Highlanders geared for CAK Warriors

By Wes Holtsclaw

   Many people across the state have predicted tonight's Cloudland and Christian Academy of Knoxville contest to be another blowout.
   "I don't know who's thinking that, but it ain't me," said 'Lander head coach Mike Lunsford.
   Comparing the CAK and Cloudland offenses would be like playing *NSYNC before an AC/DC concert. The two simply don't match.
   The CAK Warriors (5-4) are better than their record reads. Just ask anyone who has seen them play this season.
   The Region Two private school was unfortunate in a pair of conference games this season, losing by a touchdown to Greenback and missing two crucial extra points against Oneida to send them up to Roan Mountain.
   "They looked as good as any team I've saw in (region two)," Lunsford said. "We went and scouted (the schools) two or three times and they looked very good (out of the bunch)."
   "I really felt like they played better than Oneida did last week," he said. "Then they beat Coalfield and they were looking to win the conference early on. They've got a good ball team. We'll have to play well."
   They worry Cloudland and a lot of that has to do with their strong passing game and underrated quarterback Mark Cunningham.
   "They throw the ball," the coach said. "They throw it really well short and they run a west coast offense with a short passing game that's like a running game. They don't throw deep real often, but I'm sure they can."
   "Basically, they're going to try to dink you and dunk you all the way across the field and control the ball with the passing game like we do with the running game," he said. "If they're able to do that, then we're in a tough situation."
   The Warriors have four productive receivers for Cunningham, the 6-foot 3-inch, 170-pound quarterback who has thrown for 1,863 yards and 16 touchdowns with only eight interceptions during the current campaign.
   "He's a very good football player," added the 'Lander coach on Cunningham. "He's good in everything he does. He throws it on time and throws it in the right spot. He leads his receivers well and he's just a good football game."
   Speedy Taylor Yoakley (5-7, 155) leads the squad with 751 yards on 46 grabs, while Nathan Chesney (5-11, 168), Brendan Japp (6-2, 202) and Trey Bowland (5-9, 165) has 481, 252 and 207 yards, respectively.
   The Cloudland defensive unit will have to step things up this week in order to move on to the second round and host the winner of Midway and Unaka.
   "We have to be able to stop the short passing game and we've got to get pressure, quick pressure before they get time to set up and get in the zone before they try to throw it," said Lunsford.
   "We're going to have to play good pass defense or we'll be in trouble."
   The Warriors have three strong runners in Bowland, Will Burkhart (5-10, 168) and John Douglass (5-10, 172). Even though they throw the majority of the time, they can still break a solid run or two.
   "They will try to run the ball," said coach. "It will be on first down or short yardage situations, I think. They can run the ball, they just prefer to throw it."
   Bowland leads the unit with 363 yards on the ground, while Burkhart's 121 and Douglass' 110 follow in their 635 ground yards on the season.
   "Well we have to beat it into our heads not to rush up, like me I usually play the run," said Cloudland linebacker Dane Christman, who has 420 career tackles with 29.1 sacks. "I'll have a hard time playing into the pass coverage. I think other than that we'll be all right. We've got better pass defense this year than we've had in the pass.
   "I'm sure it'll be a good game, but we've got home field advantage and we've gotten a lot better this year."
   Cloudland has only allowed 46 points in the first half all season.
   Defensively for the Warriors, Daniel DeVore (5-11, 181) leads their defensive charge with 122 tackles on the season. Defensive end Morgan Cox (6-3, 187) has registered four sacks on the season.
   They have only allowed 898 rushing yards on the season and 474 passing yards. Defense has been one of their best aspects, due to their quickness.
   It will take a big game out of Dakota Benfield and Mark Byrd, who could easily dip over the 5,000 yard mark in rushing during the postseason as long as Cloudland wins.
   Benfield enters Friday night with 1,458 yards on 116 carries with 24 scores rushing and an additional two receiving. His big numbers have came in two-point conversions, where he has ran 21.
   He lacks roughly 400 yards of breaking Tim Clipse's all-time Highlander rushing record and 466 yards of breaking former Happy Valley great Tommy Sams' all-time Carter County record (5,310 yards) as he stands even with 4,844 yards in his career.
   Byrd has 1,273 this season, and only needs 680 yards in the playoffs to do the above. Byrd needs 127 yards to go over 1,000 passing on the current season.
   CLOUDLAND NOTES: Barring elimination Friday night, the Cloudland Highlander offensive line unit will be profiled in next week's Elizabethton STAR.
   - Did you know? Cloudland has averaged 480.1 total yards-per-game this season. They have ran for 3,777 yards and thrown for 1,024.