Rangers square off with Jackets

Photo by Dave Boyd
Unaka running back/defensive back Joey Sheets

  It's been a long time coming, but tonight Unaka will play host to a playoff game.
  The number three seed out of Region 2-1A will show up at Goddard Field, with the Rangers trying to defend their home turf against Coalfield.
  "We've never hosted a playoff game or won a playoff game, so it will be big to have a chance and win one, and we're excited about that," said Unaka coach Mike Ensor.
  The Rangers are considered an underdog by many in facing the always tough teams of Region 2, but they may match up better than expected.
  "Their team is a lot like us and they do things well -- they've got good speed and quickness and throw the ball well," said Ensor. "They've got good receivers and are fairly big up front, pretty athletic and a good football team."
  There's a definite test for the Rangers to respond against -- the air attack of the Yellow Jackets -- but first things first, which is stopping the Yellow Jackets' run game from the start.
  "They'll be tough with throwing the ball, but they'll first look to get the ball into their tailback's hands," Ensor said. "He's a good player."
  The wet field conditions will play a big part and possibly limit some of Coalfield's strength.
  "This field is going to be sloppy with being as wet as it is, and it will soak in and be mud tomorrow, so it will definitely be different," said Ensor.
  Even with the changes in weather and facing a more versatile team than what they have been seeing, the gameplan still remains the same as always.
  "We're going to go out and try to do what we do best in conjunction to what they do," Ensor said. "You can't completely change your offense because of what somebody does. You've got to take the things you do and combat it."
  Coalfield is a team that throws the ball as much as it runs it, so it will be up to the defensive backs to make sure the receivers don't get past the defense.
  "We've worked a lot on pass coverage because they do throw the ball quite a bit, and we just tried to iron out some wrinkles and take care of some things," Ensor said. "We've got some people in the right formation to what they run. You can't have misalignments because it's a touchdown against a good football team."
  The Yellow Jackets game plan for Friday is simple by just needing enough offense to get the job done.
  "We need to put enough points on the board, for Unaka is a good team at 9-1," said Coalfield coach Gary Kreis. "We have to also take away their big-play capabilities and eliminate our own mistakes."
  The one thing Coalfield has going against them is the long trip, which sometimes takes a little adrenaline and desire away from a team.
  "I'm sure the 2 1/2 to 3-hour drive will have some effect," said Kreis. "Both Unaka and Cloudland used to be in our Region, so you can expect the drive will take something out of you."
  The Yellow Jackets got off to a great start by winning their first six games, but a three-game losing skid before closing out their final contest against Oakdale had the coaching staff searching for answers.
  "I don't think we're playing as well as we did early on in the season, but finally we played a little bit better last week," said Kreis.
  Look for senior tailback Michael Paul Gilbert, with already 1,600 yards this season, to lead the Coalfield ground game. Sophomore quarterback Johnny Hill and wide receiver Steven Hensley make the plays for the Yellow Jackets through the air.
  "We're a pretty balanced team. We throw it just as much as we run the ball, so overall I think we're a good well-rounded team," said Kreis.
  It should be a pretty intense battle between the two as the Rangers look to make history, while Coalfield is planning to spoil Unaka's hopes.
  "We're looking forward to coming back to Elizabethton, and we're also looking forward to playing a good football team," said Kreis.