Jr. Longhorns tackle Unaka

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR CORRESPONDENT

   The Junior Longhorns veered away from an upset on Thursday, by defeating Unaka in a 22-12 final at Paul McEwen stadium.
   "I'm so proud of these guys for we got a late start, and we don't have a lot of practices under our belt, but we fight hard every night," said Unaka Jr. High coach Matt Wilson.
   Going into this year, Johnson Co. was considered the top team to beat in the conference, as Unaka scrambled just to get a coach two days prior to the season started.
   Last season was horrific for the Rangers, as they failed to win and were primarily non-competitive.
   This year things are starting to turn around for Unaka with capturing an overtime win on Tuesday against West View.
   "We are trying to make a good Jr. High program to feed Unaka High School, we are wanting them to have fun and learn the game, and they are playing well," said Wilson.
   Still riding high from the victory earlier in the week, they faced the tough task of facing Johnson Co., but they were definitely up for the challenge.
   The Longhorns received the ball first to start the game, and marched their way down-field on the opening drive.
   A couple of nice carries from Jesse Atwood placed the ball down toward the goal with Johnson Co. threatening to score.
   Facing third down and four the Longhorns fumbled the snap, which helped Unaka dodge the early bullet.
   "We played terrible and I don't know what's wrong with us right now, but hopefully we'll turn it around for right now we can't beat Happy Valley and that's who we're after," said Johnson Co. Jr. High coach Delza Noble.
   The Rangers were stopped on their first series of plays, which forced them to punt the ball away, and it turned into another break for Unaka.
   With Justin Harmon making his way down-field on the return, Michael Westberry came up to strip the ball out and give it back to the Rangers.
   "The first two fumbles killed us when Robbie fumbled the snap from center, and then Justin fumbled the punt," said Noble.
   Next play, the Rangers gave the ball to their strong tailback Jeff Wilson, who took it up the gut and rambled in for a 70 yard touchdown run.
   "It was a good team effort for that's what we believe in, and Jeff's a good team player and he will be the first to tell you that his line makes it happen," said Wilson.
   The Rangers controlled the first quarter of play with the period ending on a tackle in the back-field from Westbrook on Jesse Atwood for a five yard loss.
   The Rangers had managed to hold a 6-0 advantage nearly all the way through the first-half, until the Longhorns capped off a 44 yard drive with 2:43 left.
   It was a six yard run by Zack Roark that captured Johnson Co.'s first score, along with the two-point conversion run which was added by Roark.
   Before Unaka could escape the half being down two, they turned the ball over at mid-field with a fumble from Wilson.
   "In the first three games we've gave teams the opportunity to score and have hurt ourselves, and we have to learn how to take care of the ball and it will come in time," said Wilson.
   It didn't take the Johnson Co. long to capitalize, but not before losing Harmon to an injury after making a 13 yard run.
   On the next play, Atwood carried it straight up the middle to break a 30 yard touchdown run, giving the Longhorns a 16-6 lead at the half.
   "He always does a good job, but he has been fumbling, and he didn't tonight and that really helped us," said Noble.
   Neither team added any points in the third quarter, but Unaka was driving heading into the fourth.
   A backwards toss from Michael Carpenter to Dustin Carden drew the Longhorn defense in giving Carden an opportunity to set his sights down-field.
   Then Carden launched a 38 yard pass to Matthew Taylor to give Unaka a first-down at the Longhorns 15 yard-line.
   Unaka stumbled after that, as a throw from Carpenter was picked off by Ryan Gouge and returned the ball back to their own 37 yard-line.
   Johnson Co. put the final nail in the coffin with 4:13 left in the game, when Atwood busted a 52 yard run up the middle for the touchdown.
   The game seemed to be over at that point, but Unaka came back with a 31 yard touchdown run from Wilson to the left side of the field.
   The Rangers had a chance to make it a one possession by adding the two-point conversion, but a pass attempt by Carpenter fell short of the intended receiver.
   "We're not happy with just playing people close, for we want to win and we're working hard to get there," said Wilson.