Junior 'Landers fend off Unaka

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR CORRESPONDENT
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   There was lots of excitement in the Cloudland and Unaka junior high football match-up Thursday night, with the Highlanders squeezing out the victory in a 12-6 final.
   "Overall, I thought we played well. My backs ran well and line played well at times," said Cloudland head coach Robbie Turbyfill.
   This game was what you call a slobber knocker as the two teams battled down to the wire, with the 'Lander defense holding on its final series.
   Neither team managed to score in the first quarter, but a blocked punt by Cloudland gave them excellent field position at the Ranger 44-yard line.
   On the opening play of the second quarter, Josh Harrison went on a 33-yard touchdown run, where he broke several tackles, including escaping the grasp of Jeff Wilson.
   Unaka responded by putting together a 12-play drive, which went for a total of 59 yards.
   A nice run on a sweep to the right side from Steven Lapp bailed the Rangers out of a third down and long situation.
   Unaka grinded away at the Cloudland defense with the combination of its backs, as Wilson converted a fourth-and-goal from 10 yards out to tie the contest.
   "I can't say enough about Jeff Wilson," said Unaka head coach Matt Wilson. "He's a heck of an athlete, but more importantly he's a good kid."
   With two minutes left until halftime, the 'Landers started off with a 15-yard penalty for blocking in the back.
   Two straight incompletions and a stop on a fourth-and-long by the Rangers handed them the ball back with over a minute and a half left on the clock.
   "Coach Hartley has done a good job with the defense, and in all our games the effort has been unbelievable," said Coach Wilson.
   Unaka made 10 yards on their first play, when a block from Michael Westberry sprung Wilson for the first down.
   The Rangers continued to drive down the field, but the time was against them, which finally wound down after Wilson carried the ball to the 'Landers 8-yard line.
   "My guys moved the ball good all night, and I told them that we were just one play away from breaking a big one," said Coach Wilson.
   To start the second half, both teams traded the ball back and forth by throwing interceptions.
   Logan Buck attempted to hook up with Jared Kodak, but Michael Carpenter wrestled the ball away for the pickoff.
   Cloudland came up with a turnover after the ball fell short of the intended receiver, with Harrison making the grab and returning it down to the Ranger 31.
   The 'Landers elected to go with a fresh back on their next possession, which was a payoff for the Cloudland offense.
   Rodney Hill took the pitch from Buck on a 20-yard sweep to the right side to score the game's go-ahead touchdown with 3:12 left in the third quarter.
   "He ran the ball extremely well. Most of the time he just blocks, but he showed us tonight he can run the ball," said Turbyfill.
   The Rangers went four and out on their next series to give the ball back to Cloudland with the fourth quarter approaching.
   With Harrison and Hill sharing the backfield duties, the 'Landers drove the ball all the way down inside the Rangers' 5-yard line.
   Two defensive stops and two crucial offensive penalties forced Cloudland in a fourth-and-long decision.
   "We have to cut down on the penalties, and for us to be a good football team we have to quit making the mental mistakes," said Turbyfill.
   Buck threw it up for grabs in the end zone, but Carpenter was waiting to get his second pick of the night with 3:35 left to play.
   Unaka made a valiant effort after a 28-yard run from Wilson, placing the ball past midfield with a minute and a half to go.
   Unfortunately for Unaka, Wilson had to leave the game for a series after having the wind knocked out of him on a saving tackle by Hill.
   "My linebackers played well, but you've got hand it to Coach Wilson," Turbyfill said. "He's done a heck of a job with that bunch."
   The Rangers simply were running out of time, and the 'Lander defense stepped up to deny Unaka from capturing the tying score.
   "We had a long way to go and we knew they would be keying on Jeff, so we knew we had to throw the ball, but we just ran out of time," said Coach Wilson.