It was a tough night for the ‘Landers all the way around.
Cloudland was unable to keep pace with Knoxville Catholic in a 45-23 defeat on Friday night in Knoxville in nonconference action.
The ‘Landers were under the direction of interim coach Kevin Kendall as Head Coach Brock Pittman was unable to make the trip due to family health issues.
“We were playing this game for Coach Pittman,” Kendall said. “We gave everything we had for Coach Pittman and his family. Even though he wasn’t here physically, he was here with us. We want to be there for him and his family.”
The loss drops Cloudland, who has clinched the Region 1-A title and No. 1 seed, to 6-4 overall.
“The number one thing the kids did and I told them was to have fun,” Kendall said. “Football is a game and to go out there and have fun. They’ve been coached by an excellent football coach who knows how to coach, and they were ready to play. I told them at halftime that I wasn’t going to ask them to do anything they couldn’t do, but I was going to demand that you do everything that you can do. They played well and they played hard. I am proud of them.”
Southern Cal commit Amari Rodgers and the Irish were rolling early as they scored 28 points in the game’s opening quarter. The ‘Landers were unable to get any offensive going in the second quarter as CHS trailed 45-0 at the break.
In the second half, the Cloudland offense finally found their rhythm.
The ‘Landers scored on the this quarter’s opening drive, and Noah Arnett caught a 16-yard touchdown pass from Austin Whitehead. Colby Birchfield scored the conversion for Cloudland.
After the CHS defense forced a three and out, the ‘Landers started the fourth quarter in style as Whitehead hit Arnett for a beautiful 53-yard touchdown pass. The duo connected on the two-point conversion.
The ‘Landers defense, powered by Josh Blair and Noah Blair, forced another punt on the next Catholic drive. The offense took full advantage as Whitehead hit Dakota Ashley for a 23-yard touchdown. Jordan Coffey added the extra point to cap off the scoring.
“I think the kids played as hard as they could play,” Kendall said. “I think their first-team speed very much overmatched us, and I think we did the very best we could. I told the guys I needed just a little bit more, and I gave them ownership of the team. They have been together all year long, and I said what can we do to be more successful. (Knox Catholic) is one of the best football teams I’ve ever seen – they have speed and they have size and strength.”
Whitehead finished the game 9-of-20 passing for 137 yards and three scores, while also adding 91 yards on 20 carries. Birchfield ended the game with 41 yards on 10 carries.
Arnett had four catches for 87 yards, while Ashley also added 45 yards on four catches.
As a team, Knox Catholic held a 342-265 advantage in total yardage.
Rodgers had 94 receiving yards on three catches with two scores to pace the Irish, and Chase Cunningham was 6-for-6 passing for 187 yards and three scores.
The ‘Landers will take a week off before starting the Class A playoffs. Friday night also capped off a whirlwind week for Kendall – who coached the Cloudland Middle School in their state sectional on Tuesday – but he noted it wasn’t a challenge to step up.
“It’s easy to coach kids that have been well coached already,” Kendall said. They knew all their blocking assignments, they knew the plays better then I did. I had two assistant coaches who listen to Coach Pittman and knew exactly what to do. I told them I was going to trust you with the game. They did an excellent job. Coach Pittman will be proud.”