‘Landers outlast Happy Valley in season opener

Published 10:51 am Monday, August 21, 2023

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Senior tailback Kyle Birchfield rushed for 154 yards on 30 carries as the Cloudland Highlanders took a hard-fought 14-12 victory over Happy Valley in a non-conference clash. The ‘Landers closed out the contest with a 20-play drive that sapped the last 2-plus minutes of clock with Birchfield carrying 13 times for 37 yards.
“It feels real good,” Birchfield said. “Last year we came here but couldn’t get it done, but tonight we came here with the right attitude and training and we got it done. We got great blocking from guys like Silas Burleson, Tristan Hoss and the whole line really blocked well.”
Happy Valley (0-1) opened with strong running from junior quarterback Drew Blevins who had 37 rushing yards in the first three plays of the game but the Warriors shifted to the pass game after Joseph Soward was stuffed on his first rushing attempt.
Blevins missed on his next three passes and HV had to punt. Neither team did much the remainder of the first period but on the first play of the second quarter, junior MLB Jacob Stinnett made a play that turned the tide for Cloudland.
Blevins went back to pass under pressure and threw across the middle where Stinnett picked off the pass, bobbled it a bit before turning the corner at the visitor sideline and rumbled 64 yards to a touchdown.
“I almost fumbled it, but I secured it as I turned the corner,” Stinnett said. “Then I saw my blockers setting up to my left and I knew I had a chance. It was amazing; I couldn’t ask for better teammates. I couldn’t be more proud of my teammates; it’s just an amazing feeling to be able to make a play for my team.”
Birchfield added the two-point conversion run to stake Cloudland to an 8-0 advantage. On its next possession, HV had two penalties that shut down the drive and in fact, this was a penalty-plagued game that made for herky-jerky action.
The ‘Landers then went on a 19-play, 80-yard drive capped off by a two-yard run from Birchfield, but the two-point try failed and Cloudland went into the halftime break with a 14-0 lead.
When asked how much of a lift Stinnett’s play gave the team ‘Landers head coach Zac Benfield said, “Jacob is a really smart kid, who is actually not used to playing middle linebacker. But over the last couple of months, he has transformed his body and he looks completely different than last year. I think that with continued coaching he will be a special player.”
Both teams punted on their first possession of the second half but the Warriors rallied behind Aiden Paul, who came on for injured Blevins, completed two-of-three passing in the 51-yard scoring drive.
Paul fired a 26-yard scoring strike to Austin Nickles on a fourth and 11 play but the two-point try was penalized for 10 yards and the second try failed as HV cut the Cloudland lead to 14-6. In the fourth period HV stopped Cloudland on downs at the 28-yard line and with Blevins back under center the Warriors put together a scoring drive where Blevins connected with Jamie Esterline on a 23-yard scoring play.
The ‘Landers buckled down and stopped the conversion play and Birchfield helped Cloudland run out the clock.
“We have to be able to play more consistently on offense,” Benfield said. “We did a good job of getting good blocks 60 percent of the time and the other 40 percent we weren’t communicating. We beat ourselves a lot tonight, but kudo’s to the defense – they played like absolute studs but the offense played very poorly.”
Cloudland 14-12
Cloudland 0 14 0 0 – 14
Happy Valley 0 0 6 6 – 12
Scoring Summary
Second Quarter
C – Stinnett 64 interception return (K. Birchfield run) 11:42
C – K. Birchfield 2 run (run failed) :9.4
Third Quarter
HV – Nichols 26 pass from Paul (run failed) 4:34
Fourth Quarter
HV – Esterline 23 pass from Blevins (pass failed) 6:06

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