Rangers survive miscues, Eagles to move to 7-0
By Marvin Birchfield
OAKDALE--Unaka was flirting with its first defeat of the season, but when it became crunch time the Rangers showed their pride and stuffed Oakdale in a 13-7 final on Friday night.
The Eagles were celebrating homecoming and looking for the upset, while Unaka had hopes of staying undefeated going into next week's game against Cloudland.
Three Unaka turnovers on the ground and one in the air almost enabled Oakdale to come away with the victory.
"I'm not going to make excuses, but we turned the ball over several times in the first half and should have been up 21-0 then," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor. "We come out the second half and turned the ball over right off the bat once again."
Unaka's first turnover came on its second series on offense, when John Zimmerman completed a pass to Charles Lee Guinn.
The completion went for 20 yards, but a juke from Guinn caused a strip, with Oakdale making the recovery.
The Rangers (7-0) fumbled and threw an interception on their next two possessions, as frustration was starting to set in against a surprisingly quick and hard-hitting Oakdale team.
"We came into the football game flat, and I thought we came in thinking they would lay down for us, but they're a hard-nose football team and are not going to lay down for anybody," Ensor said. "We can't beat anybody the way we played tonight, so we have to go to work this upcoming week and correct some mistakes and get some kids healthy."
Unaka managed to turn a disappointing first half into a sweet-tasting ending on its last series of the second period.
A throw from Zimmerman to Guinn down at the Eagles 14-yard-line would have been the final play of the half, but a penalty on Oakdale for defensive pass interference give the Rangers one more opportunity at the end zone.
Zimmerman threw another long bomb to Daniel McInturff, who made the grab to give the Rangers a 7-0 lead at the half.
"When they shut Charles down we had to do something else, so I went to 'Mac' and I don't know why they didn't cover him," Zimmerman said. "They ended up paying for it. We didn't play to our best ability, but we're going to have to play with our heart if we're going to beat Cloudland, and I think we will."
It became a serious moment for Unaka after McInturff was injured on a punt play. The senior wide receiver was helped off the field and did not return due to receiving a knee injury, which has plagued him throughout his career.
Unaka was able to take advantage of an Eagle turnover when Andrew Monroe missed the exchange on the handoff, and Joe Estep made the recovery at the opponents 39.
Several tough runs from Guinn moved the ball down to the 10 to make it first and goal.
Guinn left the game temporarily with a cramp, while the sophomore tailback Brandon Medina stepped up to finish off the drive.
Three plays later, Medina wrestled his way into the end zone from three yards out to increase the Ranger advantage.
With McInturff on the sideline and nobody able to kick the extra-point, Unaka elected to go for the two-point conversion, and converted on a throw from Zimmerman to Aaron Greer.
The conversion was called back because of movement before the snap, so the next attempt from Rangers failed, leaving the score at 13-0.
"Those things are going to happen and I caught the pass from John, but there was nothing we could do about it," Greer said. "Next week is going to be another big game for us, so we're going to have to buckle down in practice and concentrate hard."
Oakdale came back on its next series after a 38-yard run from Monroe to get the Eagles down into Ranger territory at the end of the third period.
The Eagles kept the drive going and managed to score on a four-yard run from Chris Young to make it 13-7 with eleven minutes left in the contest.
After receiving the kickoff, the Rangers' fumbling woes struck again on their first play of scrimmage when Joey Sheets laid the ball on the ground.
Oakdale took over at the Ranger 29with a chance to take the lead, but the Unaka defense rose to the occasion and stopped them on a fourth-and-6, with Guinn making the tackle.
"We underestimated them coming in, and they came out and hit us in the mouth," Guinn said. "Our defense has really been the center point of our wins lately by stepping up and not letting other teams score.
"We let them get one in and then we had to step up , because it was their homecoming and they came to play."
Unaka drove back down the field with a couple of big runs from Guinn, which put them down at the Eagles 18 yard-line.
The Rangers drive stalled out with Oakdale taking over at their own 16, and time becoming a factor.
Oakdale acquired one first down and was faced with a fourth-and-1 at its own 38. It would be Brent Huskins penetrating the line to make the initial stop, which turned the ball back over to Unaka with just under three minutes left.
"We made a few mistakes in the first half, which hurt us a bit, but our defense stepped up and got the ball back to keep them from scoring," Huskins said. "Their a good, aggressive hitting team and they kind of reminded me of us, so we were just fortunate to come out on top tonight."
Needing a couple of first downs to seal the victory, the Rangers put the ball in the hands of Guinn, who managed to kill the clock by driving down to the 3-yard-line with the time expiring.
"We had momentum right when we needed it and had great field position, but Unaka came up with some great stops," said Oakdale coach Phil Childers. "Unaka is on a roll right now and it's hard to hit the brakes on a team that is having a season like they are.
"I thought we played a great game, but we just came out short on the scoreboard."