Highlanders abuse Unicoi County defense with run game

Published 12:46 am Saturday, October 9, 2021

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After a big win at home last weekend for Cloudland, the Highlanders made the trip from Roan Mountain to the town of Erwin Friday to take on the undefeated Blue Devils of Unicoi County.

It was a muggy afternoon filled with rain and mud, so neither of the teams was able to put the ball in the air for the majority of the first portion of the contest. But that didn’t matter, as the Highlanders were able to do what they do best and use the run game to their advantage to exploit the Unicoi County defense on their way to a huge non-conference win.

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The squad from Roan Mountain took control of the pigskin first in the contest, and they would waste no time, taking the opening kickoff into enemy territory all the way down to the 47-yard line.

And maybe it was momentum, or maybe it was the pure focus, but the Highlanders would march their way down the field right after, thanks to physical rushes by both Seth Birchfield and Caleb Sluder.

The drive would be capped off as Cloudland landed the first punch of the ball game, a seven-yard score by Sluder that would be followed by a two-point conversion rush to make it an 8-0 advantage with eight minutes left in the first stanza.

And after the Highlander defense shut down the Blue Devils in three plays, Cloudland scored their second touchdown of the night in only four plays when Birchfield would travel 37 yards through the defense to make it 14-0.

Birchfield added another two points for the Landers with the two-point conversion to make it 16-0 towards the end of the first stanza.

Cloudland’s defense would add another statistic to their resume on the next drive with an interception by Skylar Hamby that would be brought back to the 38, giving the Highlanders excellent position.

After a few minutes of silence from both squads, action would pick back up midway through the second when Cloudland recovered a Unicoi County fumble at their own 41-yard line.

The turnover would give the Highlanders all the momentum they would need, scoring one more time before the halftime break on a three-yard score by Birchfield. The two-point conversion would be no good, giving the Landers a 22-0 lead going into halftime.

The third quarter was filled with silence, but the final period was when the Highlanders would essentially seal the matchup, with Sluder waltzing into the promised land from three yards out. The two-point try was no good, but Cloudland had now claimed a four possession lead on the home team, 28-0 with eight minutes remaining in the contest.

And if things could not go worse for the Blue Devils, quarterback Bryson Peterson would throw up a desperation pass that would be picked off by the workhorse Sluder midway through the final stanza. And with that, the Highlanders had beaten the unbeaten and advanced to 6-1 on the campaign by a score of 28-0.

Cloudland head coach Zac Benfield spoke on this week’s monumental win, saying, “One big thing I’ve been telling our guys is that if we want to break records at Cloudland in terms of making it deep into the playoffs, then we need to worry about playing competitive teams and not worrying about how good or bad they are.

“These boys came out here and did exactly that tonight. They came out and did what they had to do and executed their assignments, which let the outcome take care of itself.”

Cloudland will be back in action at home next week when they take on a county foe in the form of the Happy Valley Warriors at Orr Field in Roan Mountain.