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Conference lead at stake as Rangers visit Cloudland

BY ALLEN LAMOUNTAIN
STAR CORRESPONDENT
The Unaka Rangers (2-2 overall) are two-thirds of the way through their 1A conference schedule and stand at 2-0 after defeating Hancock County and Jellico but will face their toughest test Friday night when they visit Orr Field for a conference clash with Cloudland.
The Highlanders (3-2 overall) are 1-0 in the conference with a 49-0 victory over Hancock County and will look to take the top spot from Unaka with a win.
Unaka opened the season with a 36-14 win at Hancock County and two weeks later junior running back Daniel Shearl had the game of his football career thus far with a 321-yard effort in a 24-14 win over Jellico at Goddard Field.
Cloudland is coming off a 42-14 win at Sunbright and the offense has been operating well – especially in the run game – with junior RB Seth Birchfield leading the way.
Birchfield had a great game against Cosby in a 36-12 win earlier this season as he rushed for 150 yards and three touchdowns, including a fumble return touchdown on defense.
The ‘Landers offense usually uses a full-house backfield with fullback Caleb Sluder used in many different ways. Sluder can be a lead blocker, or run the ball in short-yardage situations and is a reliable pass catcher for junior quarterback Chase Shell.
Besides Shearl, the Rangers run the ball with junior Drew Smith who rushed for 70 yards in Unaka’s 33-6 loss at Happy Valley. He is a hard between the tackles runner and gives the Rangers versatility at the position.
Unaka’s sophomore quarterback Landon Ramsey has been effective in the passing game, especially when finding his older brother Devin who is a speedy wideout.
As always these games are decided upfront and the Rangers have a veteran offensive line with seniors Jordan Day, Colby Jones and Nathaniel Oaks along with juniors Cody Drew and Noah Carden.
The ‘Landers have some experience on their line as well with junior Landon Johnson, seniors Eli Presswood and Noah Stout and freshman Miguel Hernandez brings size upfront.
Cloudland has had the better of this rivalry winning 15 of the 18 games played since 2001 losing in 2006 (21-0), 2009 (19-15) and 2011 (12-6) which is the last time the ‘Landers have lost to the Rangers.
This is seemingly a much different Unaka team, however, one that has the ability to run the football or pass it with equal success and this promises to be a titanic clash of teams that seem to be on equal footing with the conference lead as the prize for the victor.
Game time is 7:30 pm.