R-S Central Hilltoppers triumph over Cloudland Highlanders in rain-soaked showdown, 41-28
Published 1:19 pm Friday, October 20, 2023
By Lisa Benfield
Cloudland Highlanders made a soggy journey to R-S Central High School in Rutherfordton, North Carolina, on Thursday night, narrowly avoiding heavy rains. Despite the substantial student body of over 800 at R-S Central, a school roughly five times their size, the Highlanders showcased their gritty football style. However, the R-S Central Hilltoppers emerged victorious with a final score of 41-28.
The game kicked off with Cloudland receiving the ball but eventually having to punt. R-S Central capitalized on their ensuing possession, taking an early lead of 7-0.
During the next possession, Cloudland’s Cam Peppers and Kyle Birchfield joined forces, successfully reaching the end zone. However, the two-point conversion fell short, leaving the score at 8-6.
Central’s second drive took a turn when they fumbled the ball, which was promptly recovered by Cloudland’s Noah Young. But Cloudland faced their own fumble, resulting in a Hilltopper touchdown as they capitalized on the turnover. R-S Central led 13-7, and unfortunately, Cam Peppers, Cloudland’s starting fullback and linebacker, left the game with a knee injury at the end of the first quarter.
Cloudland’s offense struggled, giving up the ball on downs, and R-S Central steadily marched down the field to score with 5:52 remaining in the quarter, extending their lead to 20-6. Cloudland’s offense encountered penalties and another turnover on downs. The Hilltoppers capitalized once again, closing the first half with R-S Central leading 27-6.
The Highlanders kicked off to R-S Central to begin the second half as rain started to fall. The Hilltoppers’ quarterback broke free for a 58-yard run on their second play from scrimmage, increasing their lead to 34-6. Cloudland’s next possession showed promise, with the tandem of tailbacks Grayson Cole and Kyle Birchfield advancing the ball to the two-yard line. However, a fumble ended the drive, and the Hilltoppers capitalized, scoring again to lead 41-6.
Cloudland’s Kingston Cole provided a glimmer of hope by returning a kick to the Hilltoppers’ 30-yard line, giving the Highlanders excellent field position. Soon, Kyle Birchfield found the end zone after a few carries, and Walker Gouge scored a two-point conversion. With 10:10 remaining in the fourth quarter, the score stood at R-S Central 41, Cloudland 14.
Cloudland’s resilient defense forced the Hilltoppers to turn the ball over on downs, creating an opportunity for another Highlander touchdown. With strong contributions from Walker Gouge, Bryce Birchfield, and Grayson Cole, Kyle Birchfield crossed the goal line. The Hilltoppers led 41-22 with only three seconds left in the fourth quarter.
The Highlander defense rose to the occasion once more, forcing a fumble recovered by Grayson Cole. With a crucial catch by Walker Gouge and carries from Kyle Birchfield, the Highlanders advanced down the field. Gray Cole secured a touchdown from ten yards out, bringing the score to Hilltoppers 41, Cloudland 28, with 1:07 left on the clock. However, the Hilltoppers recovered the onside kick and sealed the victory.
Coach Zac Benfield of Cloudland offered his perspective, emphasizing the need to minimize self-inflicted mistakes. He acknowledged the team’s potential but stressed the importance of avoiding penalties and turnovers. Cloudland’s next match will be a home game against the Unaka Rangers next Thursday at 7:30.
Cloudland Key Performances:
- Kyle Birchfield: 191 yards, 2 TD
- Cam Peppers: 35 yards, 1 TD
- Walker Gouge: 4 carries, 29 yards, 1 reception for 19 yards
- Grayson Cole: 31 yards, 1 TD
Cloudland Defensive Standouts:
- Kyle Birchfield: 7 tackles
- Noah Young: 4 tackles