Never Say Die: Cloudland tops Harriman in thriller

Published 12:49 am Saturday, November 5, 2016

Star Photo/Bryce Phillips Cloudland senior Brinkley Mull hugs Highlanders head coach Mike Lunsford after Friday's 60-56 win over Harriman in the first round of the TSSAA playoffs.

Star Photo/Bryce Phillips
Cloudland senior Brinkley Mull hugs Highlanders head coach Mike Lunsford after Friday’s 60-56 win over Harriman in the first round of the TSSAA playoffs.

In what will be one of the most remembered games to ever be played on Orr Field, the Highlanders, trailing by 20 late in the third, rallied back for a 60-56 upset over the Harriman Blue Devils in the Class 1A playoffs.
The cherry on top of the sundae for the Highlanders was the performance of Cloudland’s Noah Arnett. The senior rushed for a whopping 400 yards on 40 carries and finished the game with a mind-blowing 472 yards of offense after a 72-yard punt return for a touchdown. Arnett greatly surpassed the 2000 yards rushing mark during Friday’s game.
“This is the first playoff win for us seniors,” Arnett said after receiving about a thousand hugs from his friends and family. “It is unremarkable. It’s wonderful. There is just nothing that can describe this feeling right now.”
Friday’s comeback is a hard one to whittle down and explain. But it is safe to say that the biggest moments in the game were the two onsides kick recoveries late in the third quarter by Cloudland’s Ethan Cable.
“We have worked on them all week,” said Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford about onsides kicks. “We worked and worked. At the beginning of practice every day, that is what we did. Ethan Cable made great plays, and everyone was just busting their butts.”
The first recovery came after Arnett’s 72-yard yard punt return for a touchdown that cut Harriman’s lead from 44-24 to 44-30 with just a minute left in the third quarter. Cable’s first onsides pick up put the Highlanders on the Blue Devils’ 40 before Arnett scooted to the end zone on the first play to slash Harriman’s lead on down to 44-38 with just 51 seconds left in the quarter.
And by some hard nose playing by the Highlanders on the following kickoff, Cable picked up his consecutive onsides kick to put the Highlanders on the Harriman 49-yard line.
From there Cloudland conducted a drive that rolled on into to the fourth quarter and ended with Arnett scampering in from 12 yards out to tie the ballgame up at 44-44 with 8:46 left in the contest after the converted two-point try.
On the ensuing drive, Harriman drove 48 yards in seven plays before Harriman’s dynamic QB Joe Pace found his top target Isaiah McClain on a seven-yard pass play to jump back out to a 50-44 lead after the failed two-point conversion.
Cloudland answered swiftly as Arnett rushed a 68-yard carry down to the Harriman 12, and from there Cloudland’s sizeable fullback Josh Blair took it on to the house from 12 yards out. Blair drove in the two-point conversion, and the Highlanders led 52-50 over a stunned Harriman with 5:52 left to play.
The Blue Devil’s next drive would have everyone on the edge of their seats. Harriman would face a fourth-and-ten from Cloudland’s 28, before Pace found Brandon Emily on a 28-yard touchdown pass to regain the lead 56-52 with 4:25 left to go.
It was now do or die time for the Highlanders. After taking the ball on their own 40-yard line, Cloudland would drive down the Blue Devil’s 45, where Cloudland would face a fourth-and-five. However, Arnett left no doubt as he ran in from 45 yards to give his ecstatic team a 60-56 lead with just 1:42 left to go.
On the final drive of the night, the Cloudland defense bared down and held the Blue Devils at bay to give the Highlanders a hard-fought victory that the 2016 Highlanders will never forget.
Lunsford was quick to note that it was an entire team effort that brought about Friday’s win.
“He don’t get those 400 yards without those big hogs up front,” Lunsford said about Arnett’s performance and the offensive line. “Brinkley Mull played the weak-side tight end and a couple of those sweeps he had to block a big lineman and he did that with heat desire and determination.
“Josh Blair, Dillion (Johnson), both those kids just blocked their guts out back there,” Lunsford continued.
The first quarter would end with Harriman leading 14-6 after Harriman’s T.J. Phipps ran in a 12-yarder and Pace connected with Giovanni Cromwell on a 24-yard TD pass. Cloudland’s first-quarter TD came off a Arnett two-yard run.
Cloudland opened the second quarter with Arnett rushing in a 60-yard touchdown to cut Harriman’s lead to 14-12 with 11:40 left to go in the half.
Harriman answered with a 60-yard touchdown pass from Pace to McClain to take a 20-12 edge early in the second quarter.
Cloudland’s following drive burned up roughly eight minutes as the Highlanders pushed to the Harriman five. However, back-to-back penalties would push Cloudland back to the 30-yard line where they would turnover on downs.
From there, Harriman scored in three with Pace finding McClain on a 75-yard TD pass to give the Blue Devils a 28-12 lead with 2:05 left in half.
Cloudland scored on the next drive as Arnett pushed in from 13 yards out to make it a ten-point game. However, Pace found McClain again on a 40-yard touchdown toss to give Harriman a 36-18 halftime edge.
Harriman opened the second half with Pace rushing in a 55-yard run for a touchdown, and the two-point conversion good, the Blue Devils led 44-18 early in the third.
Cloudland answered with a two-yard touchdown rush from Malachi Benfield to lower Harriman’s lead to 44-24.
For Cloudland, Josh Blair finished with 98 yards rushing on six carries. Benfield closed out the night with 77 yards passing while going 3-of-6. Senior Brinkley Mull finished the night with 48 yards receiving on two catches, while Jason Potter had a catch for 29 yards.
“I don’t know if I have been any happier after a ball game,” said a visibly happy Lunsford. “This is just great.”
Next Friday, Cloudland will host Coalfield in round two of Class 1A playoffs. Kick off is at 7 p.m.

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