NEWLAND — A season ago, the Avery Vikings gave up the second-most points in program history, as the Cloudland Highlanders used its bruising run game to pound Avery by a 68-30 final score at MacDonald Stadium.
Leading into this week’s rematch with the ‘Landers, the sting of that defeat still resonates with those players and coaches who were subjected to that disappointing loss.
“We’ve got to get into the playoffs, and to do that, we’ve got to win football games, so this is a big football game for us,” Avery head coach Mac Bryan said of this week’s encounter. “I don’t think motivation will be a problem. They beat us pretty good last year.”
Cloudland (1-3) is coming off its first win of the 2019 season, a 30-6 win at Hancock County in region play. Meanwhile, the Vikings (3-2) will make the short trek to Roan Mountain, Tenn., having come off a 48-22 defeat to 2A Draughn in Valdese last week.
The ‘Landers have won the previous two matchups in the series and five of the last six head-to-head meetings overall, as well as an 8-5 edge in the all-time series between the schools.
Scouting the Highlanders
Cloudland is coached by former Happy Valley (Tenn.) and Unicoi County (Tenn.) head coach Glenn White, who served the previous two seasons as an assistant coach under former head coach and Avery County native Mike Lunsford, who retired from the post following last season.
The ‘Landers boast nine returning players on both sides of the football, and thus far this season has competed against 2A schools the first three games of this season. Happy Valley pulled away in the last five minutes against CHS for a win, while opponent South Greene utilized a 99-yard drive in the second half to pull away to victory. Cloudland was shut out for the first time in more than two full seasons when it fell to Hampton earlier this month.
Though Cloudland boasts a new head coach, the offense will look much the same as in years past, with the club utilizing its familiar power running game. CHS will use a variety of offensive formations, from single back to Power-I to a sprinkling of a Spread look.
The ‘Landers were dealt a blow when its featured tailback Conner Birchfield was injured earlier this season and not expected to return for another three to four weeks. Picking up the lion’s share of the offensive load are Hunter Blair, Triston Lacy and quarterback Hunter Shell, who will look to grind out yardage behind an experienced offensive line.
Defensively, Cloudland features a 4-3 look, but continues to adapt to the pieces they have.
As the loss of Birchfield attests, depth is a concern for ‘Landers, who can ill afford to miss any significant number of players on the field.
The low down
This week’s contest will be about as drastic a contrast of offensive philosophies as one may see on the gridiron. Avery will look to run the maximum number of plays that are possible using its Spread offense, while the ‘Landers will look to shorten the game and continuously grind out yardage running the football, with the occasional play-action pass thrown in to keep the defense honest.
Avery’s players and staff well remember the outcome of last season’s game, as the club was dominated on the field to the tune of a 38-point loss, one of the most lopsided in the teams’ all-time series. This season, however, Avery prides itself in stifling an opponent’s running game, as evidenced in last week’s effort against Draughn who, despite earning a win over the Vikings, gained only 131 rushing yards in the contest.
Speaking of last week’s loss, the Vikings offense hummed to more than 500 yards in total offense, but sputtered in the red zone against the Wildcats, generating points just twice in seven trips inside the Draughn 20-yard line. Avery also gave up several chunk passing plays of greater than 30 yards in the loss to the Wildcats.
“We’ve got to stop the run, as they will want to three- and four-yard us to death running the football and keep the ball out of our hands to make it into a short game,” Bryan added. “We want that ball and possessions. We want snaps, so it’s two conflicting philosophies going after each other. Whoever’s philosophy wins out will probably determine how close the game is and who wins.”
By the numbers
2 — touchdowns scored by Triston Lacy in last week’s 30-6 win at Hancock County. Also the points scored by the Vikings to open last week’s loss to Draughn by way of a defensive safety
4 — turnovers by the Viking offense in its loss at Draughn last week, the most by the club in a game this season
5 — trips to the red zone by the Avery offense in last week’s game that failed to produce points (Draughn cashed in on all three of its attempts against the AHS defense)
70 — school-record number of pass attempts by Avery quarterback Troy Hoilman last week against Draughn.
133 — receiving yards by Avery WR Jonas Bowman, with two touchdowns, in last year’s game against the Highlanders
184 — pass attempts this season by Avery’s Hoilman before throwing his first interception of 2019 against Draughn in the second half of last week’s game
197 — rushing yards by former CHS running back Jordan Coffey in last season’s win at Avery
630 — yards of total offense gained by Cloudland in its win over Avery last season in Newland
Read next week’s edition of The AJT for a full recap of this week’s matchup against Cloudland. Avery has its bye week next Friday, Oct. 4, and will open Western Highlands Conference play the following week when it hosts Mountain Heritage on October 11.