Cloudland moves game to Thursday; Opens conference play against Hancock

Published 6:55 pm Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Highlanders fans will get to enjoy some Cloudland football a day early this week.
Instead of playing their home game with Hancock (2-2, 1-0) on Friday like originally scheduled, the Highlanders (2-1, 0-0) will host the Indians to Roan Mountain this Thursday at 7:30. The move was made in precaution to possible bad weather due to Category 4 Hurricane Florence making landfall on the East Coast.
Thursday’s contest will be a key conference matchup for the two teams with a win giving the winner a strong bid for first place in Region 1-A football.
“You know, they have already beat Unaka,” said Cloudland head Mike Lunsford about the Indians. “This is our first conference game, and we have to win this one. If they (Hancock) wins this one, that pretty much puts them in first place. We have to do what we can to stay in first.”
To pick up a victory, the ‘Landers will need to key in on Hancock running back Seth Hipshire, who typically gets a lot of touches and plays a big part in the Indians offensive production. Using his size, Hipshire consistently picked up yardage for the Indians during Hancock’s 16-14 win over Unaka in Week 3.
“He is a great football player,” said Lunsford about Hipshire. “He is tough-nosed, and they give the ball to him a lot.”
This week, the Highlanders, which topped mountain rival Avery County 68-30 Friday, moved up a spot in the Associated Press Tennessee High School Football Rankings from seventh to sixth.
“It makes you feel a little bit better about yourself, but it really doesn’t mean that much,” said Lunsford. “You can be ranked anywhere, but you have to be able to play on the field and do what you are supposed to do.
“Avery struggled some on defense, and they have all year,” continued Lunsford about last week’s win over the Vikings. “We took advantage of some of their week points. They are not really good at stopping the power run game. We are still trying to develop one. We have to get better at that, and I think I saw some improvements.”
Last week, the Highlanders run game saw many players get in on the action. Leading the way, however, was Cloudland senior running back Jordan Coffey. The Highlander carried the ball 20 times for 197 yards rushing with two touchdowns. Coffey’s performance was complemented by teammates Josh Blair (7 carries, 108 yards, 3 touchdowns) Triston Lacy (5 carries, 83 yards, 1 touchdown) and Connor Birchfield (6 carries, 77 yards, 1 touchdown).
Cloudland senior QB Malachi Benfield helped mix up the Highlanders’ offense as he tossed for 100 yards on 4-of-5 attempts with no interceptions. Lacy received for 68 yards on two catches.
“We passed the ball really well,” said Lunsford. “I would just like to see us improve and get better across the board.”
Defensively, Cloudland’s Dillion Johnson led with five tackles, while Birchfield, who also had an interception, racked up four tackles. Highlanders K.J. Arnold also had two big back-to-back sacks in the third quarter.
Thursday’s game is set to kickoff at 7:30 p.m.

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