Indians difficult test for 'Landers

  Asst. Sports Editor

  The Cloudland Highlanders (6-4) will begin the opening round of the Class 1A playoffs on Friday against the Oneida Indians, who the 'Landers have only beaten twice in history -- in the back-to-back years of 1987 and '88.
  The Indians (3-3, 7-3) are former state champions who will be bringing as much football pride to Carter County that is in Roan Mountain already.
  "Oneida is a good team," 'Landers head coach Gary Keith said. "They are in a situation where they have to prepare for tough games every week. I thought one of the better teams down there [in Region 2] was CAK and they got beat by Oneida in overtime. It knocked CAK out of the playoffs and CAK made it to the fourth round last year. They have tough competition."
  The Indians have totaled 307 points and have allowed only 155 points against their opponents. Their only losses of the season have come from Coalfield (14-7), Midway (33-28) and Greenback (35-0). They have had two shutouts this season, against Jellico and Oakdale.
  One thing that is unique to the Oneida team is that they don't have one head coach -- they employ the expertise of Jimmy May and Keith Henry as co-coaches.
  "We thought at the beginning of the year that we could get into the playoffs," Indians co-coach May said. "We expect a tough game at Cloudland. We know that they have been a good ball team over the years and we expect a tough-fought ball game. We expect a fight."
  The Indians' top rusher and receiver is Rhyne Douglas, a four-year starter. He has totaled 476 yards on the ground and 288 in catches.
  May said that they mainly use a combination of Douglas, Jonathan Lewallen and Bobby Simon as receivers. Lewallen has 422 yards running and Simon has 396.
  Mark Roark, Corey King and Devin Crabtree back up Douglas on the receiving end with 188, 125 and 100 yards, respectively, in receiving this year.
  Quarterback Zach Smith is one player the 'Landers will have to learn to contain. He has thrown for 904 yards out of 141 attempts this season, and has 120 yards rushing.
  Cameron Spradlin is the Indians' leading tackler with 49 solos and 54 assists. John Palfreyman has laid down 41 tackles this season while Lewallen has 32.
  "We've put in a few new plays this week," Keith said. "People don't change their offense. They just may add a few wrinkles to it. I have been very proud of the kids. We were out of school on Monday and Tuesday and they wanted to come in at 12 o'clock. A red flag went up and I thought they might be lazy. But they showed a lot of enthusiasm.
  "We had a real good practice on Tuesday. That surprised me -- they worked hard. Oneida is usually a physical-type team. They are similar to us in that they don't have exceptional speed, but they're not slow. We match up with them as far as size and speed. It is just a matter of who plays the hardest."
  Cloudland is not expected to go into the game laying down. After coming back from a bad start to the season, they turned themselves around to win the conference championship and feel that they can push themselves even further in the postseason.
  "We are going to go in there and show them some stuff that we haven't run all year," Jonah Horney, the Highlanders' top rusher with more than 600 yards, said. "We're going to pound the ball just like we always do. We know that Oneida is good but we aren't worried about it. We think that we can come out and play hard and beat them. I think we can make it to the second round. We are all hyped up just like before the Unaka game. We're all psyched up and ready to play."
  A win over Oneida may mean even more to the team than a conference championship. It would mean advancing to the second round after defeating a team that has been a post-season foe for a quarter of a century.
  "I have been coaching against Oneida for 25 years," Keith said. "John Orr was the first coach to beat them, 14-12 (in '87) over there. That was the first time we ever got to go to the second round of the playoffs. Then we beat them in the pouring rain. It was raining so hard you couldn't see anything in front of you. Oneida kicked off to us both halves, which is unheard of. We beat them 7-3 and the rest of the time they have beaten us. I would like to be able to beat Oneida."
  Getting psyched up isn't all that hard to do when most pre-playoff predictions have all of the Region 2 teams advancing while Region 1 falls out of the playoffs before the second round.
  "I have heard that Region 2 is tough this year," Cloudland lineman Luke Sparks said. "They have a lot of good athletes down there. We have to come out ready to play and ready to play hard. It is win or go home now.
  "This is Cloudland football. It is hard for us to get intimidated up here. We've just got to come out ready to hit them and see who comes out on top."