'Landers take realistic hopes, best wishes to 1-A final

By Travis Brown
STAR Staff

   A season of excellence has surpassed belief, and the Cloudland Highlanders have reached the pinnacle of success: The 1-A state championship game.
   In a season that has overcome its fair share of adversity, the Highlanders will represent Carter County when they go up against the capable Eagles of Ezell-Harding this Friday in Murfreesboro.
   Each week, the 'Landers have dispelled a host of rumors, not only breaking the fourth round curse of Carter County, but also destroying the stigma that a 1-A ballclub is not capable of greatness.
   With each week's new challenges the Highlanders, along with their coaching staff, have shown an amazing ability to adapt in order to take on the different opponents.
   However, once again they will be called upon to step up against an opponent that brings a new set of threats to the table -- namely the phenomenal passing attack that the Eagles will display.
   Local teams have traditionally had problems with teams that throw the football, and in order to be successful, the Highlanders must slow down the Eagle air attack.
   This week the 'Landers will face state record-holder J.P. Shelly, who has compiled some rather impressive statistics this season. But this game will not be won on paper, it will be won on the field.
   This season has shown that the Highlanders have an "ace in the hole" when it comes to attitude. I personally believe that is the key for our beloved Highlanders. They have the talent, and they will be playing a team that is capable of beating them, but bottom line this game will be about heart.
   The intangibles will be a huge part of the Cloudland game plan this Friday, as that aspect of the game will offer Cloudland a distinct advantage.
   The Eagles are a proficient team, and they will put points on the scoreboard. Cloudland is a great running football club, and they too will put the ball in the end zone. Still, this game will come down to turnovers and who wants it more.
   All season I have been amazed with the 'Landers, but not for the same reasons that most fans would realize. It is true that the Highlander offense is stellar, and the defensive side of the football has seen great improvements all season long.
   Some fans may remember that before the season began, I wrote an article talking about the "competitive edge" and how the Highlanders have traditionally displayed a level of toughness, and competitive spirit superior to other teams.
   Perhaps I can offer up a story that illustrates this point: A couple of 'Lander fans may remember that I played for Happy Valley in high school, and we played the 'Landers each season. The 'Landers defeated us by a landslide on two occasions. We won convincingly in '97, but lost a close one in '98.
   When I was in high school, and especially the year that we won, I was always impressed with the way the 'Landers played football. They hit us just as hard on the last play of the game as they did on the opening kickoff.
   That never-say-die attitude has been exhibited this season in the way the Highlanders have owned the fourth quarter. This season, even in the loss to Cherokee, the Highlanders physically defeated their opponents.
   I have a great deal of respect for the young men on this team over the course of the season. There is no question that they are fine football players, but I feel like they are good kids as well.
   This season, these young men have accepted me and treated me with respect, and I want to take this opportunity to thank them. There are a few other points I would like to make as well.
   You guys represent the hopes of not only Roan Mountain, but our entire community is behind you on this trip. We at the STAR wish you the very best in the upcoming contest.
   Despite the outcome, (and don't worry fellas, I will pick you guys in the paper Friday) this team has accomplished many things that most people felt was impossible, but I know that is not good enough for you guys.
   Just remember, your spirit and toughness has made you great all season long, If you continue to play tough, and do so in a motivated and sportsmanlike fashion, there is nothing that your team cannot accomplish.
   You guys are living a dream, a dream that every youngster that has ever stepped on a field has shared (including myself). Win this game for that dream, win it because you want to, win it because you have worked so hard, and most importantly... win it... because you can!
Note: Cloudland will be hosting a pep rally at the school tonight starting at 8:30. Anyone wishing to come is encouraged to attend.