Rangers hope to challenge unbeaten Indians

By Marvin Birchfield

   Unaka finally got rid of the Blue Devils last week, after facing three consecutive teams with the same nickname and the same ending result.
   Tonight the Rangers take on the undefeated Indians from Powell Valley (1-0, 3-0) in a Region 1-A contest, so for them they hope that the final will be different.
   Last season, Unaka (0-1, 0-3) went on the road and was dealt a 35-8 disappointment, but this year they're at home with a little more productive offense than what they had.
   "We turned the ball over deep in our territory last year, and then the next thing you know we had fell way behind," said Unaka head coach Mike Ensor. "Then it was a pretty good football game from that point on."
   In last year's match, the Rangers had a total of 88 yards on offense, but managed to outscore the Indians 8-6 in the second-half.
   The Rangers played tough in the third and fourth quarters, but the critical turnovers in the first half placed them in a 29-0 hole at halftime.
   "As far as our offense, we just have to keep a hold on the football. Last week we moved it at will from 20 to 20-yard lines," said Ensor. "But it seemed like everytime we got into the crunch situation or red-zone, then we would lay it on the ground, and you just can't turn the ball over."
   Last week Unaka's defense was hammered by Unicoi, giving up 558 total yards off of big plays and missed tackles.
   "We had people in position to make plays, but we didn't tackle very well and they broke some long runs on us," said Ensor.
   Several times the Rangers had the Blue Devil tailbacks in their grasp, but somehow managed to let them slip through their fingers.
   "We're getting better in where we need to be, but we just have to finish off good plays and be more fundamentally sound with our tackling," said Ensor.
   The Indians ended up with more yards through the air than on the ground last year, and this is one of the concerns Unaka will be facing.
   "This team runs the option so you have to be discipline, and they throw the ball pretty well also," said Ensor.
   Ensor says, staying at home and not getting drawn in and giving up big plays is a key to stopping the Indian offense.
   The defense has been staying too long out on the field, says Ensor, so the offense must have long drives and capitalize when the opportunity presents itself.
   "Our defense will make a descent stand or force a punt, then we'll go on offense and turn it right back over to them," said Ensor.
   Ensor believes a good defense is a good offense, and it's important that they grind out the clock to give themselves an opportunity to score.
   The one part of the offense that has pleased the coaching staff this season is the way their line has played so far. Unaka has consistently moved the ball in every game they've played, and last week they churned out 297 yards on the ground.
   "Our offensive line has been fairly solid all year, and looking at film we've had a breakdown here and there, but overall they've played well," said Ensor.
   Ensor has been pleased to a point with the crispness of his offense moving the ball, but is a little disappointed on how they haven't been able to finish off drives.
   "Offensively, we haven't been able to seal the deal. We move the ball up and down the field but can't punch it on in," said Ensor.
   The Rangers feel like they need to improve on their throwing game, but the injury to Jeremy Cook in their first game has put a little bit of a hamper on doing it successfully.
   "We need to throw the ball better, and Jeremy Cook has a little bit better arm than Brandon Irick, but Irick has more speed and does a good job at running the option," said Ensor.
   "With both quarterback it gives us a different dimension, so we will use both of them in whatever situation presents itself."
   Penalties were a factor in last week's ball game at key moments, so for the Rangers to be successful they must cut down on the mental mistakes.
   "We don't have they breakaway speed, so when we get a 10, 15, or even a 5-yard penalty it really hurts us," said Ensor.
   Unaka will matchup better with Powell Valley in size than the previous teams they have played, but the key to this game is whether or not they can contain the speed of the Indians.
   "They're quick but not that big by any stretch, and if we'll get off our tails and play ball and not get behind, then it could be a pretty good ball game," said Ensor.