COSBY—With a postseason berth secured, the Cosby High Eagles are looking to cap the regular season on a strong note.
The final three weeks of the season will be pivotal as they look to build momentum before making their first playoff appearance since 2011. The Eagles begin that stretch by hosting Unaka on Friday night (KICKOFF: 7:30 p.m., RADIO: WLIK.net)
Last year, Cosby (2-6) jumped out to an early lead over Unaka (3-3), but allowed the Rangers to take a late lead. The Eagles fought back to force overtime with a pair of Hunter Workman touchdown passes early in the fourth quarter, but couldn’t match the Rangers overtime score in a 34-28 defeat.
“We’re going into this one looking at it as a winnable ballgame,” Cosby coach Kevin Hall said. “What’s most important is putting another notch in the win column this week. They got us last year, but we’re looking to get it back this year.”
Unaka has been an historically good opponent for Cosby over the last decade. In the two program’s previous eight meetings, the Eagles have come out on top five times.
“Unaka is probably one of our longest rivalries,” Hall said. “We’ve played them going way back, as far as I can remember. It’s always typically a pretty good game. We’ve been fortunate to get the best of them the majority of the time, but it’s always a good game”
The rivalry between Cosby and Unaka runs deep. The two teams were region rivals through the 2014 season, before classification changes moved Cosby into Class 2A ahead of the 2015 season.
With classification set to be redetermined in the near future for the 2021 season, it’s Hall’s belief that Cosby and Unaka will return to be region foes like they should have been all along.
“We hope to be back in the same region with them starting next year,” Hall said. “I think we will, unless some crazy stuff happens. Even if they’re not, that’s a non-region game we’ll definitely look to keep on the schedule.”
The Rangers are having one of their better seasons to this point in the year.
Not since 2013 has Unaka won more than three games in a season, yet it already has three victories with three games left on its schedule. That success comes despite the program missing out on the first two weeks of the season due to COVID-19 restrictions placed on Carter County schools to start the year.
“They’ve made improvements year over year under (O’Brien) Bennett,” Hall said. “They’re a solid team this year, even though they fight the same battles we fight with injuries and numbers. He’s done a good job building them up. They’re starting to become a dangerous opponent.”
Meanwhile, Cosby sits at two victories on the year, and is looking to get a few more before the regular season comes to an end.
Although Unaka eked one out against the Eagles a year ago, they’re more than confident they can avenge that loss to give them a shot at reaching five wins before the postseason arrives.
In order to do it, though, the Eagles will need to snap a four-game scoring drought.
Getting a reprieve from some of the defenses they’ve had to face in that four-game span should be a help. Last week, Cosby took on a Claiborne defense that had limited all but one opponent to single-digit scoring through seven games.
“It’ll be nice to come back down to playing someone we should actually be on the field with,” Hall said. “That’s nothing against Unaka. It’s just going to be nice not going out against a top 10 Class 3A team in the state, this week.”
Having to move pieces around on the offensive line has put the Eagles behind in their offensive production to this point in the season.
Being without major pieces has been a major setback that they’ve been continuously working through since early in the season.
“At one point last week we had a kid that was 5-foot-8 and 140 pounds playing offensive tackle for us,” Hall said. “We’re moving people around and doing our best to find five people up front that won’t leave us completely out-manned.”
This week will provide potential for the offense to not only put points on the board, but to do so in chunks.
Unaka’s defense has given up over 30 points in three outings this season. Its season average for points allowed per game is 28.5. The lowest they’ve held any team to was 14 in a 36-14 win over Hancock County in its season opener.
“We feel like we’ve had opportunities offensively, and done some good things on that side of the ball,” Hall said. “We had good yardage against South Greene and West Greene. We just couldn’t put the ball in the end zone.
“We’ve been able to move the ball, and we hope we can get over our scoreless hump this week and put some points on the board.”
Both teams have played three common opponents this season, all coming with the same result for each team.
Like Cosby, Unaka also has lopsided losses to Claiborne and Happy Valley. Both have lost to Cloudland, as well, but the Eagles played the Highlanders to a 36-12 defeat, as opposed to Unaka’s 48-6 loss in week seven.
Although the Rangers are prone to give up points, they can also stack them back up on the offensive end.
In its three victories this season, Unaka has scored an average of 38.6 points per game, including a 56-16 shellacking of Hancock County just a week ago.
“They do a good job spreading you out and utilizing their short passing game,” Hall said. “They do that even against good teams. Getting the ball out to guys in space is the strong point of their offense.”
Finding offense will be key in Cosby’s bid for victory on Friday, but slowing the Rangers attack will be just as important in order to capture a much-needed victory with the end of the season closing in.