Unaka heavy underdog vs. unbeaten Cloudland

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com
The legend of David and Goliath will resurface on Friday, when a longshot with one of the area's most improved teams takes on a dominate giant of East Tennessee.
Unaka has gradually climbed its way back to respectability by going 4-3 on the season so far, but its test with Cloudland, which is second in the 1-A state rankings, might be too much of an order to fill.
After having two heartbreaking loses in the beginning of the season, the Rangers have been able to turn the momentum around by winning three straight games.
On the other side of the ball, the 'Landers (7-0) have been nothing but sensational, going undefeated thus far, with two wins coming over schools in the 4-A class.
For the Rangers, they must play mistake free and have their best game of the year in order to have an opportunity of knocking off Cloudland.
"We're trying to approach this game like any other and try to take away what they like to do best," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor. "The problem is they have so many weapons that can beat you that we've just got to focus on what we can do."
Even though the odds are almost insurmountable, Unaka still has the spirit and mindset of being able to get the job done.
"Our kids know what they're going up against and I think they're looking forward to playing this game to see just where they're at," said Ensor. "I told them at the beginning of the week if anyone thought they were beat already then just go on home, but we didn't have a kid go home so we're expecting to play hard."
Both clubs have explosive players on each side of the ball, with Mark Byrd and Dakota Benfield heading up the 'Lander offense, and sophomore tailback Charles Lee Guinn bringing new life to the Ranger scheme.
"The key is stopping them on defense and not getting out of position. I think we need to do a better job at that," said Cloudland coach Mike Lunsford. "You've got to stop both Guinn and (Joey) Parlier -- they're the biggest offensive weapons."
A victory by the Rangers would spoil Cloudland's undefeated season and clinching of the conference title, but it's going to take stuffing the run along with deflation through the air.
"You can't make stupid mistakes, and you must play error-free football against them," said Ensor. "You've got to tackle well and play good football. They throw the ball and run well, and they have a lot of speed."
One positive key for the Rangers is the offense and their execution of the misdirection.
"We're going to have to block well, and with them being real super aggressive on defense, we hope our misdirection will help us there," said Ensor.
This can sometimes catch an overeager defense off guard, which has somewhat hindered the 'Landers in years' past.
"We fly to the ball so fast that the misdirection has given us trouble in the past," said Lunsford. "We can't get trapped and our people up front have to be patient and play their gap. The linebackers have to make the tackles and not try to guess who's got the ball."
The downside to the misdirection offense is the late development of the play, and that might give Cloudland enough time to stop the backs before they ever get started.
Cloudland's offense is a lot more diverse than that of Unaka. Whether the 'Landers pour on the ground attack or light up the sky with the pass, the ending result, success, seems to always be the same.
A huge asset for the 'Landers this season has been the play of their offensive line, which has dominated the teams they've faced so far.
"They've got Byrd and Benfield, who are phenomenal, but up front is what impresses me more than anything I've seen so far," said Ensor.
The passing game of Cloudland has also improved, and a lot of the success has come from the receivers being able to make the grabs.
"I think we're both stronger in the offensive line and the passing game," said Lunsford. "Byrd is already on pace for 1,000 yards passing and all but two of those passes have came in the first half.
"I think we have more people that can catch the ball and are a threat."
It should be an interesting matchup, as Cloudland looks to flex its muscle and show everyone why so many people are talking about its chances at a state title, while the Rangers hope to make their mark by doing something done by no other team -- upset the 'Landers.
"They're standing between us and a conference championship -- they're the only team that can beat us," said Lunsford. "They're a pretty good football team, and by being able to score 86 points in the last two games, you're doing something right."