Unaka will try to end Cloudland drought
By Marvin Birchfield
It could possibly be the biggest game ever for the Unaka Rangers as they travel from the low lands on a hunt for Highlanders up on top of the Mountain East Conference.
Looking to dethrone Cloudland tonight at Orr Field, the Rangers have their best shot ever of completing a perfect season, along with knocking off a football tradition that seemed unbeatable a season ago. Unaka last defeated the 'Landers in 1981.
We're excited. This is the first time in 23 years where we come out and this game actually does mean something," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor. "I think everybody else has blown it up that Cloudland is weak and Cloudland is bad, but they're down only in comparison to what they've been the past five years.
"They're still a very good class A football team."
Cloudland (3-0, 3-4) has momentum going into the game after blowout wins over conference foes Cosby and Jellico, while the seventh-ranked Unaka (2-0, 7-0) has used the philosophy in approaching the season one game at a time.
"I've said for two weeks that this game is going to be a slobber-knocker, and I think it will be from the opening kickoff," Ensor said. "I think it will come down to the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win the ball game.
"They've been in big ball games before, but I don't think experience is going to make a lot of difference. Instead it's going to come down to blocking and tackling."
Unaka's win against Cosby was not nearly as impressive on paper, but the fact of the matter is the Rangers had a lopsided 28-0 lead in the first period before pulling their starters and letting the Eagles go against the junior varsity boys.
Out of the 112 points given up by the Rangers, only 30 have been tallied on the first team.
North Greene was the first team to break through the defense, which came against the special teams.
A very talented Twins Springs team was able to capture 16 points in the first half before being shut out throughout the entire second half.
Last week the Rangers gave up their fourth touchdown of the season against a very respectable Oakdale team, which could give any Region 1-A team a run for its money for the conference title.
It will not be an easy task for the Rangers, but their chances this season appear solid despite the critics who claim their schedule being made up of unworthy opponents.
"I couldn't care less what the opinions are about me," Ensor said. "I didn't make any secrets about it when I made the schedule or why I made it, but I'm sure not going to apologize for it.
"This is something we've worked toward for a year now in the off season, but it's not a do-or-die ball game. If we don't win this ball game then we're going to come back next week and still play for home-field advantage in the playoffs, and approach everything week by week."
One of the main guys on the Unaka defensive side is middle linebacker Travis Pasquale, who has been a terror for the opposition, especially in the past two seasons.
Pasquale gives a lot of strength to defending the run, as he had made several key tackles throughout the year.
"Our line is very pumped up this week. We know what we're going to do, and also what they are going to do," Pasquale said. "We're going to come out and hit 'em in the mouth and hope for the best from there.
"This is definitely the biggest game of my career, and we're all going to play hard. It'll take a team effort, and I believe we'll do that."
This year marks the first time that the senior has hopes of proving that Unaka is the team to beat in 2004, despite the 'Landers domination over the past five seasons.
Cody Hurley is another senior who adds explosion to the Rangers' offensive scheme of things.
Last week against Oakdale, Hurley sat out because of minor injuries along with rising freshman fullback Jeff Wilson, hurting the Rangers in the backfield.
"I've only played against Cloudland one year," Hurley said. "I've been injured in all the other times that we've played, but we're looking forward to showing them what we can do and hopefully we'll come out on top.
"We're not really worried going in. All we can do is just play hard, with everybody coming out and stepping it up."
The one thing Unaka has going for them this season that has eluded them in the past is the ability to move the ball through the air.
Junior quarterback John Zimmerman has taken the one-dimensional Ranger team to new stardom with touchdown strikes in every game played thus far.
His favorite target so far has been senior standout Daniel McInturff, who re-aggravated a knee injury in last week's game against Oakdale.
It's questionable whether or not McInturff will be ready for tonight, but regardless the Rangers still expect to stick to their gameplan, as they have other receivers ready to step up.
"Things happen and if the good Lord willing I'll be out there, even though it looks doubtful right now," McInturff said. "I think we have receivers behind me, and they've worked my tail off all year to make me better, so I know they're just as good as I am and they'll have that chance (tonight). I think we'll have a lot of kids who are unexpected to step up."
The biggest threat for Unaka on the offensive ground is no other than Charles Lee Guinn, who looks to well surpass his 1,000 yard plus season of last year.
Guinn didn't make it into the end zone last week, but his tough running and speed on the field served as a key part to both of the Unaka touchdowns that were scored.
This junior has displayed his ability to out run defenders since his freshman year, but the thing that makes him special at the present moment is the toughness to lower the head and break tackles for an added gain.
"The line has been great for me this year helping me get all my yards," Guinn said. "We know Cloudland is a good team, and it's going to be a dog fight, but we're looking to beat them this year because we're not coming up there to lose.
"They're an aggressive team, but honestly I think we're more athletic. Everybody knows what this rivalry is about, and they don't like us too much, so we're looking forward to going out and playing them."
It's not clear of how things will unfold tonight, but rest assure that Unaka will bring a loaded arsenal with intentions of shooting down the mighty Highlanders.