Unaka’s boys erupted in celebration.
Cloudland’s kids were shattered and sobbed in agony.
The Rangers pulled out a 12-6 Mountain East Conference football victory over Cloudland on Friday night in a showdown of winless teams at Goddard Field. Eli Rasnick tossed a 4-yard touchdown pass to Austin Anderson with no time on the clock for the game-winning score.
As time expired, an incomplete pass appeared to drop in the right corner of end zone as overtme was forced. However, Cloudland (0-4) was whistled for pass interference.
Rasnick then found Anderson at the left goal line to decide the outcome.
“It was a very ugly game,” Cloudland coach Jon Overbay said. “You can’t continually shoot yourselves in the foot and expect to win ball games. But the kids, the effort was there.
“It hadn’t been there before, and I thought we played hard. We’ve just got to regroup, forget about it and look toward Greenback. That’s all we can do about it — that’s all we can do.”
The Highlanders’ Taylor Whitehead made his season debut. He rushed for 123 yards on 21 carries, including the game’s first touchdown.
Whitehead opened the affair with a 23-yard gain. Mason Carnett’s 11-yard run set up Whitehead’s 4-yard scoring scamper and it was 6-0 less than three minutes into the battle.
“The Whitehead kid is tough,” McKinney said. “He runs hard, and Coach Overybay has done a great job with them. I told our kids, just don’t quit.
“We kept playing hard, and something good finally happened to us. We’ve been in our end of the end zone for five games. We finally got out of it, we got a little excited and we stuck it in there. I’m tickled to death with it.”
The team’s traded punts. Unaka’s Corey Pierce had bulled for a 12-yard pickup, before Hunter Nelson dropped Andy Guinn behind the line of scrimmage and the Rangers (1-4) again punted.
A six-play Cloudland drive got howhere, due to four penalties on the Highlanders. Whitehead clicked off an 11-yard gain that series.
“Very impressed – he ran the ball hard,” Overbay said. “He did everything we asked him to do. I couldn’t ask any more of him. I thought he played a great game.”
The Rangers were then forced to punt their first series of the second quarter. Cloudland’s ensuing possession ended with a punt.
Michael Nave hit Derrick Wilson for a 14-yard completion, and a 15-yard Cloudland penalty was tacked on. However, the Rangers were stopped on downs.
Whitehead picked up nine yards and Zac Benfield kept the ball for a 16-yard gain as the half ended.
The Rangers opened the third with and eight play drive which resulted in a punt. Nave and Rasnick hooked up for a 7-yard completion that series.
Cloudland mounted an 11-play drive, which ended with a punt. Whitehead had six carries for 34 yards, and Benfield hit Devin Whitehead with a 13-yard completion.
Anderson and Jake Taylor sacked Benfield for a seven-yard loss in that drive. Benfield then broke free for a 10-yard gain, but it wasn’t enough to maintain possession.
Unaka punted early in the fourth quarter. Following Dylan Appleton’s sack of Benfield for a 10-yard loss, a high snap on a punt attempt resulted in a 24-yard Cloudland loss. After an eight-yard gain from Pierce, Nave was in the end zone for a 1-yard TD to knot the affair with 6:28 remaining.
“The big thing was the bad snap on the punt,” McKinney said. “That got us back in the game, and that’s unfortunate that happened to them.”
The Highlanders were stopped on downs. Despite an 11-yard pass from Nave to Joseph Wilson, the Rangers also reverted possession.
On a fourth-down attempt, Benfield was intercepted by Tyler Hatfield — who raced 46 yards downfield with 38.8 seconds to go.
“I know it’s hard to tell teen-agers to forget about it, but that’s what we’ve got to do,” Overbay said. “We’ve just got to regroup, look to next week.”
The Rangers used three different passers in the evening’s final drive. Nave picked up nine yards on a keeper.
Rasnick connected with Joseph Wilson for an 11-yard completion. Prior to the ill-fated pass, which was waved by a flag, the Highlanders were penalized for a face-mask infraction.
“I think we’ve made a lot of strides in the last week,” Overbay said. “We played extremely hard. It’s just another game.
“We’ve just got to cut down on penalties is the bottom line. We made too many penalties to win the ball game.”
Carnett picked up 34 yards on six carries. For Unaka, Guinn had 12 carries for 32 yards and Pierce gained 26 yards on six touches.
Caleb Harrison spearheaded the Highlanders with 14 tackles. Danny Arnett was in on seven stops, Colby Gwyn made six and Nelson had five.
For the Rangers, Pierce and Anderson registered 11 tackles each. Taylor made seven stops, Rasnick had six and Appleton and Cody Harding were in on five apiece.
“Our guys played hard,” McKinney said. “Both teams played hard, and I can’t take anything away from Cloudland. They had their bad snap, and then I guess the Whitehead kid got a little tired.
“But I think overall conditioning might have helped us a bit more. We were in maybe a little bit better condition, and our kids didn’t quit. They started believing, and good things happened.”