Rangers win, stay perfect

By Marvin Birchfield
star staff

  TWIN SPRINGS, Va. --The Unaka Rangers continued to stay perfect on the season, but it wasn't easy. Twin Springs, Va. sent them searching for a testament of will.
  Unaka (4-0) held off the Titans late taking a 20-16 decision in a game that was moved to Thursday night.
  The Rangers trailed in the early going. A 23-yard pass from Keith Warner to Brandon Ashworth give the Titans an 8-0 lead in the first quarter.
  "We came out the first drive and had some misalignments defensively," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor. "We gave up a couple of pass plays and an easy touchdown.
  "These are high school players and they are going to screw up sometimes, but the one thing I can't fault them with was that they played their tails off."
  Unaka came back with 8:07 left in the second quarter to pull within two off a 25-yard scamper from Cody Hurley.
  Twin Springs answered the score on their next offensive series with a 27-yard run by Derek Smith. They held a ten-point advantage with just over seven minutes left in the half.
  "They kind of jumped on us at first, but we kept our heads high and stayed in the game," said Unaka lineman Brent Huskins. "Usually in the past when we've been jumped on first then our heads go down. Tonight, we stayed up and in it and come in at halftime just trailing by four."
  After a fumble from Unaka, the Titans were threatening again. They moved the ball down inside the 25-yard line of the Rangers.
  What would have been a first down run for Twin Springs evolved into a turnover for Unaka, when Warner fumbled the ball into the hands of Daniel McInturff.
  McInturff returned the ball toward midfield. A personal foul penalty on the Titans gave the ball to the Rangers at their opponent's 41-yard line.
  The Rangers managed to move the ball down inside the 15-yard line, before deciding to take a strike at the end zone through the air.
  A throw from John Zimmerman to McInturff was almost picked, but the senior tight end elected to become the defensive back instead of the receiver.
  After McInturff's pass breakup, Hurley was in the right place at the right time. He received a gift off the deflection to score on a 14-yard pass play.
  Unaka trailed 16-12 at halftime, but they had to figure out a way to slow down the Titan offense.
  The adjustments made were the correct ones with the Rangers keeping Twin Springs off the board the entire second half.
  The Titans took the first shot after receiving the ball to start the second half.
  A dropped pass from Warner on third and long turned the ball back over to Unaka, who had the chance to take their first lead of the contest.
  Twin Springs had been keying in on Charles Lee Guinn the entire first half, but a big run to start the offense in the third period give the Rangers some added boost.
  "We were down at the half, and then the offensive line came to me and said, 'We want you to give us an unbalanced set in a power-I, and then you stick it behind us and we're going to stick the ball in the end-zone,'" said Ensor. "They knew exactly what they were talking about."
  Guinn rambled 56 yards before being knocked down at the 16-yard line of the Titans.
  A powerful run from freshman Jeff Wilson made it 1st and goal from the six.
  "I just kept my feet going, and gave it all I had," said Wilson. "You've got to have heart, and when I was about to give up these seniors on the team kept me going. I want to thank senior Cody Hurley for pushing me through the game."
  Hurley seemed to be a part of the action all night, as he scored all three Unaka touchdowns.
  A give to Hurley inside resulted in a six-yard touchdown run after spinning off defenders and breaking his way across the plain.
  "We just wanted to win this one for the "old three", said Hurley. (Referring to three of his former teammates, who graduated last season.)
  The Rangers added the two-point conversion on a pass from Zimmerman to McInturff to give Unaka a four point advantage with 9:06 left in the third quarter.
  After stopping the Titans on fourth down, the Rangers put together another nice drive with the quarter winding down.
  A nice block from Wilson sprung Hurley to get across midfield and gain a first down.
  Unaka moved the ball to down at the 35-yard line of Twin Springs to end the third period.
  The Rangers went for the home run on the opening play of the fourth quarter, but Smith made the pick for the Titans around the five-yard line.
  After a nice return to their own 41, Twin Springs failed to convert a first down, forcing them to punt the ball back to Unaka. After Unaka also stalled offensively, the Titans regained possession.
  First play on the drive, Jeremy McDavid received the handoff and broke four tackles heading off to the races.
  The Titans were about to retake the lead when a last ditch effort from Mark Ward became the defensive play of the game.
  "We had the kid tackled four times on the play I thought, but Mark Ward hustles his tail off and runs the kid down to make the play," said Ensor.
  After the 48-yard run and a penalty for a face mask, the Titans had the ball down at Unaka's 14 yard line with three minutes left.
  After a seven-yard run, Twin Springs was facing second and three from the seven.
  A handoff to Dustin Harris was dropped with Zimmerman making the recovery for the Rangers.
  "Anytime we lose a ball game then it's my fault, and obviously we didn't execute properly and I didn't coach properly," said Twin Springs coach Sarge Reed. "When we make mistakes I'm responsible, so I take sole credit for the loss."
  Needing to make a couple of first downs to ice the game, Unaka was successful, remaining undefeated for the 2004 season.
  "This is a big win for our seniors," said Ensor. "We've won three ball games this year that we didn't do last year. We've got Grace Christian from Knoxville coming up next Friday, and we're just going to work on trying to win game number five."