Rangers hope for first win

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR CORRESPONDENT

   A huge matchup in Region 1-A will take place tonight as Cosby travels to Unaka for a battle that may decide who gets a playoff berth at the end of the season.
   The Rangers lost in a close contest last year, when they came from behind to tie the score, but were edged out by a late touchdown pass in a 32-26 final.
   "We got down to them then tied it up, and then they had a couple of gimmick plays and threw a couple of hook and laterals, and then the one at the end went for a touchdown," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor.
   Unaka was driving in the closing minutes for the tie or potential go-ahead score, but a pass by Brandon Irick was intercepted in the end zone to deny the Rangers from victory.
   The Rangers go into this contest at the same point as they were last season by looking for their first win.
   This time they will be defending their home field, which could be an advantage, but the Eagles are coming off a fresh win over King's Academy, for the Eagles second victory of the season.
   Unaka had its best start of the season last week, when they went head to head with West Greene and trailed just 7-6 at halftime.
   Unfortunately, the Rangers were unable to stop the Buffaloes' ground attack, which was costly during the third and fourth quarters.
   "Last week I thought we were prepared and came out and played well the first half, then I think they just wore us down in the second half," said Ensor.
   Unaka has had to face bigger and stronger teams thus far, but this week they should match up a lot better with Cosby, which is on a more even level playing field.
   "This week we go up against another single-A team, so that should help as far as competing against another school our own size," Ensor said. "So they shouldn't be able to wear us down."
   The Rangers 'failure to hang on to the football has been a thorn in their side all year. If they expect to come out victorious tonight, then they can't afford the constant mistakes of laying the ball on the ground after having a good drive going.
   "We hope to be prepared and we've watched film on them, but we're at the point right now where we just have to take care of ourselves instead of worrying about other people," said Ensor.
   Unaka faces another team that likes to throw, and in last year's contest Cosby scored three out of five touchdowns through the air, including the game-winning play.
   "Again, we're going up against another team that likes to throw the ball, but in the last couple of games they have went more to the run," said Ensor.
   The Rangers did an excellent job last week in shutting down the West Greene air attack, and the fact that they have already faced teams which like to throw may play into their favor.
   The one thing that Unaka has not done that well so far is stopping the running game, for last week it was hammered in the second half when the Buffaloes decided to keep it on the ground.
   "The people that have ran the ball hard have ran it on us pretty successfully. We have been knocked off the line and let them break tackles, " said Ensor.
   Ensor says he's been pleased at times with his defense as far as getting into position to make the play, but they need to do a better job at making the tackles.
   "Once you get in position to make those plays, if you make them then your defense looks good," said Ensor. "We're getting into position to make the play, but we're just too weak or slow right now to make them, and we must get better."
   The Rangers have done a good job of moving the ball and consuming the clock this season, but trouble with finishing off drives and putting points on the board have hurt them.
   "We have been successful in running the ball pretty much all year, but we're not converting any of our drives, and maybe we'll get it punched in this week," said Ensor.
   Unaka will have some people back that it was missing last week, but one of their key linemen is still sidelined, and for how long remains unquestionable.
   "We've got one starter still out, Andrew Richardson, who's been playing with a broke hand," Ensor said. "He had to have surgery, so he's out this week and we're not sure if we'll getting him back next week or not."
   The Rangers have had success throwing the ball in the last couple of weeks, and this might play big if they can catch the Eagle defense off guard at some point.
   "We don't want to be in a situation where we have to throw the ball when we don't want to," Ensor said. "Our passing game it set up off the run and that has been the big difference of late."
   Action kicks off at 7:30.