Unaka ready for key battle with Cosby

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com
Tonight's match-up between Unaka and Cosby might be the Rangers most important test so far, since the eligibility for a postseason waits in the ballot.
"We like to think every game is just as important, but this one takes on added importance with it being a conference game," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor.
Cosby has already broken into the win column with 36-0 thrashing of Jellico, so it's looking like this is potentially the race for third place in the Mountain Athletic Conference.
"We've already lost one conference game, and if we can pick up a win here and maybe another one on down the road, then we should be in pretty good shape," said Ensor. "If we can get one here, then that will pretty much assure us of a playoff berth."
This is the first time in a long while that Unaka has a shot at being at the .500 mark, as it is already halfway through its season with a record of 2-3.
"It can put us back at .500 on the season and that's something that we've been wanting to get to, so we've got to go out and take care of business," said Ensor. "Since I've been coaching here, I don't know if I've ever been there, but we've already accomplished what we wanted to by dropping the schedule."
The Rangers haven't faced near the stiff competition that they did a year ago, but the thing that has improved is the team's spirit.
"So far we've played five games and are at 2-3, but we've lost two of them on the last play of the game and could easily be 4-1," said Ensor. "I thought we could have played a lot better against North Greene, but right now I like how we look for the rest of the season."
Unaka's only win last year came at home, when they spanked the Eagles in a 34-12 rout at Goddard Field.
"Last year we kind of got happy on them and things started rolling for they made a few mistakes and we capitalized on them," said Ensor. "We know without that early momentum it could have been a dog fight, and that's something we're expecting this time out."
Two years ago, the Rangers lost in the final seconds, when they ran out of time on a game-winning drive, coming up short inside their opponent's 10-yard line at Cosby.
The rivalry between the two schools is sort of unusual, since the schools are so far apart, but it always seems that each side enjoys getting the chance when they knock off their competitor.
"Anytime we play Cosby in basketball, baseball, football, or whatever it's always a rivalry, and we seem to meet in big situations," said Ensor. "With us going down there and them looking at trying to secure third place, and that's big when you can stay away from that first place team in the other district."
An important issue of which team has the success all starts with the line and how they perform.
The Rangers controlled this last year, and if success repeats itself, then this must be the factor once again.
"They had some big kids last year, but they were young," said Ensor. "We hope that with the experience we have up front with the seniors, juniors, and one sophomore that it will take hold and give our backs a chance to get on track."
A tailback who has made his impact in the Ranger backfield so far has been sophomore Charles Guinn, who will burn almost any defender once he gets outside.
"Charles is coming in with over 750 yards in five games on the season, and if we can get him going and to the second level then he can take it on to the house," said Ensor.
Ensor says if the Rangers come away empty-handed on Friday, it shouldn't have too much effect on their club, for they're the most resilient bunch he has coached so far.
"They've battled through so much in the last four years and not a lot seems to faze them," said Ensor. "In the past, I might of said losing doesn't bother them, but this year, with having some success and being in games when they do lose, it bothers them."
This kind of mentality has helped inspire Unaka with turning it up another notch in everyday practice, and with more success it can only get that much better.
"This week we have had three of our best practices, and maybe now the kids are learning how to compete, and from what I've seen so far, we plan to have a real good game," said Ensor.
The Eagles and Rangers are a lot alike in their schemes of how they run their offense, and one of the most important keys to this contest is who will make the most mistakes.
"It's going to be a dog fight, and the team that makes the most mistakes is the team that will lose the ball game," said Ensor. "They're going to come at you with what is almost a mirror image of us.
"On defense they'll try to crowd the line of scrimmage, but once you break that plane, then you're gone. We have enough speed in our backfield to take one home, and our fullbacks are big enough to smash someone in the nose and control the clock."