'Landers pummel Green Wave

By Travis Brown

   The first round of the TSSAA state playoffs was all business on Roan Mountain Friday night, as the Cloudland Highlanders kicked off the road to Murfreesboro with an impressive victory over the Midway Green Wave 48-6.
   The victory marked the second time the 'Landers (11-0) defeated Midway (6-5) in the playoffs, as last season the two teams squared off en route to a memorable season.
   This meeting was a more lopsided one, as the 'Landers showed no signs of slowing down and dominated the Green Wave despite a host of mental mistakes.
   Putting up 455 total yards of offense, and showing some stellar defense against the run, the 'Landers found the right ingredients to a recipe for success.
   Thankfully however, this new recipe involved a health portion of throwing the football, something head coach Mike Lunsford has hoped to improve.
   Despite the solid numbers in the passing game, Lunsford was still disturbed with dropped passes and missed opportunities.
   "We can't catch the ball," Lunsford said. "We don't have anybody that can compete for a catch."
   The competitive Lunsford was visibly upset at his club after the contest, as the small mental mistakes could prove costly later in the postseason. Such was not the case Friday night, as the 'Landers were physically superior to the Green Wave.
   Especially in the case of Mark Byrd. Byrd represented the only real weapon for the Highlanders amassing 150 yards rushing and 137 yards through the air.
   All told the junior signal caller was responsible for five touchdowns.
   Byrd also felt as if the 'Landers played poorly at times, as after the game he commented on the team effort.
   "We had mental lapses on both sides of the ball," Byrd said. "If we execute well, we'll be fine."
   The second play of the game would set the tone for the entire contest, as Byrd took the ball 67 yards to paydirt. Dakota Benfield's two point conversion would give Cloudland an early 8-0 lead.
   Both teams exchanged some good defense, forcing a pair of punts, until Midway showed a glimmer of hope.
   A fine punt return by Midway's Clint White, set the Green Wave up with solid field position at the Cloudland 25. Two consecutive penalties brought up a first-and-25 situation. Obviously in a passing situation, quarterback Jeremy Woody was sacked and fumbled the pigskin. Jason Birchfield recovered the loose football and the Green Wave struggled on offense for the next few series.
   Meanwhile, Cloudland was showing no signs of slowing down. The ensuing drive featured Jason Birchfield. He snuck out the backdoor on a nicely designed play, and scampered 26 yards for the touchdown.
   Leading 16-0 at the end of the period, Cloudland began to run away the contest. Despite a Midway touchdown in the second period, the 'Landers kept the hammer down. Leading 28 to 6 at the half, the boys from Roan Mountain endured some technical mistakes on the way to a solid first-round victory.
   The evening was blemished however as Midway's Brandon Peck collapsed with an injury midway through the third period. The shoulder injury would stall the game for just under 30 minutes as the medical staff attended to the injured player.
   With offensive continuity coming on-line, and questions on defense slowly being answered, the 'Landers are looking better against quality opponents.
   Lunsford remained vigilant after the game, as the Cloudland skipper continues to stress improvement.
   "We're not executing as well as we should be," he said. "We make little mental mistakes, I have to do a better job preventing those kinds of mistakes."
   The 'Landers have one week to prepare for season opponent Powell Valley, as the Indians will pay Cloudland a visit this Friday.