'Landers click on all cylinders in rematch with PV

By Matt Hill

STAR STAFF
mhill@starhq.com

     The rematch was no match.
     The Cloudland Highlander football team definitely remembered week eight's close 44-24 contest against Powell Valley on Friday night, as the boys from Roan Mountain easily defeated the Indians 46-6 at Orr Field.
     In the first contest back in October, the Highlanders didn't seem like they were clicking, especially on defense.
     Some people thought Cloudland overlooked the Indians, but the 'Landers, without a doubt, didn't do that again.
     "I believe we did the first time," lineman Jason Grant said when asked if Cloudland overlooked Powell Valley. "We didn't realize what a team they really were. We focused all week on shutting Powell Valley out. The score wasn't really that big of a deal. What was really a big deal was us pulling together as a team and playing Highlander ball, the way we know how to play."
     Even though the 'Lander offense was once again clicking on all cylinders Friday night, the play of the defense stood out.
     Powell Valley racked up over 300 yards of total offense in the first meeting, but could only get on the scoreboard once Friday night.
     Cloudland linebacker Dane Christman said the team really worked this week in practice on not letting what happened in Speedwell occur twice.
     "We really worked hard this week as far as preparation to make sure we didn't," Christman said. "We watched film, and made sure we didn't have another one like the last one."
     Christman was also inspired due to an honor he received this week. Christman was named a finalist for Mr. Football in Class A.
     "It sure put a lot more pressure on me," Christman said. "I enjoyed it a lot."
     The 'Landers set the tone on defense by sacking talented Powell Valley quarterback Corey Russell in the end zone to make it an 8-0 Cloudland advantage in the opening minutes of the game.
     The 'Landers didn't let up all night, and neither did defensive end Nathaniel Baker.
     Baker came up with big tackles and sacks all night long, and even scored on a two-point conversion.
     But Baker's big contribution to the team came on defense, where he made life miserable all night long for the Powell Valley quarterbacks en route to a 12-tackle performance.
     Baker was playing inspired after suffering an injury against Hampton in week nine.
     "During the Hampton game I turned my ankle and pulled some ligaments," Nathaniel Baker said. "I've been working on it for two weeks, and I was just pumped up and ready to go this week. I wasn't going to let them go through me."
     Nathaniel Baker knows that even though he played a big role, he realizes the whole defense came up big in this contest.
     "The defense did a heck of a job," he said. "I like the defense. That's Highlander defense right there."
     One 'Lander lineman wasn't satisfied with the way the offensive and defensive line played. Dale Baker thought they did a good job, but like every player should at this time of the year, wants to get even better.
     "We did a good job," Dale Baker said. "I believe we need to step it up next week, and practice a little harder each week. We need to take each game one by one."
     It wouldn't be right to leave out the defensive backs. A lot has been said about the Cloudland pass defense being the biggest weakness, but the "Landers did a lot to prove that wrong on Friday night.
     In the first contest between these two schools, Powell Valley had well over 200 yards through the air. On Friday night, the 'Lander defensive backs came up with the big plays they didn't make the first time.
     The 'Lander line should get a good part of the credit for not giving Powell Valley quarterbacks much time to throw, but Derrick Birchfield and Mark Byrd came up with big third quarter interceptions.
     The one by Byrd was taken back 58 yards for a touchdown that pretty much sealed the deal.
     Highlander senior Cole Gouge said pass defense was a big part of Cloudland's preparation.
     "I think this is one of the best pass defenses we've played considering that Rusty Losa is one of the best receivers we've played against," Gouge said. "We just came out and did the job."
     Overall, the 'Landers were pretty pleased with the outcome. Cloudland has had many blowout wins this year, but to do it in the second round of the playoffs shows this team is for real.
     "I would say that this is one of the better mental games we've played this year," Christman said. "I think our mental toughness kept us in the ball game. When they laid down we kept on going."
     Even though the 'Landers will assuredly not overlook anybody the rest of the playoffs, they're still pretty confident about their chances of going all the way.
     "I think we have a pretty good shot," Gouge said. "You've got to take it one game at a time. It's going to be a tough road, but I think we can do it."