Unaka snaps back for win

Photo By Kristen Luther
Unaka’s Jeremy Sommers makes a tackle.

By Marvin Birchfield

  While one Creek was trying to defend its turf by going undefeated at home on the season, another Creek had visions of drowning those hopes on senior night.
  The Stoney Creekers of Unaka found themselves in a battle with Big Creek (W.Va.) on Friday night, and a late rally from the Rangers kept them from receiving their first Goddard Field loss this season.
  It was a 22-15 come-from-behind effort by Unaka which produced the team's eighth win of the year. The Rangers had given up two touchdowns in the final period, falling behind 15-14 with 2:58 left in regulation. But a series of key runs from junior tailback Charles Lee Guinn secured the victory.
  "Charles Lee made some big runs at crunch time, and I'm as proud as I can be of these kids -- they battled their tails off every week," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor. "We're 5-0 at home for the first time ever, and I'm so proud of them. They sucked it up when they could have quit."
  The Rangers (8-1) seemed to still be feeling the effects from last week's loss to Cloudland, as they struggled with their offense all game long.
  "We came out the first half and kind of had control of it, but still sputtered offensively," Ensor said. "I think we were still in shock from last week. Last year we would have probably laid down and the year before I know we would have, but this comeback shows the character of the team."
  It wasn't until the second quarter that Unaka finally found the end zone, scoring on a 3-yard run from senior Cody Hurley.
  A fake on the extra-point and throw from McInturff to Guinn made it 8-0 with 10:25 left in the second period.
  "It was senior night, and none of the seniors wanted to give up," Hurley said. "We wanted to win really bad. The first half we got down a little bit, and in the second half we played as well as we have all year long, with the exception of John Zimmerman being out."
  Big Creek had good field position toward the end of the half after a Ranger turnover, but a key stop on fourth-and-2 denied the Owls from having a shot at the end zone.
  Senior Adam Ensor made the penetration at the line and the initial hit on Ricky Dunford to keep the Owls from taking any momentum into the locker room.
  "We had to come out and hit them hard, because if we let them go just one play then we wouldn't have been able to stop them," said Adam. "We had a bad start, but the more we played the more we got fired up, and the backs ran harder and the line blocked better."
  A key injury to quarterback Zimmerman forced him to leave the game, which sent the Rangers scrambling for someone to fill the shoes.
  At halftime Unaka got the clearance to use sophomore Michael Carpenter, who had been out with an ankle injury.
  "I had to call in at halftime and get a release for my ankle, but I knew I had to step in and take the ball," said Carpenter. "They showed up tonight, so we had to step it up at the end and play some ball."
  After holding the Owls to just 17 yards of offense in the first half, the Ranger defense had trouble in stopping the long, time-consuming drive.
  Unaka went without running one play from scrimmage during the third period, but it found a way to score when Brandon Medina took an 82-yard punt return to the house for a 14-0 lead.
  Big Creek had a nice drive at the end of the third quarter, and with 11:22 left in the fourth the Owls captured their first score with a 5-yard run from Jessie Marrs.
  After going three and out, the Rangers punted the ball back to the Owls.
  From there, Unaka applied the pressure on quarterback Shawn Golden, with Brent Huskins making the chase.
  "The one touchdown they got turn the momentum around on us, and then we had to bear down a little bit," said Huskins. "This isn't the Ranger team of old that dropped their heads, but instead we fought back and came out on top."
  A pass from Golden to David Deel was completed for 29 yards, which placed them down inside the 10-yard line.
  Two plays later, Dunford ran for eight yards and a score to tie the contest, and the added extra-point by Deel gave Big Creek a 15-14 lead with 2:58 left in regulation.
  It appeared that Unaka had become lifeless and its undefeated season at home had came to an end.
  With their backs against the wall, and Guinn struggling in the backfield throughout, it almost seemed impossible that the Rangers still had enough fire to pull the game out.
  However, it was like a switch that was flipped on for Guinn, as he exploded for 36 yards on the first play from scrimmage.
  Guinn almost broke the run for a touchdown until being tripped up at the Owl 29 with only one man to beat.
  "When they came back and scored on us, that could have been it, but we have heart and believe in ourselves now," said Guinn. "We've got Jellico coming up this week, so if we want to play at home in the first round, then we're going to have to come out ready to play."
  A near turnover on a fumble the next play put a bit of scare into the Ranger fans, but a sweep left to Guinn quickly brought the excitement back on a 12-yard gain.
  After a 5-yard penalty on an incidental face-mask call, the Rangers had the ball on the Owls 11 with just under two minutes left.
  Another sweep to Guinn down the right side produced the game-winning touchdown, and an added two-point conversion gave the Rangers a seven-point advantage with 1:58 to play.
  With one last chance left, the Owls elected to go to the air, but McInturff was waiting for the pick to end the contest and seal the victory for Unaka.
  "It was a total team effort, because when Zimmerman got hurt it just killed us," said McInturff. "I think unlike Cloudland, the seniors tonight picked them up. I was pissed off because our DBs hadn't gotten back in deep coverage all year, and I thought it might hurt us, but it seem to fire us up more than hurt us."