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Highlanders finish strong in Sullivan North swan song, 12-0

BY AUSTIN ALEXANDER
STAR CORRESPONDENT
ROAN MOUNTAIN- It was a chilly night up on the mountain Friday as the Cloudland Highlanders welcomed in the winless Raiders of Sullivan North.

In what was the last football game the high school would compete in with consolidation heading to Sullivan County next season. A muddy field put the ball on the ground several times, and was the cause of many slips and spills.

After a stout defensive battle, the Highlanders found their groove late in the game to win, 12-0.

An incredibly interesting onside kick attempt that only went three yards to start the game, set the Highlanders up with fantastic field position for their opening drive.

Despite the great field position, the Highlanders offense was stymied and a three and out and forced the ball to Sullivan North for the first time on the night.

With the ball for the first time the Raiders went straight to a potent ground attack mixing a lethal mixture of runners and battering down the Cloudland defense.

Sullivan North ran the ball all the way down into the red zone before an interception from Chase Shell gave it right back to the ‘Landers.

Cloudland immediately turned right back to the ground game, specifically Seth Birchfield who pounded into the Sullivan North defense over and over again throughout the evening.

But, the 13 play drive once again hit a snag and the Highlanders were forced to punt.

The two teams would continue to trade possessions all the way into halftime with both defenses bending but not breaking. The score was knotted at a goose egg heading into the break.

Coming out of halftime, Cloudland would try an onside kick of their own that was perfectly executed and recovered by the Highlanders.

With momentum, a big pass to Gage McKinney from Shell would set up the Highlanders with a nice spot in the red zone. After several more demoralizing rushes, Seth Birchfield would find pay dirt for the first time in the game to make the score 6-0.

On the next drive, the Highlanders would force an early fumble and recover it keeping all available momentum. This time, however, the Raiders rose to the occasion and stuffed Cloudland on a three and out.

After a few more back and forth sloppy possessions from the two teams, a big punt return put Cloudland in a good spot with time dwindling in the fourth quarter.

After more smashing runs from Birchfield and Caleb Sluder, the Highlanders were set up inside the 10. This is when Shell would find Elijah Blair for six yards and a touchdown making it 12-0.

Another turnover on downs from the Raiders meant the game was all but over, but Sluder made sure to put the finishing touches on the game and helped finish the Raiders off, 12-0.

The Highlanders finish the season region champions with a record of 6-4 and will host Midway next week in the opening round of the Class 1A playoffs. Kickoff for that game will be at 7 pm next Friday.