Highlanders host Gatlinburg-Pittman to open 2017

Published 12:58 pm Thursday, July 13, 2017

With a small conference and not a lot of small schools in the area, the Cloudland Highlanders will find themselves taking on a lot of bigger programs in 2017.
Right out of the gate, Cloudland will host the Class AAA Gatlinburg-Pittman Highlanders on Aug.18 before inviting Class AAA North Greene to Roan Mountain the following week.
“You have to be ready,” said Cloudland head coach Mike Lunsford about taking on two tough teams to open the season. “You need to get to work early, and you can’t miss anything during the preseason. Because if you do, they are going to be there and they have more kids who will be ready. You always have to be prepared for the first day of the season.”
In game three on Sept. 8, Cloudland will play host to rival Avery County. During last year’s contest, the Highlanders fell 35-34 in a close contest that saw a late-game fumble decided the outcome. Lunsford said that his Highlanders saw a lot of close games last year and hopes they will have a better time of finishing games out this go around.
“We have to be a little bit better at finishing out games,” Lunsford said. “We had a lot of games that we let slip away last year, and I hope that we can finish games.”
On Sept. 15, the Highlanders will make their way over to Hancock County for a Region 1-A matchup. The following week on Sept. 22, the ‘Landers will make the short trip to Happy Valley. Last year, Happy Valley topped Cloudland 45-0, and the Highlanders are anxious to even the score this season.
“Well we are hungry, but they may not let us eat,” said Lunsford with a laugh. “They have a really good football program, and they are a lot bigger than we are. They are probably three times our size and that makes it hard to compete. We just have to find a way to overcome, because no one is going to feel sorry for us. They beat us pretty good last year, and we would love to have the chance to get them back.”
The Happy Valley game will be followed up by a region contest against Unaka on Sept. 29, who is under the leadership of first-year coach O’Brien Bennett.
A Cloudland schedule is never complete until there is a game against county rival Hampton on it. The Highlanders will visit J.C. Campbell to play the Bulldogs on Oct. 6.
“They have a great program, and he (Michael Lunsford) has done a great job which I expected him to,” said Lunsford. “He has a great group of kids and they work hard. Another game we play up in, and we just have to do what we can do.”
On Oct.13, the Highlanders will finish up region play as they host Jellico. The next week, Cloudland will travel to Johnson County before finishing with Copper Basin at home.

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