ROAN MOUNTAIN — Cloudland was able to overcome three fumbles in the first seven minutes against Midway.
However, the Highlanders couldn’t overcome Midway recovering two onside kicks and converting a fake punt in the second half on Friday night at Orr Field.
It resulted in a 24-14 loss in the second round of the TSSAA Class A playoffs and ended Cloudland’s season at 9-2. The Green Wave improved to 9-3 with the victory.
The first onside kick appeared to go only eight yards before Midway recovered it. Cloudland head coach Brock Pittman vehemently argued the call, but he felt a 34-yard pass completion on the next play was what actually changed momentum.
“It was a simple coverage mistake that we made,” Pittman said. “We hadn’t made that mistake all year. We just busted a coverage. The fact they got the ball back when it was very questionable, that’s no different than the first quarter when we gave it to them on our five.”
He referred to Cloudland fumbling three times deep in its territory in the first 6:54 of the game. Yet, the defense held firm to keep the Green Wave off the scoreboard.
“Our defense played great like we’ve played all year,” senior lineman Asley Haynes said. “I’m sad we couldn’t win it, but we kept fighting. We had our turnovers, but they got those balls back after halftime...”
Once the Highlanders finally held on to the ball in the first half, they marched down the field on a 15-play, 90-yard drive capped off by Austin Whitehead’s five-yard quarterback keeper. Colby Birchfield ran in the two-point conversion for an 8-0 lead.
Midway responded on its next possession with a 70-yard drive.
Quarterback Shandon Lyle hit wide receiver Zach Qualls on consecutive pass plays of 19 and 34 yards, the last one down the left side for a touchdown. However, the conversion kick failed and the Cloudland held an 8-6 lead.
The Highlanders built onto the lead as Whitehead broke free on a 55-yard run. Two plays later, Zac Benfield went up the middle seven yards with 46 seconds left in the half, and Cloudland took a 14-6 lead.
Cloudland didn’t attempt a single pass in the first half, racking up 177 rushing yards.
However, it was all Midway in the second half.
The Green Wave opened with a seven-play, 61-yard drive, which saw Austin Longmire carry two Highlander defenders into the end zone on a 14-yard run up the middle. The Green Wave weren’t able to convert the two-point conversion again and still trailed by two points.
They recovered the controversial onside kick, and Lyle hit Mason Woody on a 34-yard pass play down the middle of the field. Three plays later, Lyle scored on a one-yard sneak for an 18-14 Midway lead.
The Green Wave added a fatal blow to Cloudland’s season in the fourth quarter, converting a fake punt to keep a drive alive, and then Lyle scoring on a 10-yard run for a 24-14 advantage.
“This time of year, you have to pull out all the stops,”Midway head coach Joe Campbell said.
Lyle was the offensive star for the Green Wave, hitting 15 of 24 passes for 194 yards and carrying the ball 28 times for 103 yards.
“We wanted this win really bad, and we came out and did what we needed to do,” Lyle said.
Whitehead led Cloudland with 18 carries for 99 yards, and Birchfield ended with 17 rushes for 62 yards. While the loss was still fresh, Haynes was still able to appreciate the season which the Highlanders had.
They were undefeated and No. 2 ranked in the state for a large portion of the year, just two years removed from a one-win season.
“Going 1-9 two years ago to 9-2 now, it’s a great feeling,” Haynes said. “The coaches, the other seniors and me, I feel like we’ve built this program back up and that’s what wanted to build this program back up and to bring Cloudland back.”