Rangers trying to close in on winning season

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com
It might not be a crucial conference game for Unaka this week, but its matchup with Oakdale still holds importance, as the Rangers can put themselves in position for their first winning season since 1991.
The Rangers are on their way to a postseason berth after their 46-20 victory over Cosby last Friday, and the last time they were in the playoffs was 1994.
Oakdale has just one win on the year, with a season-opening 15-14 victory over Cosby, but it has been all downhill from there as the Eagles have only posted three points, which came last week against Christian Academy of Knoxville.
"Looking on film, Oakdale looks to be a fairly good football team. They're big up front and appear to be pretty physical and athletic," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor. "I know they beat Cosby by one point in their opening game of the season, so they've probably gotten a little better since then."
Even though Oakdale's success has been lacking, they have faced some tough teams inside of its conference.
"We're not going to take anything for granted because they play in a tough conference, and this might give us a measuring stick going into the last part of the year and the playoff picture with Region 2-1A," said Ensor.
The Rangers used their big fullbacks to pound Cosby last week, but they also found success throwing the ball on a couple of occasions.
"We're going to do more of what we've been doing, trying to mix in the run and throw a little bit," Ensor said. "We're predominately a run team but have thrown in a few wrinkles the past several weeks."
Unaka has begun to open up the offense more since the start of the season, and with the playoffs near, the more options they have to throw at someone the better.
"We were able to throw the ball last week when we wanted to, and that makes a big difference than being forced to do so," said Ensor. "We've been working on the pass this week, and trying to mix it up defensively, but the one thing that we stress is to be solid on up front both on defense and offense,"
The line has been the biggest strength for Unaka all season, as it has had at least one back to go over 100 yards in every game except against North Greene.
"Looking on film they're bigger than us, but I think we've got the advantage with speed, so we're just going to try to get our backs to that second level and utilize our speed on the corners," said Ensor. "If our offensive lineman execute like they have the last couple of games, then we should move the football."
The Rangers have also put the stop on their opponents' movement of the ball on the ground, which has forced every team they've played to go to the air.
"We've actually had all our games this season where we just shut the run down," said Ensor. "In the Twin Springs game their quarterback got loose on the last series and gained some yards, but no one has lined up and just run right at us so far."
The key to the Rangers' success on Friday is not giving up the quick strike, and forcing Oakdale to make the most mistakes.
"We can't let them make big plays -- we have to make them go 60, 70, or 80 yards having to earn it," said Ensor. "We can't afford to let them have 50 or 60 yards at a time, and be able to put them in situations to where they'll make a mistake."
The Eagles have shown signs of throwing the ball this year, but from reports they've been banged up in the much-needed position.
"I've heard they had to bring in this quarterback or that quarterback, but I don't put a lot of stock in what I've heard. Last week the guy completed 6-of-8 passes, so he's obviously a capable athlete," said Ensor.
If it's anything like last week's matchup, then look for the Rangers to put the rush on another Eagle quarterback.
"We're going to treat him like he's a No. 1 quarterback coming out and go at him from that aspect," said Ensor.
Unaka seems to have the advantage with the more skilled players, but the one factor that can always come into play and decide a game is the turnover factor.
"This game is going down to the team that makes the most mistakes," said Ensor. "We handled Cosby better than what I thought we would, but a lot of that was that they turned the ball over.
"They turned it over to us for easy scores, but I think we could have scored on them a couple of more times also."