After scoring just six points in almost five games, Unaka doubled that total in the final four minutes against Cloudland on Friday night.
Its reward was a victory, which didn’t come until the clock had expired.
The Rangers took advantage of two big fourth-quarter mistakes by the Highlanders and earned a 12-6 home victory. They scored on an untimed down, given because of a pass interference penalty on the Highlanders as the clock ticked to zero.
From the 1-yard line, Eli Rasnick tossed a short pass to Austin Anderson. The ball was caught and Anderson was hit at the 1, but he struggled through a tackle attempt and found pay-dirt.
“It was unbelievable,” said Unaka head coach Steve McKinney. “Like I told everybody all year, we’ve been one block away. We just needed a big play or a big catch.
“We tell the kids all the time, if they keep playing hard good things will happen. These kids just don’t quit.”
Because of the struggles associated with three consecutive shutout losses — and being outscored 158-6 for the season — it would have been understandable if the Rangers lost a little heart as the game drifted deep into the fourth quarter.
However, when Cloudland left a crack in door, the Rangers blasted through it. As the Highlanders were attempting to punt with just under four minutes left in the game, the snap sailed over the punter’s head and Unaka got the ball at Cloudland’s 4-yard line.
The Rangers pounded it into the end zone with Michael Nave calling an audible to a quarterback sneak from the 1-yard line. Unaka went for a 2-point conversion to take the lead, but was denied on a very close call.
“We had one official say he was in, and another said he was not,” said McKinney. “Then the head official said, ‘No good.’ On the film, it looked like (Andy Guinn) got in.”
But the Rangers were still excited about the 6-6 tie.
“After we tied it up, it was like the whole sideline got lifted,” said McKinney. “And we decided we could play.”
After the teams traded punts, Cloudland called for a screen pass near midfield with less than a minute on the clock. Unaka linebacker Tyler Hatfield picked off the pass and raced 35 yards to Cloudland’s 10. That set the stage for the dramatic final play.
Hatfield’s big play was one of several good efforts on the defensive side of the ball for the Rangers. McKinney said Anderson, Jake Taylor and Cory Pierce all played well at linebacker. Dylan Appleton and Jackson Wood were tough on the defensive line.
Winning a game was a big deal for Unaka, which improved to 1-4 on the season. Beating Cloudland was an even bigger deal as the Rangers had lost 23 of the previous 25 meetings — even though this was the Rangers’ third win in the last six years in the rivalry.
“It has to be a boost to the kids,” said McKinney. “They were a little down, but we had played them up against tougher competition. We told them it would make us better. It’s hard to do with young guys, but these guys understand.
“We’re trying to get pride back on the creek. We want people to enjoy Unaka football.”
Phillip Waters did it again.
This time Hampton’s star running back racked up 323 allpurpose yards and scored six touchdowns in a 56-20 win over Hancock County on Friday night at the Bulldogs’ field.
Waters carried the ball only nine times, but totaled 188 yards and scored four touchdowns. He also caught a 51-yard scoring pass from Lane Smith.
And if all that wasn’t enough, Waters picked off a pass and raced 65 yards for a touchdown. Waters has just under 900 yards rushing for the season.
Waters wasn’t the only factor for Hampton as Justin Adkins carried 16 times for 93 yards and scored a touchdown.
Smith accounted for the other score on a 10-yard pass to Mark Ailport.
Hampton improved to 4-0 on the season, and 2-0 in the Mountain East Conference.