'Landers send shockwave through Green Wave

By Travis Brown


   History was made Friday night at Orr Field as the Cloudland Highlanders defeated the Midway Green Wave to advance to the TSSAA state semifinals, the first time in school history a team has done so.
   Head coach Mike Lunsford was emotional after the contest, obviously happy about the outcome.
   "I've been coaching for 14 seasons and I've always wanted to play a game after Thanksgiving," said Lunsford to his boys. "You boys have given me that chance."
   Despite the 44-15 final tally, the game for the most part was much closer than the score would indicate as the first half was a fierce battle in which neither team established itself as a dominant force.
   But even though the Green Wave was selling out to stop the run, Lunsford stuck to his guns and pulled out the win.
   Midway (10-3) got on the board first on a 1-yard TD run by Shane Gordon. The 'Landers (12-1) gave Midway great field position and it took the Green Wave 10 plays to march 32 yards for the opening score.
   The 'Landers wasted no time in posting the equalizer. On a 4-play drive capped off by a 44-yard Dakota Benfield touchdown run, the Highlanders came alive. The ensuing two-point conversion by quarterback Mark Byrd gave Cloudland the lead going into halftime.
   Lunsford and his staff made some minor adjustments at the break to exploit some weaknesses in the Midway defense, and to no surprise it worked.
   With a continued resolve to run the football, the Highlanders began to wear down the sizable Midway defenders, and they owned the second half.
   In the third quarter Benfield and Byrd took control, and never looked back. Cloudland took the ball 85 yards on 10 plays on its first possession of the half, until Benfield punched it in from 1-yard out. He later added the two-point conversion to make it 16-7.
   Byrd would break a 44-yard touchdown with 1:42 remaining in the third to increase the lead 24-7.
   The fourth quarter was all Cloudland as well. Byrd, for the most part, iced the ballgame when he scampered in from one yard out, and Benfield added two more touchdowns -- one on a 57-yard run, and the other a 20-yard pass reception to put the game away.
   Lunsford was very pleased with his troops after the game.
   "Our line did a good job in the second half," said Lunsford. "We kept after them and I believe we wore them down."
   Midway would add a token touchdown on a hook and ladder play, but could not recover the onside kick, to round out the scoring for the contest.
   The victory was large in that it answered a few more questions for the 'Landers on the season. It not only showed the spirit of the Highlanders coming from behind to retake momentum, but also proved Cloudland's ability to overcome a defense that was keyed in on their rushing attack.
   Despite nine defenders in the tackle box, Cloudland managed to run the ball effectively.
   Benfield made it back-to-back 200-yard rushing performances with 202 yards on 23 carries, while Byrd totaled 12 rushes for 123 yards.
   Byrd also intercepted two passes, with Benfield and Jonathan Gibbs each recovering a fumble.
   The 'Landers, who broke the school record for most wins in a season, entertain South Pittsburg (9-4) -- a 21-6 winner over Gordonsville -- next Friday night.
   Next week will be a big test, but on the road to Murfreesboro one thing is certain: The 'Landers are for real, and they can compete with anyone.