Unaka eyes playoff berth

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com
Tonight, in their final season game of the regular season, the Unaka Rangers attempt to put an exclamation point on their season by securing their first playoff spot since 1994.
They host winless Jellico in a Watauga Valley Conference affair.
Unaka hasn't enjoyed much success over the past decade, but this year the team has been able to turn things around by wiping away losses and replacing them with wins.
The Rangers would get a home playoff game if Cosby was to upset North Greene, but their main focus right now is to just go out and take care of business.
"We're excited and this is a big game for us, because if we win and Cosby was to upset North Greene, then we'd get a first round home playoff game, which would be huge for us," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor.
After getting banged up in their battle with Cloudland, the Rangers (1-2, 4-4) have had two weeks to heal from their brutal affair.
Unaka will still probably miss senior fullback Andrew Richardson, who suffered two pulled groin muscles during the contest against the 'Landers.
"We had quite a few kids get beat up in the game against Cloudland," said Ensor. "It's still questionable whether Andrew Richardson will be back, for he's still suffering with two pulled groins."
If Richardson sits out, then it will change a few things in the players' positions, as they try to find the right winning combination.
Look for senior Joey Parlier to possibly fill Richardson's shoes, but it's still uncertain who'll get the call in the backfield.
"Actually, we've been preparing that Andrew will not play, and having Joey is a good bonus, but he's not been as dependable as we'd like for him to be this year," said Ensor.
One guy who the Rangers have counted on this season is sophomore tailback Charles Lee Guinn.
"Charles has stepped up and been our go-to guy all season, and he's gotten around 1,100 yards in eight games so far," said Ensor. "We'd be crazy not to try to get it into his hands and let him make something happen."
Along with Guinn in the backfield, Cody Hurley has been a player that has made things happen.
After receiving a broken bone in his leg against Cloudland, Hurley will miss the rest of the season, which is a big blow to the Rangers scheme on offense.
"Hurley is out and he's our number two quarterback, but more importantly, he's the guy who hands the ball off to Guinn a lot of times," said Ensor.
Don't be surprised to see Brandon Irick move to the backfield spot to fill in for Hurley, and possibly look for freshman quarterback Michael Carpenter get the call to take the snaps.
"I'm a little apprehensive in throwing a freshman in there -- I don't want to get him killed," said Ensor. "He's been taking some reps for us in practice and we could possibly put him behind center if we decide to move Irick to the backfield."
"We're not looking for him to make things happen, but all we're asking is just be able to get it in the hands of our playmakers."
The question of how well Unaka moves the ball depends a lot on how well they block up front.
A big asset in their blocking scheme all year has been the play of lineman Brent Huskins.
"We've got to have good play out of our guys up front if we're going to have success," said Ensor. "Brent has not gotten a lot of recognition this year, but he's been the one who has delivered the block allowing us to turn the corner."
As far as Jellico goes, the Blue Devils (0-3, 0-9) have had a terrible season, posting a total of 25 points in nine games.
They've given up an average of 42 points a game, and acquired an average of three points thus far this season.
It might not be much of a challenge for the Rangers to obtain victory over the Blue Devils, but Unaka has prepared to face them like they would anyone else who might be a threat.
"They have steadily improved as the season has went on and had some success with moving the ball against North Greene," said Ensor. "They run the wing-T offense like us, but use just a little more motion on trying to turn the corner."
"We have to focus on stopping them by controlling their pulling guards and disrupt the things they like to do. The one thing we've stressed to our players this week is not to underestimate their potential."
The skilled speed position is the biggest advantage the Rangers will have going into tonight, as this was the strength Jellico had last year over Unaka.
"They've got nobody that's quite as fast as Guinn or Irick, so if we can get them to the second level, then we'll be in good shape," said Ensor. "This is probably our most important game of the season, because we have a chance to finish either second or third in the conference."