Highlanders State bound

By Travis Brown
STAR Staff

   All doubts have been laid aside, and the Carter County fourth round curse has been broken, the Cloudland Highlanders will travel to Murfeesboro this Friday on the strength of a 44-6 victory over the South Pittsburgh Pirates.
   In a game that started out with 2 consecutive fumbles, the 'Landers gathered strength as the game wore on, and came on in the second half to secure a birth in the state championship of 1-A football.
   Head coach Mike Lunsford gave all the credit to his squad after the game, "Once we got a lead it got difficult for them to stay within their game plan," said Lunsford "Our kids could smell victory and they played tough."
   The first quarter at Orr Field was a period filled with uncertainty as both teams were busy trying to get a feel of the opposing squad.
   On the opening kickoff, things went haywire for the Highlanders, Mark Byrd was drilled as he hurdled a defender, and the subsequent fumble gave the Pirates a prime opportunity early in the contest.
   However, on their first play from scrimmage, South Pittsburgh quarterback Tristan Chubb mishandled the snap, and gave the ball right back to the Highlanders.
   The remainder of the first quarter was spent punting as neither team could manage a solid drive, but in the second quarter the Highlanders would capitalize on two key South Pitt mistakes and take the lead.
   Jonathan Gibbs recovered a muffed punt to give the Highlanders great field position late in the first quarter. During the drive, Byrd tossed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Gibbs in the back of the endzone, to take an 8-0 lead.
   Minutes later, the Pirates would have problems in the special teams arena once more, as a fumbled punt attempt set the 'Landers up with fabulous field position once more.
   Byrd would follow suit with perhaps one of the prettiest runs of the season, 18 yards later and one tremendous spin move put the 'Landers up 16-0.
   Halftime would bring some adjustments on both sides of the football. However, true to form, Cloudland continued with what has gotten this far, and it began to wear the Pirates down.
   Benfield would get his first touchdown of the evening on a one yard run with 8:15 remaining in the third. With a 24-0 lead, the Highlanders were in the driver's seat until South Pitt mounted their lone score of the night.
   Receiver James Rector hauled in a 34-yard strike from Chubb on fourth down, to get the Pirates on the board with 6:37 remaining in the third.
   The fourth quarter was all Cloudland as that power I offense was just too much to contain for the visiting Pirates. Barnett, Byrd, and Benfield would all add consolation touchdowns in the fourth quarter to pad the Highlander lead.
   By far the most impressive aspect of the entire contest, was the play of the Cloudland defense. Despite a vaunted power attack garnered by the Pirates, they could not manage a prolonged drive in the entire contest.
   Dane Christman and Brandon Odom lead the defensive effort as their solid play along with the entire 'Lander "D" stuffed the Pirates all night, "What makes our defense, is that we play as a team" said Christman "We had to stop Jones, we did, and we won," Odom added.
   With the State finals now on the horizon, the Highlanders are quite positive about their football team, and their chances. Lunsford is confident in his boys and the future ahead, "This group of kids believes in themselves," said Lunsford "We will do everything we can to bring a championship back home to Carter county."
   'Lander notes : The Cloudland band booster club is making preparations for fans to have a bus trip to the title game in Murfreesboro. Bus ticket prices are $35.00 per person, plus $10.00 for a game ticket. The booster club is asking people to bring 100 index cards with them if they would. Call Cloudland High School at 772-5300 or Vicky Capps at 725-5097 for more information.