solid in most positions, the Yellow Jacket defenders will look to sting the unstoppable Highlander ground attack, but be prepared for an old fashioned game of opossum on offense.
   Lunsford commented on the Coalfield offense saying, "Offensively they pound it in there over and over, they lull you to sleep. That's when the throw it deep, while your standing flat-footed.
   Another topic on Roan Mountain is depth, and in that department, the 'Landers are looking solid. Due to the chances this season to rest his starters, Lunsford has a relatively healthy bunch as the playoffs begin.
   As the competition continues to improve, Lunsford is hoping to meet the task and take his squad to the top, "Starting this week, we have to step up to the challenge. They have some good athletes."
   Gametime is set for 7pm on the mountain.