Unaka to challenge Midway

By Marvin Birchfield
STAR STAFF
mbirchfield@starhq.com

   Friday night will offer Unaka its first opportunity to capture a playoff win in nearly a decade, as the Rangers travel down to Kingston to take on the Midway Green Wave, the number two seed out of District 2-1A.
   The last time they had the chance, the Rangers were dismantled in a 54-6 loss to South Pittsburg in the 1994 season.
   Don't expect for the same thing to happen again. That year, the team that beat them went on to win the state championship.
   Also, this week's game is on a more even playing field than then, so the Rangers, who finished 5-4 on the year seem, to match up pretty well with a Midway team which ended the season at 6-4.
   What's the gameplan for Unaka this time around? It's simple, just try to stop what they do best which is run the option, and do what they do best with running the misdirection.
   "They seem to be a run-oriented option type team, which they do throw the ball more than we do," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor. "We're going to try to run the ball and throw when we have too, and we think we've got some things that we can do against them."
   A major plan in the Rangers' scheme of offense is creating the opportunity for their leading rushing Charles Lee Guinn to get to the outside and utilize his break away speed.
   "We think Charles Lee can get loose on them, and he's probably going to be the fastest kid on the field," said Ensor. "We've got to have a big game out of our running backs."
   Andrew Richardson and Joey Parlier are two other key players with the offensive side, as the way they block is just as important as the tough yardage they get.
   "Whether it be Joey and Andrew running the ball or blocking along, we have to have a good game out of our backs," said Ensor. "They have to hang onto the football and block up front."
   The Rangers will be missing a big asset to their line this week, which is senior Kasey Garland who is out with a knee sprain.
   Garland has tremendous size and Unaka will have a tough time filling the gap with the play he has provided all season long.
   "With Kasey being out this week doesn't help us," said Ensor. "We've worked hard all year and one of our young kids will have to step up and play and we'll see where we go from there."
   Unaka possibly has a little advantage with both speed and size, but Midway has a lot of kids who are athletic, so it will be interesting to see how it all folds out.
   Look for Midway to run the true triple option and give it to the dive, so that's Unaka's first task in stopping the Green Wave.
   "When taking away the option the first thing you have to do is take away the dive," said Ensor. "Then you have to have someone responsible for the quarterback coming down the line, and somebody responsible for the pitching man."
   It's going to take a discipline defense for Unaka to control Midway's ground attack, but the one thing in the Rangers' favor is they've been solid all year at stuffing the run.
   "You can stop the option for ten plays in a row, and then on that one play you can blow an assignment and they'll take it for a touchdown," said Ensor. "They run it pretty well for they have good athletes."
   The losses by the Green Wave have come against quality opponents, with Greenback, Oliver Springs, and Rockwood getting the better end.
   The only opponent that the Rangers and Midway have both faced is Oakdale, who took a 40-8 drumming from Unaka and suffered a 34-0 shutout to the Green Wave.
   "A lot of people like to use those games as a measuring stick, but they played them after we did, and a lot of those kids were banged and out then," said Ensor.
   A struggle that has bitten the Rangers on the year has been their kick coverage, so it'll be important that they don't get caught in kicking the ball deep and allowing the return.
   "The kicking game is something that we've worked hard on this week, and we're not going to give up big plays," said Ensor. "I've told our kids were not going to kick it deep -- Midway is pretty athletic -- and we're not going to give them the opportunity, even if it means giving up a little field position."
   The Rangers are not just looking to compete in a rare playoff game that has eluded the program for years. They intend to go out and battle to capture the win.
   "There's one thing I can say about these kids, and that's they're not just happy with making the playoffs. They expect to win and make it onto round two," said Ensor. "They're not going to hang their heads if they don't win, but we're also not going to get too high if we don't.
   "We want our kids to go out and play and execute their game plan and that's what were looking to do."