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Highlanders hold off late charge from Midway to pick up first-round win, 38-32

BY AUSTIN ALEXANDER
STAR CORRESPONDENT
ROAN MOUNTAIN- It was a chilly Orr Field on Friday night as the Class 1A Tennessee state playoffs kicked off with Cloudland hosting the Midway Green Wave.

A back and forth first half saw the teams locked in a tight one before the Highlanders seemed to pull away. Perhaps, resting on their laurels, Cloudland let a 38-20 lead slip away in the fourth quarter but managed to toughen up at the end to win, 38-32.

The game got started with an aerial onslaught from the Green Wave as the Highlander defense was left reeling in shock. Midway capped the drive with a five-yard pitch and catch for a quick 7-0 lead.

Not to be outdone, the Highlanders offense also came more than ready to play.

Caleb Sluder was the recipient of many smashing runs beating back the Green Wave all the way down the field. Following a fake punt from Sluder, he would punch the ball in from two yards out and a successful two-point conversion would make the score 8-7.

A three and out from the Highlanders defense was quickly negated when Seth Birchfield coughed the ball up on the first play of the Cloudland drive:

The very next play from Midway would be a 32-yard bomb for a touchdown and the score saw the Green Wave crash back into the lead, 14-8.

The next drive for Cloudland was a bit out of character, but highly efficient as quarterback Chase Shell would find big passes to Coy Laney and Bentley Gilbert with a dime to Gage McKinney capping the drive off in the end zone.

On the next drive, Midway looked poised to score with several successful plays in a row. The Cloudland defense would step up just when they needed to and force a massive 4th down stop.

A Green Wave three and out was also canceled out by Bentley Gilbert’s first of three interceptions.

A few more back and forth possessions would hit a halt with Cloudland in the driver’s seat. Seth Birchfield took the handoff and scampered 48 yards for the score making it 22-7 in favor of the Highlanders.

Coming out of the half, Midway recovered a huge onside kick giving them a hefty amount of momentum. This was stunted, however, when Gilbert stepped up for his second pick of the night.

Nothing would come of the next Cloudland drive and a punt was to follow. This did put the Green Wave in tough field position and big Eli Presswood forced a safety increasing the Cloudland lead.

The next drive saw two big completions from Shell to McKinney with the second being for another score. The Highlanders looked in control.

But Midway wasn’t done yet as they found another score through the air making it 30-20 in favor of Cloudland.

With Midway tightening the gap, Cloudland turned to Seth Birchfield to get them across the finish line, and boy did he give it his best smashing four consecutive runs with the final being a touchdown.

A two-point conversion would make it 38-20 and Cloudland looked great.

What ensued next was absolute chaos.

Midway would find a quick score with five minutes left and then recover the ensuing kickoff. Trailing 38-26, the Green Wave again only needed a few plays to yet again find the end zone and make the score 38-32.

The Green Wave shockingly found a way to recover yet another onside kick, but this time the Highlanders defense put its foot down and forced the turnover on downs.

The game concluded 38-32.