'Landers get set for Green Wave

By Travis Brown

STAR STAFF
tbrown@starhq.com

   Today marks the beginning of the second season. Tonight the Cloudland Highlanders take the first baby steps towards postseason glory in the first round of the TSSAA playoffs against the visiting Midway Green Wave.
   Last postseason the 'Landers defeated the Green Wave by a 44-15 tally. However that game saw the 'Landers surge strong in the second half, as Midway led 8-7 at the half.
   This year may be an easier task due to key graduations for the Green Wave. Midway lost a good deal of its offensive firepower during 2002 commencement.
   This year the 'Landers have significant improvements in the speed department. However, the solid defensive line of Midway still concerns Cloudland skipper Mike Lunsford.
   "Their defensive ends are big and strong kids," Lunsford said. "We struggled against them last year at times."
   Looking towards this season's matchup, the 'Landers square up much better against the Green Wave. With more speed on the field, and yet another year of experience in offensive stars Mark Byrd and Dakota Benfield.
   The two junior ballcarriers have paced the team this season along with the contributions of solid offensive line play and phenomenal team effort. With the postseason now upon them the burden will fall even harder upon their shoulders, as physical matchups will become tougher to dominate.
   Lunsford is happy about the progress of his passing attack, and hopes that as the postseason goes on his club will offer up a solid threat through the air.
   "We have to make teams put personnel in the tackle box," Lunsford said. "Then we have to throw the ball well enough to beat them."
   With the rich tradition of ground success at Cloudland, such a statement should be a ray of light for Cloudland fans. In the past the 'Landers have lived and died by the running game.
   Despite widespread success running the football, in order to take the show all the way to Murfreesboro, the 'Landers must maintain the threat of the pass.
   It remains unclear when Lunsford will unleash his improving pass attack, but the questions will abound on the defensive side of the football.
   With some shaky defensive performances dotting the schedule this season, the 'Landers have shown strong potential on the defensive side of the ball. Consistency has to be the focus, as the 'Landers begin the playoff run with defensive production a top priority.
   Lunsford has been preparing his defense for the Green Wave attack and feels confident they are up to the task.
   "Last year they threw the ball well, ran the option well, and had a good fullback," Lunsford said. "They were a lot more diverse last season. This year we will be in attack mode."
   The Highlander defensive effort will be key to their postseason success. No team has displayed the ability to shut down the Cloudland offensive unit. The question has never been, "Can the 'Landers score points?"
   Last season's state championship game proved that the 'Landers can move the football against anyone. However defense wins championships, and the Highlanders must step up defensively to maintain their Eastern Tennessee dominance.
   For Lunsford, tonight's gameplan is simple: maintain composure and control the clock.
   "We have to control the ball," Lunsford said. "We have a few good athletes, but we win with our line."
   The final week of preparation before the playoffs is now past, and the difficult journey has began.
   Improvement has been evident all season, and this Friday will add some insight as to how far Cloudland football has come. Whatever the outcome, Roan Mountain will surely be rocking come 7 p.m. as the much-awaited postseason has arrived.
   With questions to answer, Lunsford and his troops will set about solving the playoff puzzle tonight at Orr Field.