'Landers write their names in record books

    The Cloudland Highlander football class of 2000-01 on Friday night at Orr Field, wrote their names in the school's record books, and will go down in school history as the first group to make it to the State semi-finals.
   The 'Landers made their way to the Final Four by way of a convincing 44-15 win over Region 2's top-ranked Midway Green Wave.
   "This is for all the guys who played football here, year after year and never made it," said junior fullback Mark Barnett. "This took a lot of years for us to accomplish, but we can all share in it now."
   The 'Landers by no means however, feel that the journey is complete as senior tight end Brandon Odom said, "It's great, and I feel like a champion right now. But we still have two more rounds to try to win yet. Our goal now is to play better in the next round and even better than that in the finals."
   This 'Lander squad has dominated on it's level for the past three seasons, but have finally put all the pieces together for what promises to be an exciting stretch run.
   Sophomore tailback Dakota Benfield has put together back-to-back 200 yard rushing games in the playoffs to aid the Cloudland cause, while quarterback Mark Byrd is quite simply a phenomenal athlete, who could play for anyone.
   "The guys up front did a tremendous job of blocking," Benfield said. "I missed rushing for 1,000 yards for the season, by just a little bit, so that has fired me up in the playoffs."
   Byrd had two interceptions, plus 123 yards on the ground, in just 12 carries as the 'Landers overcame a sluggish first half to put 36 points on the Wave in the second half.
   Byrd also threw for a two-point conversion and ran in another as Midway simply had no answer for the speed, and more importantly the desire of the Cloudland ballclub.
   "That's just Highlander football," said Barnett. "All the guys on this team have big hearts and right now our desire to get a State championship is so strong. We have the attitude that we refuse to lose."
   For head coach Mike Lunsford, this team could be not only his finest collection of talent, but the most single-minded group of kids he has ever coached.
   "It really hasn't sunk in yet, how I feel right now, but I'll say this about these guys. They just took over this game. When their backs were to the wall, they decided to take this game over and they did it," said Lunsford. "The seniors on this team are such great leaders and great kids, I'm just ecstatic the way they responded in the second half."
   For an example of the determination of the 'Landers, all you needed to see was Byrd get to the corner and turn upfield with a group of two to three Midway defenders hanging all over him.
   The same could be said for Benfield, who would not go down with the first, second or even third hit, but would carry guys on his back for extra yardage.
   "I've heard all my life about the 'Landers not making it past the second round," said senior offensive tackle John Townson. "This is the first time we've ever done it. We just said tonight is not going to be the night we lose."