Jr. Rangers roar to win in opener

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   If there was ever a complete flip flop from one season to the next, Thursday night's matchup between Unaka and Happy Valley Jr. High teams is a perfect example.
   After a dismal one-win season a year ago, the Jr. Rangers came out to sting the defending conference champions Happy Valley by a final of 50-0.
   "We have a lot of respect for Happy Valley and Coach Payne -- they're in the championship year in and year out, so this is a big win for our program," said Unaka coach Matt Wilson. "I didn't get any smarter from last year, it's just that more kids came out and have developed."
   Unaka took control right from the start, as its defense smothered the Jr. Warriors on their opening possession.
   The first play from scrimmage resulted in a six-yard loss, with Jeremy Summers making the wrap-up on Warrior tailback Jordan Oliver.
   Facing third down and a mile, Mickey Campbell was able to make penetration through the Warrior line to throw Caleb Johnson for a five-yard loss.
   "We are young with some sixth graders starting on the line, but everyone makes the excuse of being young so we're not going to do that," said Happy Valley Jr. High coach Alex Payne. "I've seen every team in this league in that situation before, so we'll just deal with it and try to improve these kids. We just want them to get better and have a good time."
   Unaka was driving on its first series with the ball after a couple of good runs from Jeff Wilson, but the Ranger defense stifled down inside the 20, handing the ball back to Happy Valley.
   The Ranger defense continued to hammer the Warriors all throughout the game, as a total of minus-12 yards of offense was posted by Happy Valley.
   "Unbelievable play from my defense, especially defensive ends Travis Dykes and Mickey Campbell. They dominated the game," said Coach Wilson.
   Unaka's offense was not to be denied on their second possession, as Wilson scampered 43 yards for the Rangers first score.
   Happy Valley gained only one first down the entire game, which came in the second period with a 19-yard pass from Jesse Richardson to Johnson.
   "You have years like this in middle school football, and it's not like you can go out and recruit players. And our numbers are way down and these kids were not ready to play ball tonight," said Payne. "I'll take responsibility for that, but we just have to get them fundamentally sound and ready to go."
   The Rangers inherited the ball back after an interception from Wilson, then an 80-yard drive which ended in a 7-yard touchdown run from Wilson made it a 16-0 Unaka advantage with 34 seconds left in the half.
   Happy Valley turned the ball over on the ensuing kickoff to give the Rangers a shot at scoring before intermission.
   A pass from Nick Papantoniou to Shane Heaton was bobbled with time running out, but when it's your day everything just goes your way.
   The bobbled pass bounced out of the arms of Heaton and into the hands of teammate Hunter Taylor for a 42-yard touchdown with the buzzer sounding to end the half.
   After acquiring a halftime lead of 24-0, the Rangers continued to pour on the heat, as Wilson looked like big rig in a box office movie that plows through the state police road block.
   A 40-yard touchdown run to start the second half, and an 88-yard run to follow, saw tacklers bounce off Wilson and fall to the ground with gaining momentum heading from north to south.
   An amazing 280 yards on the ground on 14 carries was posted by Wilson, with four touchdowns crossing the plain.
   A double handoff misdirection play to Heaton resulted in a 27-yard touchdown run during the start of the fourth period.
   The Rangers punched in another score from right outside the goal line, as Taylor plowed his way in with under a minute left in regulation.
   "It was a total team effort, and Jeff is a load. But when we plugged into our backups, they did their job," said Coach Wilson. "We're a solid football team and we just have to get ready for the next game."