Rangers, Blue Devils in search of first win

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR CORRESPONDENT
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   The Rangers' last chance of disposing of those pesky Blue Devils will come on Friday night as they clash with Unicoi County, which has the same nickname as the other two opponents Unaka already faced.
   "I think I've heard that song "Running With The Devil" about 50 times in the last two weeks and I'm sick of it now, and if I never hear it again then I'll be all right," joked Unaka head coach Mike Ensor.
   Ensor commented on how it was so strange to line up against three straight teams with the same color of uniforms, same mascot name, and almost the same size schools.
   In their first two games, Unaka has had trouble stopping the offenses of the Blue Devils from Claiborne County and Jellico.
   The upcoming game will present another challenge for the Rangers, as they try to prohibit Unicoi from making the big plays, which seems to break their backs early in the going.
   "We've worked our tails off this week on defense, and we have to learn how to stop people," said Ensor.
   This week Unaka has a much better chance of containing the Blue Devils than before.
   One reason is that they will not face the speed they have seen in prior games.
   Ensor is hoping the changes made on defense will pay off, and it's a must if Unaka hopes to capture their first win of the season.
   "We have to get the kids familiar enough with the new defense so they will be able to read and react," said Ensor.
   Unaka's offense had a solid performance with moving the ball last week by rushing for 333 yards, but the weak spot was the fact they turn the ball over a total of five times.
   "You can't give up big plays or turn the ball over, and you can't give the other team extra time with the ball. You have to make them earn it," said Ensor.
   Several mistakes were made by offense last game, which made their productive effort of driving down the field all for none.
   "They were several times on execution where the quarterback turned the wrong way, a lineman taking a wrong step getting himself out of position," said Ensor. "Those are the things we're trying to correct and become a much more competitive ball team."
   If the Rangers continue to accomplish the ground game without fumbling, then it might present a long night for the Blue Devils.
   "I was happy with how hard our backs ran last week but we turned the ball over, so we must be able to put it all together and play good fundamental football," said Ensor.
   A key player on the Ranger offense will miss action in his customary role, as Jeremy Cook will be replaced by Josh Irick at quarterback.
   Cook received an injury to his throwing hand last week and missed the second half of the Jellico game.
   "With Cook being out it hurts us from the standpoint of throwing the football, but he's not the runner that Irick is so it's somewhat of a trade off," said Ensor.
   Expect Cook to play on the defensive side of the ball, and possibly see limited action on offense, whether carrying the ball or at receiver.
   Another injury to the Ranger offense is fullback Andrew Richardson, who has a broken bone in his hand.
   "He's cleared to play, but he's not going to be able to carry the ball, and he can still help us defensively and that will let some of the kids rest," said Ensor.
   An aspect of the game that Ensor looks to focus on this week is with their kicking.
   "We don't have someone who can kick it 50 or 60 yards down the field, so we're going to kick it out of bounds or toward the sideline to give ourselves a chance with coverage," said Ensor.
   As far as Unicoi goes, they have been experiencing some of the same problems that Unaka has by turning the ball over and not stopping their opponents on defense.
   "We're worried about how we've been playing so far, and we've not played well on defense," said Unicoi head coach Larry Howell.
   Offensively, the Devils have put together drives, but once they get close to the end zone they seem to struggle.
   "We've moved the ball and had good yardage the first two games, and we were in the red zone a couple of times against Sullivan East and didn't capitalize," said Howell.
   Unicoi is 0-2 to start the season, losing to Happy Valley in their opener and to Sullivan East last week, but their chances to pull out a victory this week are favorable.
   "I think if we can move the ball like we have in our first two games, and we can do a better job defensively, then we'll have a good shot at winning," said Howell.
   The line is a major issue for the Blue Devils, and if they're not able to control it, then the Rangers are liable to pound it down their throat.
   "Our ends and defensive tackles have all got to play better than what they have for us to have a chance," said Howell.
   Howell says he's pleased with how their kicking game has gone, for he thinks it hasn't hurt them so far.
   The one thing that has plagued the Devils, though, is their continuance of turnovers.
   "We threw three interceptions and a fumble last Friday night, which scored three touchdowns and was the difference in the game," said Howell.
   Expect this contest to be a barnburner, as both teams search for their first win of the season and try to establish some confidence within their programs.