Highlanders brace themselves for battle with Bobcats

Published 10:52 am Tuesday, November 8, 2022

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Ron Marvel
Star Correspondent

After a 38-28 first-round victory over the Oakdale Eagles, the Highlanders will spend this week preparing for a showdown with the Oliver Springs Bobcats.  Cloudland found success last Friday night off the legs of Gage McKinney who rushed for 370 yards on 58 carries and five touchdowns. The Highlanders got many of those yards out of the Wildcat formation and McKinney’s versatility and football IQ was on display last week as was their gritty offensive line led by Austin Caraway, Silas Burleson and Cayden Correll. Cloudland was able to overcome a half-time deficit, trailing by six at intermission. After an Oakdale touchdown late in the fourth quarter that cut the lead to ten, Cloudland was able to recover an onside kick, then kill the clock and take the double-digit victory. Coach Zac Benfield also wanted to give credit to what he described as the unsung hero of the game “our fullback Kyle Birchfield made the difference he was unselfish and did the dirty work all game”, Coach Benfield also added defensively Jacob Street put in a yeoman’s job in the second half to help hold the Eagles to just six points.

Meanwhile, the Oliver Springs Bobcats beat the Cosby Eagles 35-21 in a sloppy game that saw the two teams combine for eight turnovers. This game wasn’t as close as the score indicated as the Cosby Eagles threw for a couple of touchdowns late to make it look more respectable. They were led by a duo of freshmen tailbacks.  Jaxon Jett, who has more wiggle than a nightcrawler on a fishing hook, and Dalton Reynolds,  a bruiser, together totaled 254 yards on 19 carries. Kane Gouge the Bobcats 6”3, 202-pound senior QB pitched in 77 total yards and a passing touchdown. Defensively they were led by sophomore defensive tackle Carson Nevins who now has 12 sacks on the season and sophomore outside linebacker Cole Jackson. As a unit, the Bobcats held the Cosby Eagles to just 25 yards rushing on 12 carries. First year coach Tyler Harper felt the pressure provided by their defensive line was the difference in the game, “our front four created pressure up the middle and their QB got uncomfortable” Coach Harper stated.
In many ways these two teams mirror each other, they each have had their own obstacles to push through and both teams responded and bought into the message their coaches were telling them. Injuries ravaged the Highlanders, at one point during the season Cloudland had seven starters injured. These were players that went both ways and the team as a whole had to adjust to a new offensive scheme. That adjustment has allowed them to win four in a row with a margin of victory in those games of nearly 20 points. For the extremely young Bobcats most people thought they were a year away but playing in Region 2 forced these Bobcats to mature quickly. Coach Harper stated, “in the Oneida game we really figured out who we were offensively and what we had to do to have success.” Both these teams feel their personalities are displayed in their running game. The Bobcats will run out of the Wishbone and go to the Veer occasionally but they also like to throw quick slants and hitches and toss in a fade route as well. For the Highlanders, they will run out of the I formation and go Wildcat as well. Bobcats Coach Harper knows for sure is his team must find a way to corral Gage McKinney, “I have never seen a kid get hit so many times and not go down” Harper exclaimed. An interesting note is the fact that the last two times during Round 2 of the playoffs the Bobcats came up to Orr Field, in 2019 and 2020 they walked away with the win.
Both these coaches understand the line of scrimmages will be where this fight must be won. Coach Harper also added “we know we can’t go up there and push them around for four quarters” so look for these Bobcats to put the ball in the air more than what is their norm. Coach Benfield responded in a similar way “we may have to pass 40 percent of the time to loosen them up”. With the physical nature of this game, it has the making of a real slobber knocker and very well could be one of the better games in East Tennessee Friday night. Coach Benfield when asked what he expects from the nature of this game replied “this game could be a drag-out slugfest.” The team that breaks character and flinches first in Roan Mountain Friday night may hear the final bell of their season ring.
Game time is 7 pm at Orr Field.

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