Speed, athleticism trigger potent Ezell offense

MURFREESBORO -- Though Cloudland brought a proud defensive unit into Friday's Class 1-A state championship game, trying to keep up with Ezell-Harding's offense was like trying to fit a full-size bed sheet over a king-size mattress.
   The task of going against the Eagles' speed and athleticism was too big to completely cover.
   "I knew our defense was going to have some troubles simply by looking at their athletes," said Cloudland coach Mike Lunsford following his team's 63-26 BlueCross Bowl setback at MTSU. "What I had hoped was that we could control the ball, and we didn't do it as well as we could."
   No player hurt the 'Landers more than Vanderbilt-bound Erik Davis, who lost two fumbles in the first half but redeemed himself to win "Offensive MVP" honors.
   An all-purpose threat, Davis accounted for 280 yards and three touchdowns on just 10 offensive touches.
   The 6-2, 180-pound senior caught six balls for 158 yards and two scores, including a state-finals record 91-yard TD pass from J.P. Shelly, and carried four times for 122 yards and a touchdown.
   Davis, whose 62-yard TD jaunt on the opening play of the third quarter extended the Eagles' 28-12 halftime lead, was determined to atone for his pair of turnovers -- the first of which led to a 6-0 Cloudland advantage.
   "(Eagles head) Coach (Scott) Smith said I owed him two touchdowns, and I got him two touchdowns," said Davis. "I always repay my debts when they come like this. I just had to do it. I just came out early with too much pressure and tried to do too much. It took me out of my focus. I had to relieve some of that pressure and play my game."
   Said Lunsford of Davis: "He's already signed at Vanderbilt and he may be the third best player on the team."
   It was obvious that Ezell-Harding, capturing its first state crown, could have competed for a title at a higher class. Cloudland brought an excellent ball club to Murfreesboro, but had few answers for the top-rated team in Class 1-A.
   "They've got a great football team," said Cloudland quarterback Mark Byrd. "They proved why they're No. 1 in the state. They came out here and dominated us tonight. There's not much more I can tell you."
   Recording 11 solo tackles and a pair of assists, junior linebacker Austin Henderson was voted the game's "Defensive MVP." Byrd topped the 'Landers with 10 total tackles, followed by Dane Christman with eight and Mark Barnett with seven.
   Highlander fans should be commended for making this year's game one of the better crowds for a Class A or 1-A final. Even though the Eagles had a very short distance to travel, it appeared as if Cloudland had more fans in the stadium than did Ezell-Harding.
   "It felt good to come out and see all the blue and gold in the crowd," Byrd said. "It looked like a sea of blue and gold. When we were down, it gave us some more energy and heart to keep playing for the fans."
   The Cloudland faithful did a good job of supporting the 'Landers from beginning to end. Cloudland also had numerous Carter County supporters from outside the Highlander community.
   With Cloudland becoming the first team this side of Jefferson County to play in the Clinic or BlueCross Bowl, Lunsford hopes that his players can pick up the pieces of this championship loss and relish their accomplishments.
   "The bad thing about this is this is the last thing (of the season)," said Lunsford. "I don't want this to hurt the kids. They did something nobody else has done up in our area. I want them to remember that and I want them to be proud of what they've done.
   "I'm proud of them. Other than the score of this game, there's nothing I would change."