Blue Devil football team falls to West Greene

Above, Troy Podvin tries to gain yards after a catch against West Greene. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

There was a lot on the line when the Unicoi County High School football team (5-4, 3-1) hosted the West Greene Buffaloes (5-3, 3-1) on Friday, Oct. 13, at Gentry Stadium in Erwin, including a home playoff game and a winning record for the season.

Unfortunately for the Blue Devils, they did not start this game as well as they have games in previous weeks.

“It was very disappointing,” head coach Drew Rice said. “It’s the first time since the beginning of the year that we didn’t have a strong start. I thought our guys fought hard to come back and win it, but it was too little, too late. We can’t dig ourselves into a hole like that against good teams.”

After forcing West Greene to turn the ball over on downs, the Blue Devil offense reached the red zone thanks, in part, to a 37-yard run by Kody Lewis.

“I thought Kody played lights out on both sides of the ball,” Rice said. “He is really coming into his own. For a sophomore, he is about as complete of a football player as you could ask for.”

West Greene kept UCHS out of the end zone and took over on downs with 7 minutes to play in the first quarter. The Buffaloes then put together their first scoring drive of the game for a 7-0 lead at the end of the first quarter.

Things began to go West Greene’s way in the second quarter as the Buffaloes continued to contain the Blue Devil offense.

“They took away the two things that we have had the most success with, the deep ball and the wide run to the outside,” Rice said. “They had a good game plan and they executed it well.”

The Buffaloes took a 10-0 lead on a field goal with 4 minutes to play in the half.

The Blue Devils were forced to punt on their next possession; however, a penalty for roughing the kicker kept the drive alive. Lewis had a carry and Brock Thompson completed a pass to Noah White to get the Blue Devils into Buffaloes territory before Juliun Lane intercepted the ball and returned it for a touchdown with 1 minute to play in the half. The Buffaloes went for 2, but failed. West Greene took a commanding 16-0 lead into the break.

“Brock hasn’t played like a freshman all year,” Rice said. “We had some miscommunication on a couple of those throws that weren’t his fault. In football and in life, there are growing pains. He is still 5-2 as a starting quarterback which is tremendous for anyone, much less a freshman. He is a special kid, he will bounce back in a big way. I have all the confidence in the world in him.”

Due to injuries, a few key players for UCHS could not play in the second half.

“Not having Owen Nicholson and Hunter Higgins in the second half was a huge blow for us,” Rice said. “Those guys don’t come off the field for us normally. Neither of the injuries were serious though, and we think we will be 100 percent healthy heading up to Johnson County for a huge game for our program, which is all you can ask for this time of year.”

Things weren’t looking good for the Blue Devils when the third quarter started. After forcing UCHS to punt on the first possession of the quarter, West Greene scored again for a 23-0 lead with 7 minutes to play in the quarter.

The Blue Devils could have given up, but they didn’t, and began their comeback on their next possession. Following runs by Lewis and a pass by Thompson to Troy Podvin, Thompson hit Brett Strother for a 59-yard touchdown. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt and the Blue Devils trailed 23-7 with just under 5 minutes to play in the third.

The UCHS defense came alive in the third and fourth quarters – holding the Buffaloes scoreless the rest of the game. The Blue Devils got on the scoreboard again with just over 5 minutes to play when Thompson hit Podvin from 21 yards out for a touchdown. UCHS went for 2 and scored for a 23-15 score.

Porras pinned West Greene deep in Blue Devil territory on the ensuing kick off. The Blue Devils forced the Buffaloes into fourth-and-14 and got a sack, but a facemask penalty allowed West Greene to maintain possession. On the next play, however, Shane Armstrong and Matthew Hatcher got to the quarterback again and forced a fumble that Armstrong recovered.

“We had some kids give unbelievable efforts,” Rice said. “Shane Armstrong came back from a knee injury and played like he hadn’t missed a snap all year. He is a rock solid kid.”

The Blue Devils had the ball, and a chance to tie the game with 3 minutes to play, but an interception ended the drive.

The UCHS defense again held West Greene in check and the Blue Devils got the ball back at midfield with 1:22 to play. On first down, Thompson pitched the ball to Strother who took aim downfield at Bradley Edwards. Again, Lane came away with an interception to seal the victory for West Greene. The Buffaloes won the game, 23-15.

“We have taken care of the ball so well since the first couple games,” Rice said. “It was frustrating to hand the ball over to them repeatedly like we did.”

Despite the loss, Rice said he was proud of the way his team battled back.

“I definitely think that’s the silver lining,” he said. “We don’t believe in moral victories. However, we were down 23-0 and ended up having two different chances to tie the ballgame up in the fourth quarter. I think it shows the shift in culture that we have been looking for. These kids are beginning to believe they are going to win, regardless of what the score is. Now we have to eliminate the turnovers and penalties that put us in such a hole early, but we as a staff are extremely proud of the grit they showed.”

Thompson was 11-23 passing for 153 yards, 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. Strother had 2 catches for 69 yards and a touchdown; he also rushed for 22 yards on 5 carries. Podvin had 4 catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. White had 3 catches for 31 yards. Lewis had 102 yards on 14 carries.

Michael Smith led the Blue Devil defense with 17 tackles. Hatcher, Armstrong and Drew Williams each recorded a sack in the game.

• • •

The loss to West Greene puts a home playoff game in question, but not out of reach, for the Blue Devils.

“It hurts because that one could have locked up a winning season and the home playoff game,” Rice said. “However, all of our goals are still on the table, we just need a little bit of help now. We are already in the playoffs and cannot finish less than third regardless of how the last week goes. If we win at Johnson County, and Chuckey-Doak beats West Greene, we would still win the region and host a playoff game for the first time since 1991.”

The Blue Devils have a bye this week and won’t play again until Friday, Oct. 27, when they travel to Johnson County (8-0, 4-0) for a matchup with the Longhorns – the league’s only undefeated team.

“We strategically put the bye week here for this reason,” Rice said. “To have a week to rest and heal up a little bit is huge going into a game like this with a potential championship on the line. We are going to practice three days and continue to lift and get stronger in the weight room.”

The Blue Devils and Longhorns last played during the final week of the 2016 season when UCHS won 28-14 in Erwin.

“They are a great football team,” Rice said of the Longhorns. “They have 22 seniors and this is the team they have talked about for a long time up there. However, our guys are still very confident. Beating them last year at home, to get in the playoffs, was huge for the mentality of our guys because historically we have had a hard time beating them.

“We are going to have to have two great weeks of preparation and we are going to have to put together the most complete effort we have had all year to go up there and win. We are very excited about the opportunity though, and feel very blessed to be playing for a potential championship this late in the year. It’s a real testament to these young men.”

Runners compete in Trailblazer Invitational

By Keeli Parkey

After a hiatus, the Unicoi County High School cross country teams returned to competition over the weekend when the Blue Devil and Lady Devil runners competed at Daniel Boone High School on Saturday, Oct. 14.

“The Trailblazer Invitational was our first race back after having two weeks to do some recovery training and focus on a few things that needed to be tweaked,” head coach Thad Higgins told The Erwin Record. “This was an important race for us because it will also be the site of our regional race. Our runners ran very well, and we even had a couple new personal records set.”

John Campbell led the way for the Blue Devils on Saturday.

“John’s time of 19:15 is just 6 seconds away from his personal record, so we’re very excited about how he’ll use this momentum at the conference race,” Higgins said.

Darren Soulier completed the race in 20 minutes; Jordan Bridges turned in a time of 21:07; and Sergio Vidrio finished with a time of 27:02.

“Darren finished close behind John,” Higgins said. “As far as improvement goes our big standouts this week were Jordan and Sergio. They both set new personal records for themselves; Jordan improved by more than 20 seconds, while Sergio improved his time from our last race by over a minute.”

Megan Todd was the top finisher for the Lady Devils, completing the course with a time of 22:28. Cheyenne Wilson kept pace with Todd, finishing in 22:47. Sabrina Todd raced to a time of 25:34.

“The girls also ran a great race in spite of recently having to deal with some injuries,” Higgins said. Megan came across first for the Lady Devils with Cheyenne and Sabrina following close behind.”

Awaiting the Blue Devils and Lady Devils is the conference meet on Thursday, Oct. 19, at Steele Creek Park in Bristol. This will be the first time UCHS runners will compete as members of the Big 11 Conference.

“I look forward to seeing how we stack up against this new competition,” Higgins said. “I’m very excited for the race.”

The runners are prepared for the meet, according to Higgins.

“For the most part I think we’re where we want to be as far as performance and practice goes,” he said. “Of course, we always want to see faster times and improvement across the board; however, effort is often more important to see since it’s difficult to compare races that have varying terrain and levels of difficulty.

“For the last few weeks of practice we will be tapering down our runs and distance to make sure that we’re healthy and well rested for our final races,” Higgins continued. “We’ll also still be focusing a lot on pacing and what’s expected throughout the race from each runner. Our work with pacing yielded great results just this last week as Jordan and Sergio both ran the exact splits that they were supposed to run throughout the race. It has been really rewarding to see these athletes mature together and learn to run a smarter race.”

Devils dominate Rangers

Above, Austin O’Dell catches a touchdown pass during the Blue Devils’ 64-30 win over Unaka last week. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

It took only 19 seconds for the Unicoi County High School football team (5-3, 3-0) to assert its dominance over Unaka on Friday, Oct. 6, at Erwin’s Gentry Stadium as the team cruised to a 64-30 victory.

“I thought we played well and executed our game plan,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record.

An 82-yard return on the opening kickoff by Kody Lewis setup a 4-yard touchdown run by Brett Strother. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt (PAT) and UCHS held a 7-0 less than 30 seconds into the game.

The Blue Devil offense played efficiently the entire first half.

“We executed the game plan and took care of the ball,” Rice said. “That’s what we ask of our guys and that’s what they did. We have multiple guys who are weapons on our offense, we just have to continue to get the ball in their hands.”

The Blue Devil defense showed it had control of the game during Unaka’s first possession, forcing the Rangers to punt. Despite a few long passes the Rangers converted during the game, the UCHS defense kept Unaka in check, especially during the first half.

“I thought our first team defense played really well,” Rice said. “They didn’t give up a score while they were in there. We had a couple plays get behind us in the first half, but we got it fixed at half time.”

The defense played so well during the first half that they kept the Rangers off the scoreboard. While the UCHS defense did its job, the Blue Devil offense continued to roll, scoring four more touchdowns in the first two quarters. The scoring plays came on a 7-yard run by Strother, a 46-yard pass from quarterback Brock Thompson to Troy Podvin, a 9-yard run by Lewis and 10-yard pass from Thompson to Austin O’Dell.

“Brock is still throwing extremely well, while continuing to take care of the ball has been huge for our offense and our team,” Rice said. “Our offensive line continues to move people.”

The final UCHS touchdown of the first half came thanks to Bradley Edwards’ fumble recovery and 29-yard run into the end zone.

“I don’t know if any one play stood out more than another, but I do think that the way we consistently moved the ball on offense and got stops on defense was good to see,” Rice said. “Anytime you’re up 42-0 at the half, chances are you’ve executed pretty well.”

Thanks to his team’s significant lead, Rice was able to utilize players who typically don’t see varsity minutes during the second half against Unaka.

“It was good to get some young guys some playing time,” Rice said. “I thought our young guys played extremely well. All the second half scores were from sophomores. It’s great to see guys like Tanner VanHoy and Diego Diaz have success. We know they are going to be a big part of our program in the next two-and-a-half years and seeing them play like they did Friday only reaffirms that.”

The Blue Devils and Rangers both scored multiple touchdowns in the second half, but this game was essentially over at halftime. UCHS won the non-conference contest, 64-30.

Thompson completed 9-13 passes for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns in the win. Owen Nicholson caught 3 passes for 76 yards. Podvin caught 2 passes for 61 yards and 1 touchdown. Strother caught 2 passes for 22 yards. Edwards had 1 catch for 11 yards. O’Dell had 1 catch for 10 yards and 1 touchdown.

Lewis had 8 carries for 87 yards and 2 touchdowns. Diaz had 1 carry for 64 yards and 1 touchdown. Strother had 4 carries for 47 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michael Smith had 3 carries for 27 yards. Vanhoy had 5 carries for 20 yards and 1 touchdown. Easton Edwards had 3 carries for 14 yards.

Smith led the Blue Devil defense against Unaka.

“Michael was all over the field defensively and he was a force in the middle,” Rice said. “He had 10 tackles and 4 of them were for a loss. He played fantastic.”

Noah White also had 8 tackles in the win.

• • •

A very significant game – with a lot on the line – awaits the Blue Devils this week.

UCHS will host region opponent West Greene on Friday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at Gentry Stadium. With a win, the Blue Devils will secure a home playoff game; however, a loss could send UCHS on the road in the first round of the postseason depending on the results of the final weeks of play. The Blue Devils secured a playoff berth with their win at Chuckey-Doak on Sept. 29.

“West Greene is a really good football team,” Rice said. “They probably have the best player in the region on their team. For us to be successful, we have to keep him and their offense contained. They are big up front, so our offensive and defensive lines are going to have to bring great intensity and effort for us to continue to be successful.”

Rice asked that fans come out and support his team this week.

“We just want to stress the significance of this game,” he said. “We had three goals to begin the season: win six or more games; host a playoff game; and win the region. Winning this Friday would check off two of those three goals.

“These guys have made that their mission and I think it’s motivated them every week. We would love to see a huge crowd for this game Friday night. It’s senior night, with a whole lot on the line. These young men deserve all the support we can give them.”

Senior night recognition will begin around 7 p.m. on Friday.

Soulier competes at state meet

By Keeli Parkey

In her second consecutive trip to the TMSAA Cross Country State Championship, Unicoi County Middle School eighth grader Marissa Soulier improved her final spot by more than 10 places.

The Jr. Lady Devil runner finished in 39th place during the 2016 state meet. In the 2017 race, which was run on a 2-mile course on Saturday, Oct. 7, in Clarksville, Soulier finished in 25th place with a time of 14:02 while racing in a field of 106 racers.

“Only the best come to run at the TMSAA Cross Country State Championship,” UCMS head cross country coach Lydia Hilliard told The Erwin Record. “Every runner is extremely competitive and strives to do their personal best.”

Hilliard said she was very pleased with Soulier’s results at the state meet and for her middle school running career.

“I am very proud of all of her accomplishments,” Hilliard said. “Marissa has such fortitude and is strong in mind and body. She loves the sport and is looking forward to next season at UCHS. I will miss Marissa and her leadership abilities. I know more great things are to come for her in this awesome sport of cross country.”

Golfers wrap up links competition

By Keeli Parkey

The 2017 golf season came to an end for the Unicoi County High School golf teams in the district competition played at Tri-Cities Golf Club in Blountville on Sept. 18.

As a team, the Blue Devils found themselves in last place against a field that included Science Hill, Tennessee High and Dobyns-Bennett. UCHS posted a team score of 526 in the match. Individual scores included: 124 by Ty Thelen, 126 by Caleb Adkins; 147 by Noah Tilson; and 129 by Nicholas Hensley.

“The group of guys battled through,” UCHS head coach Gene Renfro told The Erwin Record. “The conference gave them a preview of what to expect at the district. This is just another building block for them. Many of them are coming from other sports and on this day they had to walk five miles and compete for five hours too against some strong competition. I believe they learned to persevere throughout the process.”

Renfro had set a goal of breaking a 200 team score for the Lady Devils at the district match, but the team fell just short, scoring 226. Individual results for the Lady Devils included Alana Peel’s 106 and Grace Ann Clark’s 120.

“The girls wrapped up the season strong, but a bad hole here and there derailed that goal,” Renfro said. “I am proud of them for competing hard throughout the season.”

Renfro’s first season at the helm of the UCHS golf program had its share of ups and downs – with most of the downs coming at the hands of Mother Nature.

“The first season always could have been better,” Renfro said. “We lost numerous matches due to rain which would have been more time to improve. Unfortunately we cannot control that. I feel like next season the returnees will have an idea of what to expect and will be able to hit the ground running. I feel like we have the most athletic team in the conference. With that the team is very coachable and it was a pleasure to coach them this season.”

Renfro said he saw both squads make strides during the season.

“From day one the guys improved,” he added. “It might not have shown every day, but things here and there. Having the base now and, hopefully, a fire to improve between now and next season we can have dramatic improvements come 2018. The girls had numerous improvements from day one. I feel like their course knowledge improved and their short game as well. The group learned a lot this year. Now we need to build upon that between now and July. On the bus ride home after the District I told them next season starts now.”

Blue Devil football team clinches playoff spot with victory over Chuckey-Doak

Following a reception, Brock Thompson races into the end zone. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team continued its streak of strong play last week.

The Blue Devils (4-3, 3-0) defeated league opponent Chuckey-Doak, 40-27 on Friday, Sept. 29 for their third consecutive win and fourth in five games.

“I think it was a huge win for our kids and this program,” head coach Drew Rice said. “Our guys were very motivated and very focused and I think it showed. Chuckey-Doak is a good football team – with some impressive wins – and I think we made a statement Friday night.”

The Blue Devil offense was firing on all cylinders in the first half against the Black Knights, running just 9 plays for a total of 289 yards and 33 points.

“We played really well on the offensive side of the ball,” Rice said. “Our line really got some good push up front and it allowed us to execute our game plan. The biggest key is that we continued to take care of the ball.”

The first UCHS touchdown of the night came less than 2 minutes into the game when Kody Lewis took a pitch from quarterback Brock Thompson and out ran everyone for a 58-yard score. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt (PAT) and the Blue Devils had momentum and a 7-0 lead.

The UCHS defense then forced Chuckey-Doak into a fourth-and-13 and into a punt. A penalty against the Blue Devil offense led to a first-and-15. Thompson then hit Brett Strother on a 77-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was missed and UCHS took a 13-0 lead.

Chuckey-Doak got on the scoreboard for the first time on its next possession thanks to an 18-yard pass from Jacob Willett to Trevor Grubbs. The PAT by Brian Alvarez was good and the home team regained some momentum.

That, however, was short-lived when on the Blue Devils’ first play of the next possession Lewis bounced to the outside to score from 65 yards out. Despite failing to make the 2-point conversion, UCHS took back momentum and held a 19-7 lead.

The Black Knights continued to fight and began an offensive possession that really put the Blue Devil defense to the test. Because the offense had been so efficient, the UCHS defense stayed on the field most of the first half. Chuckey-Doak marched down the field on more than 15 plays and found themselves inside the 10-yard line and about to score. As Willett passed the ball toward the end zone, Blue Devil Owen Nicholson jumped in the passing lane and ran the ball back 101 yards for a touchdown. Porras converted the extra point and UCHS led 26-7.

“Our defense had to be out there a lot against a physical football team,” Rice said. “I thought they responded well. We had some guys who really laid it on the line on Friday. We made some huge stops at crucial points defensively.

“Owen’s interception return was huge;it’s fitting that he would make a play like that considering the year he is having,” Rice continued. “We believe that his 101-yard interception return for a touchdown is a school record. It was a huge play in a huge game, and that’s what big time players do.”

The Black Knights did score on their next possession to cut the lead to 12 points, 26-14.

The Blue Devils then needed only three plays to score again – this time on a 62-yard pass from Thompson to Troy Podvin. UCHS went into halftime with a 33-14 lead.

In the second half, the Blue Devils kept their focus and put the game out of reach just before the end of the third quarter when Strother hit Thompson on a trick play from 15 yards out. Porras converted another PAT and UCHS took a 40-14 lead into the fourth quarter.

“We stressed at halftime how important of a game this was, and how we had to come out and act like it was 0-0. I am very proud of how these guys responded in the second half,” Rice said.

The Black Knights added two scores in the fourth quarter, but never really threatened to get back in the game, as the Blue Devils left Afton with a win that clinched a playoff berth and kept UCHS on pace for its first winning season since the 1990s, according to school officials.

“We always want to be playing in November, which means we qualified for the playoffs,” Rice said, “but our two main goals for this year are to host a playoff game and to win a regional championship. Neither of which have been done here since 1991. So that’s a big motivator for us and now we are in a position to make that a reality. We have to keep working and getting better each week to make either of those come to fruition.”

• • •

Thompson passed for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns and completed 3-4 attempts against Chuckey-Doak. He also had a 15-yard reception for a touchdown. Since he became the starting quarterback he has completed 36-56 passes for 674 yards, 8 touchdowns and 1 interception. Strother has also thrived since the change and is making his presence known on both sides of the ball. Against Chuckey-Doak, Strother rushed 11 times for 71 yards, caught a 77-yard touchdown pass and threw a 15-yard touchdown pass. He also had 11 tackles.

Lewis rushed 14 times for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michael Smith had 2 carries for 15 yards. Podvin had 1 catch for 62 yards and a touchdown. Nicholson had 1 catch for 6 yards; he also had 14 tackles and an interception for a touchdown.

Also on the defensive side of the ball, Smith had 16 tackles, Bradley Edwards had 13 and Hunter Higgins had 8.

• • •

The Blue Devils will host Unaka (0-6, 0-3) in a non-league game at Gentry Stadium in Erwin on Friday, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m.

“They do some good things offensively,” Rice said of Unaka. “We are going to continue to focus on us, and not our opponent. I think these guys are really believing in what we are trying to accomplish and the product has been three wins in a row for us. We hope to keep it rolling this Friday night.”

Rice encouraged fans to attend the game and cheer on the Blue Devils.

“I would like to encourage the community to come out Friday night and watch these young men,” Rice said. “It’s fall break and the Apple Festival is going on, but it’s still game week for us. We would love to see big crowds these last two home games to support these young men and what they are trying to accomplish; they deserve all the support we can give them.”

Remaining games for the Blue Devils include hosting West Greene (4-2, 2-1) on Friday, Oct. 13, and traveling to Johnson County (6-0, 3-0) on Friday, Oct. 27. The UCHS team will have its bye week on Friday, Oct. 20. Going into the games on Oct. 6, the Blue Devils and Johnson County are tied for the top spot in the league thanks to their undefeated league records.

Soulier qualifies for middle school state cross country meet

By Keeli Parkey

For the second consecutive year the Unicoi County Middle School cross country program will be represented at the TMSAA state championships later this month.

Thanks to her sixth place finish in the TMSAA Northeast Sectional Meet held in Greeneville on Sept. 26, eighth grader Marissa Soulier punched her ticket to the state competition.

“It was an excellent run for Marissa,” head coach Lydia Hilliard said. “She placed sixth and secured her spot to run in the TMSAA Cross Country State Championships. Marissa has worked hard all season and produced great results. This is her second year in a row to qualify for the state championships. I have complete confidence in her ability and know that Marissa will do well at the state championships. She is thrilled for the opportunity to represent UCMS and the sport she loves. The boys and girls teams have been very supportive and wish Marissa the best.”

Soulier finished the 2-mile course in a time of 14:21. She was the only UCMS runner to advance to the state meet, which will be held on Saturday, Oct. 7, in Clarksville.

Hilliard said she was proud of her runners at this meet and throughout the season.

“The top runners competed in this meet and gave it their all,” she added. “I was very proud of both varsity teams and happy with their results. Both teams have been consistent all season. I appreciate their hard work and love that they are already talking about next season.”

Notable finishers for the Jr. Lady Devils included: Jimena Rodriguez-Avila in 36th place; Katlyn Nelson in 37th place; Isabella Howard in 38th place; Candace Tolley in 39th place; and Cora Hartley in 40th place.

Notable finishers for the Jr. Blue Devils included: Tristan Duncan in 27th place; Aidan O’Hare in 35th place; Will Byrd in 36th place; Christopher Chavez in 37th place; Eli Riddell in 38th place; Kade Lemmon in 39th place; and Canaan Webb in 40th place.

• • •

The next-to-last meet of the season for the Jr. Blue Devil and Jr. Lady Devil runners was the Bristol Cross held at Steele Creek Park on Sept. 23.

“This meet took place in hot weather and on a tough course,” Hilliard said. “The Bristol Cross was very competitive. Both teams gave it their all and had great results.”

Soulier placed seventh out of a field of 195 runners and set another school record.

“This was another personal best for Marissa,” Hilliard said. “She also broke her own 2-mile school record with a time of 13:19. Marissa placed seventh and received her fifth medal of the season. Marissa strives to do her personal best with each new race.”

Hartley turned in a solid performance for the Jr. Lady Devils.

“Cora had a personal best for the season and decreased her time by 24 seconds,” Hilliard said.

Other notable finishes for the Jr. Lady Devils included: Rodriguez-Avila in 89th place; Nelson in 92nd place; and Tolley in 144th place.

Duncan led the day for the Jr. Blue Devils with a time of 14:59 and finishing in 68th place. Riddell also turned in a standout performance.

“Eli had a personal best with a time of 15:07 and decreased his running time by 2 minutes and 17 seconds,” Hilliard said.

Other notable finishes for the Jr. Blue Devils included: O’Hare in 99th place; Byrd in 110th place; and Lemmon in 111th place.

Volleyball season ends with loss to ‘Betsy in district tournament

By Keeli Parkey

An up-and-down season has come to an end for the Unicoi County High School volleyball team (5-14, 2-10).

“We have rode a roller coaster all season – with injuries, there was someone new in the lineup every week; it’s been a difficult season,” head coach LeAnn Lane said. “Despite those injuries, we have shown great things.”

The Lady Devils were eliminated from postseason play by a first round loss to Elizabethton in the District 1-AA tournament on Monday, Oct. 2. After winning the first set (25-20), the team remained competitive against the Lady Cyclones, but couldn’t get points when they needed them most. Elizabethton won the next three sets to win the match (17-25, 15-25 and 24-26).

The match saw the return of junior Brooklyn Jones who had missed the entire season with a broken hand. Jones contributed 5 kills in the loss. Senior Rachel Lynch turned in a personal best performance with 16 assists and 11 digs.

Other notable stats included: Ashtan Vance’s 23 digs and 2 kills; Chloe Powers’ 27 digs and 5 kills; Katelyn Bennett’s 4 kills, 1 block and 5 digs; Sarah Grace Larkey’s 11 kills, 10 assists and 11 digs; and Emily Lamie’s 4 kills and 8 digs.

Four seniors – Lynch, Bennett, Lamie and Alex Reynoso – played their final match for the Lady Devil program on Monday.

“It’s unfortunate for our seniors to have to end the season this way, but they have accomplished something that previous UCHS volleyball teams haven’t and that’s take games from Elizabethton, (Sullivan) Central, (Sullivan) East, Chuckey-Doak and (Sullivan) South,” Lane said. “We just could not take the entire matches – that comes down to game experience and winning experience.”

Bennett has been named to the all-conference team. Receiving all-conference honorable mention honors were Lynch, Lamie, Larkey, Powers, Blake Hall and Vance.

“I also see positives for next year,” Lane said. “We will have eight of the 12 varsity players returning next year. I expect us to be just as competitive next year as we were this year. Our program is changing and competing the way we have this year proves that.”

•••

During the final week of the regular season, the Lady Devils suffered two losses in league play. First, they lost to Sullivan South on Sept. 25 in four sets (12-25, 16-25, 25-23, 20-25).

“As our season is coming to an end, I’m definitely pleased with our efforts this season,” Lane said after the match. “We are making strides even though our record doesn’t reflect a winning season. We’ve stepped up our game and even with our conference being so competitive this season the girls know if they bring their ‘A’ game, they can definitely hang with, if not beat, anyone in the conference.”

Powers had 20 digs in the loss. Vance had 5 kills, 15 digs and 2 aces. Bennett  and Lamie each had 5 kills and 8 digs. Hall had 8 assists and 7 digs. Larkey had 8 assists.

The Lady Devils went to five sets against Sullivan Central on Sept. 26, but couldn’t get the win (25-19, 25-15, 18-25, 22-25, 10-15).

“Tonight’s loss was disappointing but at the same time, I’m still proud of them,” Lane said. “We have proven that we can beat anyone in the conference by taking at least one game, sometimes two from teams that we haven’t beat before. I told my girls after the game to keep our heads up.  When we play 110 percent anything could happen. We could beat anyone and our game scores prove that. We have lost 22 games by a 5-point margin or less. That just says we are barely missing the mark. We just have to keep working hard. … This program is changing and I’m very proud of the girls for sticking with it tonight.”

Against Central, Vance had 10 kills and 10 digs. Hall had 23 assists and 7 digs. Lamie had a game-high 10 kills and 13 digs. Bennett had 9 kills, 3 aces, 11 digs and 2 blocks. Powers had 6 kills, 3 aces and a game-high 32 digs. Larkey had 11 kills.

Blue Devils race past Sullivan Central

Owen Nicholson gains yardage for the Blue Devils following one of four catches in the game. UCHS defeated Sullivan Central, 48-14, on Friday, Sept. 22. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team (3-3, 2-0) was firing on all cylinders against Sullivan Central in non-league play on Friday, Sept. 22. The Blue Devils ran away with a 48-14 victory, their third in four games, and again showed they are starting to come together and play up to the expectations of head coach Drew Rice.

“I was very pleased with how we played,” Rice said of the win over the Cougars. “I think it’s the most complete game we have played up to this point. These guys are starting to figure it out.  We knew we would have some growing pains along the way, whether it be from youth or just guys who haven’t played a lot of football up to this point. Regardless, I think we are starting to see us growing into the team we know we can be.”

The early minutes of Friday’s game were highlighted by a 64-yard touchdown run by Sullivan Central to take a 6-0 lead. The Blue Devils then fumbled the ball on their ensuing possession to give the Cougars possession on the Blue Devils’ 35-yard line.

The UCHS defense forced Central into a fourth-and-3; then several Blue Devils got to Central’s quarterback for a sack and UCHS took over possession.

“I think us not letting the rough start bog us down was huge,” Strother said. “They had the big play on the second play of the game and then we turn around and give the ball right back to them. I was very proud of how we didn’t let that define how we were going to play. Overcoming obstacles like that are why I feel like we are heading in the right direction.”

Kody Lewis carried the ball twice, then raced 51 yards for a touchdown. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt (PAT) and the Blue Devils took a 7-6 lead. They would lead the rest of the way.

After forcing Central to punt, the Blue Devils scored again – this time on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Brock Thompson to Brett Strother for the first of three touchdown passes by Thompson and four touchdowns scored by Strother in the game.

“Brett is just doing what we knew he could do since the summer; it’s just from a different position now,” Rice said. “I think he really puts pressure on the other team’s secondary when he is at wideout, because they almost have to put double coverage over top of him.

“Brock has just been unbelievable. His maturity in which he is handling all this is very impressive. He was 12-13 Friday night for 267 yards and 3 touchdowns. To say we are excited about his future, would be a huge understatement.”

Strother rushed from 10 yards out late in the first quarter. With Porras’ successful PAT, UCHS took a dominant 21-6 lead.

Strother continued to give Central problems in the second quarter, scoring on a 24-yard pass from Thompson and on a 6-yard carry. The Blue Devils led 34-6 at halftime.

In the third quarter, Bradley Edwards rushed for a 4-yard touchdown and Troy Podvin caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Thompson for the Blue Devils. Porras converted both PATs for a 48-6 UCHS lead.

Sullivan Central scored their last touchdown on a 1-yard rush by Austin Fleenor during the third quarter. The Cougars went for, and converted, the 2-point conversion for the final score of 48-14.

There were several bright spots for the Blue Devils in the game, according to Rice.

“Our offensive line really pushed people around,” he said. “I think that’s truly the biggest difference in how we are playing right now compared to early in the year. Matthew Hatcher and Owen Nicholson both played very well on defense, as did Shane Armstrong.”

The victory showed how the Blue Devils have improved since the beginning of the season, Rice said.

“We are taking care of the football,” he added. “That always has to be priority number one. The other thing is I think we are focusing more on our individual assignments and trying to win those one-on-one battles every play. Especially up front, I think our greatest improvement has been on the offensive line. I also can see how our commitment to the weight room is showing up more and more the deeper we get into the season. We have continued to lift three days a week in season, as well as run three days a week. I think we are starting to see that show up more and more on Friday nights.”

The Blue Devils had 406 total yards of offense – 269 in the air and 137 on the ground. Central had 203 total yards – 179 on the ground and 24 in the air.

Thompson competed 12-13 passes for 269 yards and 3 touchdowns. Strother had 4 catches for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns; he also had 5 carries for 35 yards and 2 touchdowns. Owen Nicholson had 4 catches for 48 yards. Podvin had 3 catches for 30 yards and 1 touchdown. Lewis had 8 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown. Michael Smith had 2 carries for 17 yards. Edwards had 1 carry for 4 yards and a touchdown.

Matthew Hatcher had 8 tackles. Nicholson and Noah White had 6. Armstrong had 5 tackles. Edwards had 4.

The Blue Devils hope to keep up their strong play when they face league opponent Chuckey-Doak (4-2, 1-1) in Afton on Friday, Sept. 29, at 7:30 p.m.

“We expect this to be a great test for us,” Rice said of the game against Chuckey-Doak. “They are 4-2 and are playing some really good football. It’s a huge region game for us, and we have to approach it as such.”

Lady Devil soccer team earns respect with wins

By Keeli Parkey

The Lady Devil soccer team and coaches celebrate after their win over David Crockett last week. (Contributed photo)

In just its third season in existence, the Unicoi County High School girls soccer program is making a name for itself.

The Lady Devils (4-7, 1-3) fought hard for two victories last week – defeating Sullivan South in league play on Tuesday, Sept. 19, and David Crockett on Thursday, Sept. 21. UCHS won both games by the score of 3-2.

“In the Crockett game, Jillian Taylor scored 2 goals and Spencer Garant scored 1 goal,” head coach Bettina Chirica told The Erwin Record. “In the South game, Jillian scored 2 goals and Spencer scored 1 goal.”

The Lady Devil’s defense had several standout moments last week.

“Carly Kinsler made an amazing save in the Crockett game that saved us from tying,” Chirica said. “In the South game, Halie Hawkins controlled majority of the midfield with Jill Taylor finishing all passes played through from Spencer Garant.”

The victories demonstrate how her team has improved since the beginning of the season, Chirica said.

“Last time we played South they beat us 8-0 at their home field,” she added. “This time we beat them, and it was a conference game. South is as equally good as Volunteer and Elizabethon – both teams in our conference. In the past those teams scored first and we let down. If we come out mentally prepared, we should have a fair chance at winning against them.”

In addition to defeating South for a league win, the victory also came on a special night for the Lady Devils.

“The girls were ecstatic to have such a huge win against South on senior night,” Chirica said. “Typically, you schedule easier games on senior night and this was not the case for us. South has a long standing tradition of expecting to go far in their conference and here we are a third year team coming in and beating them.”

The Lady Devils managed to spoil Crockett’s senior night.

“Crockett held their senior night against us, expecting a win, and it didn’t work out that way,” Chirica said. “It just goes to show that determination and the drive to win can go a long way. These wins were huge for us because it lifted the girls’ spirits and earned respect amongst the other teams in our area.”

The Lady Devils faced Volunteer on Monday, Sept. 25, and Elizabethton on Tuesday, Sept. 26, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline. They are scheduled to close the regular season with a game at Sullivan Central on Thursday, Sept. 28, beginning at 6 p.m.

Blue Devils stay perfect in region with win over Claiborne

Michael Smith leaps over a tackle during the Blue Devils’ 21-0 win over Claiborne High on Friday, Sept. 15, at Gentry Stadium in Erwin. Smith rushed for 49 yards in the game. (Erwin Record Staff Photo By Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team (2-3, 2-0) controlled the game from kickoff against Claiborne High School on Friday, Sept. 15. The Blue Devils took a three touchdown lead in the second quarter and held on to shutout the Bulldogs, 21-0, to remain unbeaten in region play.

“I thought it was a good showing for us,” head coach Drew Rice said. “We talked about how important it was to get this one and move to 2-0 in the region. Our kids bought into that and really came out of the gates fast. I am very proud of our focus and effort.”

Being prepared for the game led to the team’s solid performance, according to the head coach.

“We had a great week of practice,” Rice said. “We take a lot of pride in how we get ready for games as far as our game day routine, from the time school lets out until kickoff. I think our strong starts the last couple of weeks are a product of that.”

After the Blue Devils were forced to punt on their first possession of the game, the UCHS defense showed that it would be asserting its dominance over the Bulldogs on Claiborne’s first possession. Facing a fourth-and-3 with just over 7 minutes to play in the first quarter, the Bulldogs went for it. The Blue Devils wouldn’t allow a first down and UCHS took over possession of the ball.

“The fourth down stop by our defense on their first drive was huge,” Rice said. “It set up a score.”

Runs by Kody Lewis and Brett Strother led a 1-yard rushing touchdown by Brock Thompson. UCHS took a 6-0 lead with 5 minutes to play in the quarter.

The Blue Devil defense then forced the Bulldogs to punt. Lewis gained 7 yards on first down, but a 5-yard penalty and incomplete pass brought up third-and-8 at the 47-yard line. Thompson then hit Troy Podvin to bring UCHS down to the 5-yard line.

“Troy’s catch was a huge play,” Rice said.

Strother then ran the ball into the end zone. UCHS went for – and converted – a 2-point conversion to take a 14-0 lead with less than 3 minutes to play in the quarter.

On the ensuing kickoff, the Blue Devils then pinned Claiborne deep in their own territory thanks to a great play by Noah White.

“The big hit by Noah on our second kickoff was one that really got our guys fired up,” Rice said. “He is a headhunter and when he makes plays like that it makes our entire team better.”

The Blue Devils’ third – and final – touchdown of the game came courtesy of the UCHS defense. After taking possession on their own 3-yard line, the Bulldogs ran a pass play on third-and-5, but Blue Devil Owen Nicholson jumped in the passing lane, grabbed an interception and raced into the end zone. Porras converted another point after attempt to give UCHS a 21-0 lead with 5 minutes to play in the half.

“I thought our guys on defense really set the tone,” Rice said. “We punted several times in places we could have went for it, but our defense was playing so well we decided to play the field position battle. On that note, Shane Armstrong did an incredible job punting. We downed them twice inside their 10-yard line, and he had another 40-yard punt that flipped the field on them.”

Other players also stood out in Friday’s victory.

“Troy Podvin is starting to come alive at wide receiver,” Rice said. “He was our leading receiver and made some big plays to keep drives alive. Brock Thompson did another good job of running the offense and taking care of the ball.”

The Blue Devils couldn’t keep the momentum going in the second half.

“I think we lost some of our focus,” Rice said. “We did enough to keep the shutout, but we definitely didn’t have the same focus that we had early. We had some untimely penalties in the second half that extended some of their drives and gave up some field position for our offense. Part of learning to win is learning how to put complete games together, and we are still working on that.

“These kids are learning how to win. Sometimes its pretty and sometimes it’s like the fourth quarter was Friday night. But the important thing is when it’s over is what the scoreboard says. I am proud of our effort and how these young men continue to work and improve each week.”

• • •

Thompson completed 9-15 passes for 91 yards and rushed for 1 touchdown. Strother caught 3 passes for 17 yards and rushed for 8 yards and 1 touchdown. Lewis carried the ball 10 times for 62 yards. Michael Smith had 10 carries for 49 yards. Podvin had 3 catches for 56 yards. Nicholson had 2 catches for 21 yards.

Defensively, Nicholson had 15 tackles, 1 interception and return for a touchdown. Smith had 12 tackles and Matthew Hatcher had 8.

• • •

The Blue Devils currently sit atop their region alongside Johnson County. Both teams have 2-0 records in league play going into this week’s contests.

Rounding out the league standings are: Chuckey-Doak, 1-1; West Greene, 1-2; Claiborne, 0-2; and North Greene, 0-2.

• • •

The Blue Devils will travel to Sullivan Central for a non-league contest on Friday, Sept. 22, at 7:30 p.m.

“Central does some good things offensively, “Rice said. “They spread people out and try to get the ball to guys in space. They are a 4A football team and we are not taking them lightly. We are going to have to have a great week of practice and go put four quarters of good football together this Friday.”

UCHS runners compete at Fender’s Farm

The Unicoi County High School cross country runners have several races under their belts and, according to head coach Thad Higgins, continue to improve with each race. Pictured, from left, Megan Todd, Cheyenne Wilson, Sabrina Todd, Melodie Bocock, Jordan Bridges, Darren Soulier, John Campbell and Sergio Vidrio. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

The most recent meet for the Unicoi County High School cross country teams was another successful one.

“On Saturday (Sept. 16) we competed at the Fender’s Farm Country Carnival race in Jonesborough,” head coach Thad Higgins told The Erwin Record. “I really love this course because it’s the closest race that we compete in and it’s easy to see the runners for most of the race. The course takes the runners around the corn fields and pumpkin patches which allows onlookers to see the athletes as they run around the farm. The course is also the flattest course that we run. Fender’s Farm is still a challenging course because athletes have to overcome sharp turns and small running lanes which makes it difficult for them to pass. We ran very well this week and even had a couple athletes break their personal records. … I’m very proud of all of our runners and look forward to our next race.”

Leading the way for the Lady Devils was Megan Todd with a time of 22:38.

“This is a 1:44 improvement over last week’s time,” Higgins said. “She did an excellent job of setting a competitive pace early in the race and holding on to it. I can’t wait to see how she will continue to drop this throughout the rest of the season.”

Cheyenne Wilson turned in another strong performance for UCHS. 

“Cheyenne came in second for the Lady Devils and was also able to improve her time from last week’s race,” Higgins said. “Saturday she ran a 23:42, which was an improvement of nearly a minute from last week’s race.”

Two Blue Devils competed for the team’s top spot at Fender’s Farm, according to Higgins.

“John Campbell and Darren Soulier both ran an exciting race Saturday by competing to be the top Unicoi finisher,” he added. “They traded spots back and forth during the race until John was able to pull past Darren for the top position.

“John finished with a time of 19:25, which was also an improvement of over a minute from last week. Darren ran a 5K personal record (PR) with a time of 19:31 – 28 seconds faster than his previous PR. Jordan Bridges and Sergio Vidrio also ran personal bests with times of 21:20 and 27:41, respectively. For Jordan this was a 36 second improvement and for Sergio it was 2:43 faster than his previous best.”

The UCHS runners are scheduled to race again on Saturday, Sept. 23, at Steele Creek Park in Bristol.

Blue Devils ‘battle’ against Happy Valley

By Keeli Parkey

Noah White returns a kickoff 40 yards during the Blue Devil football team’s 33-13 loss to Happy Valley on Friday, Sept. 15. White also had 8 tackles in the game. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

For a half, the Unicoi County High School football team (1-3, 1-0) gave one of the best teams in Northeast Tennessee a run for its money; however, the early minutes of the second half prevented an upset.

The Blue Devils fell, 33-13, to the undefeated Happy Valley Warriors (3-0, 1-0) on Friday, Sept. 8, in non-league play at Gentry Stadium in Erwin.

“I thought our guys really battled,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “We knew going in that they very well may be the best team on our schedule. I thought that we showed that we can play with anyone – if that sort of focus and execution that we had early is there.”

After receiving the opening kickoff, the Blue Devils were forced to punt. The Warriors took over possession, but on second down the Blue Devil defense forced a fumble to take over at midfield.

On first down, freshman quarterback Brock Thompson – in just his second career start – hit junior Brett Strother for a 27-yard gain. Then, on second-and-13, Thompson hit Strother on a screen pass for a gain of 23 yards to give UCHS the ball on the 1-yard line. Strother then rushed for the touchdown. The extra point attempt missed and UCHS led 6-0 with just over 7 minutes to play in the opening quarter.

“I thought the forced fumbles we caused were big as they set up one of our scores,” Rice said. “The screen pass Brett had from Brock was a huge play for us.”

The Warriors then orchestrated a 73-yard, 10-play drive that culminated in a 13-yard run touchdown run by Dylan McKeehan. Michael Harrah converted the point-after attempt and Happy Valley took a 7-6 lead with 2 minutes to play in the quarter.

The Blue Devils were forced to punt on their next possession. The Warriors then began another scoring drive – this time from 63 yards out, ending in a 3-yard run by Will Tittle. The pointer-after missed and Happy Valley led 13-6 with 8 minutes to play in the half.

On the next Blue Devil drive, Happy Valley intercepted a pass to retake possession; however, two plays later, the Blue Devil defense forced another fumble and recovered it to start another offensive drive with just under 4 minutes to play before halftime. UCHS reached the red zone, but couldn’t score and Happy Valley took over on downs.

Even though they trailed 13-6 going into the break, the Blue Devils played a very solid first half, Rice said.

“Our guys were ready to play,” he said. “We felt good about their preparation and the game plan we had going in.”

It was the opening minutes of the second half that doomed the Blue Devils Friday night. The Warriors took the kickoff and put together another scoring drive, which ended in a vtouchdown run by quarterback Brayden Sams, and added a 2-point conversion to lead 21-6.

Needing to answer, the Blue Devils were stopped by a turnover that gave Happy Valley the ball in the red zone. Sams scored for the Warriors again, but the point-after attempt missed, for a 27-6 lead with just over 7 minutes to play in the third quarter.

“The most significant play had to be the kickoff they recovered on us, because that’s the play that put it out of reach for us,” Rice said. “We went from being down 7 to 21 in about 2 minutes. You just can’t have sequences like that against great teams.

“They just wore us out up front as the game went on,” Rice continued. “They have a veteran offensive line from a team that went to the state quarterfinals last year. I thought when they recovered the kickoff in the third quarter is when we really lost our momentum. But our guys never laid down, they never quit and that’s something we have been preaching since day one.”

In the fourth quarter, the Warriors scored again on a 2-yard run by Dakota Cochran. The Blue Devils added their final score on a 24-yard pass from Thompson to Troy Podvin and an extra point by Martin Porras.

Despite the loss, there were several bright spots for UCHS in the game, according to Rice.

“Owen (Nicholson) is still playing like a man possessed,” Rice added. “I think he had 19 tackles Friday night. He and Brett made some big catches for us on the scoring drive. They both really put a lot of pressure on defenses because anytime it’s in their hands they can score.

“Brock played extremely well. That is asking a whole lot out of a freshmen to step in and run an offense against a defense like that and I thought he did tremendous. I also thought Noah White had a good night on defense and with the kick return. He has been battling a nagging calf injury almost all year, but I thought he showed how good he can be with 8 tackles and a big kickoff return.”

The Blue Devils had 156 total yards of offense – 129 in the air and 27 on the ground. Happy Valley had 271 total yards – 28 in the air and 243 on the ground.

Thompson was 9-16 for 129 yards and a touchdown. Strother had 4 catches for 64 yards and 9 carries for 12 yards and a touchdown. Nicholson had 3 catches for 35 yards. Podvin had 2 catches for 30 yards and a touchdown. Kody Lewis carried the ball 8 times for 23 yards. Hunter Higgins forced one of the fumbles by UCHS.

• • •

The Blue Devils have faced some of their toughest competition during the first four weeks of the season, according to Rice.

“We knew our schedule was top heavy for sure,” he added. “We made it that way on purpose, to help us prepare for our region games. I think we are getting better each week, and we have some guys, who haven’t played a lot of football, who are really starting to figure it out. I think that we have the chance to go on a pretty good run here down the stretch. We are 1-0 in the region, and in the grand scheme of things, that’s all that really matters. We have to get this one this week.”

UCHS will host Claiborne, a region opponent, on homecoming night on Friday, Sept. 15, at Gentry Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

“They are a good football team,” Rice said of Claiborne. “Coach (Nathan) Medlin does a good job down there and they run a tough offense to defend. We know they are going to be motivated and are going to give us a great effort, but we have to match their intensity.”

Players celebrate first soccer victories of season

Halie Hawkins takes possession of the ball against West Greene. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School girls soccer team (2-6, 0-2) won their first two games of the season last week.

“The girls were really excited to have two wins,” head coach Bettina Chirica said. “It lifted their spirits and proved their hard work is paying off. This will impact the girls by giving them confidence in the games ahead.”

The Lady Devils earned their first win of the season on Tuesday, Sept. 5, with a 9-0 victory over Hampton in Erwin. Scoring for UCHS in the game were Jillian Taylor (3), Spencer Garant (1), Andrea Lopez (2), Ruth Diaz (1), Fernanda Murillo (1) and Katherine Altemose (1).

They followed that up with a 5-0 victory over West Greene in Erwin on Thursday, Sept. 7. Taylor scored 4 goals and Lopez scored 1 in this win.

“I think the girls learned that if they put heart into it, they can achieve a lot more than they think,” Chirica said. “They played hard and achieved two wins.”

The Lady Devils are going to continue to work to improve.

“We still need to work on shifting as a unit up when we have the ball and to recover when we lose the ball,” Chirica said. “For the games ahead we are going to continue working hard at practice by maintaining our fitness, and critiquing our touches.”

The Lady Devils were scheduled to host Sullivan Central in conference play on Monday, Sept. 11, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.

They will face Hampton in conference play on the road on Thursday, Sept. 14, at 6 p.m.

They will host Sullivan South for another conference game on Tuesday, Sept. 19, at 6 p.m. in Erwin.

Lady Devil golf team wins match

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School girls golf team earned a close victory last week.

Playing at Buffalo Valley, the Lady Devils posted a team score of 110 to edge Hampton for the victory on Wednesday, Sept. 6. Leading the way for UCHS was Alana Peel with a score of 53. Grace Ann Clark shot a 57 for the team total. Kaitlyn Higgins shot a 62, but the score did not count toward the team total.

Hampton posted a team score of 113, while Elizabethton posted a team score of 124.

The Blue Devils posted a team score of 236 and came in third place to Hampton’s team score of 189 and Elizabethton’s team score of 210.

Ty Thelen again led the Blue Devils with a score of 56. Other UCHS scores contributing to the team total last week included: Nicholas Lynch’s 58; Caleb Adkins’ 59; and Nicholas Hensley’s 60.

Scores not counting toward the Blue Devils’ team total included: Noah Tilson’s 63; Nicholas Bender’s 64; and Andy Cole’s 64.

The Blue Devils and Lady Devils were scheduled to play in their conference tournament at Cattails on Tuesday, Sept. 12, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline. They are scheduled to compete in the district tournament on Monday, Sept. 18, at Tri-Cities Golf Club.

“We still have room to improve,” head coach Gene Renfro said. “Plenty of work is left to do before the district tournament. Hopefully, the conference can give us a measuring stick before the district.”

Win puts Blue Devil football back on track

Martin Porras kicks an extra point at North Greene. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

With a winless record, the Unicoi County High School football team really needed a win.

Thankfully for the Blue Devils (1-2, 1-0), they got a big one on Thursday, Aug. 31, at North Greene.

“I was very pleased with how we came out and took care of business,” head coach Drew Rice said. “This was our first region game and it was one we really needed to get rolling. I thought our guys played very focused and executed very well.”

The Blue Devils left little doubt who was the better team from the start of Thursday’s game as they dominated all aspects of the game – their first in Region 1-AAA – from the kickoff to the final whistle.

“We had a great week of preparation,” Rice said. “Our guys were determined to get this one taken care of and it showed.”

After the UCHS defense forced North Greene into third-and-long on the first possession of the game, the Blue Devil offense, being led by freshman quarterback Brock Thompson, needed only two plays before junior Brett Strother carried the ball twice from his position at running back and found himself in the end zone. Martin Porras converted the first of his five extra point attempts in the game to give UCHS a 7-0 lead with 10 minutes to play in the first quarter.

North Greene fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Blue Devils took possession at their own 18-yard line. Thompson then hit senior Owen Nicholson for a touchdown.

The Blue Devil defense then held the Huskies to four downs and forced a punt. Nicholson then returned the punt 70 yards for another touchdown. Porras hit the extra point and UCHS was in total control of the game with just over 7 minutes to play in the first quarter.

The Blue Devils added more points in the first quarter – 2 on a safety by Matthew Hatcher and another passing touchdown from Thompson to Nicholson to lead 30-0 going into the second quarter.

Controlling the line of scrimmage was what allowed his team to be successful last week, Rice said.

“That’s where football games are won and lost,” he added. “Everyone loves to see great throws, nice catches and big hits, but the reality is success is created up front from those guys with their hands on the ground. We moved some guys around and were able to get some things going in our run game. Our defensive line started playing with their hands and it allowed our linebackers to run free.”

Strother scored his second rushing touchdown of the game in the second quarter. Junior Shane Armstrong added the final touchdown for UCHS in the third quarter. UCHS won the game 43-0.

• • •

The Blue Devils showed a new offensive lineup against North Greene with Thompson serving as the playcaller and Strother being moved to other places on the field in order to take greater advantage of his athleticism, according to Rice.

“We just felt like we had to shake some things up offensively,” Rice said. “Brock had 7 touchdowns in his first two JV games, which showed us that he was probably ready to take some varsity reps. His poise for a freshman was really impressive and we believe he is going to be special.

“More than anything though, it allows us to really use Brett in a lot of different ways,” Rice continued. “Brett is a special athlete – the type of athlete that doesn’t come around very often – and this allows us to use him in a number of ways. Brett carried the ball 6 times and had over 100 yards, which shows how explosive he is. We feel pretty good about the move right now, and hopefully we will continue to evolve as an offense.”

UCHS had 234 total yards of offense against the Huskies. Thompson threw for 40 yards and 2 touchdowns. Strother had 1 catch for 10 yards, as well as  6 carries for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns. Armstrong had 3 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown. Easton Edwards had 4 carries for 20 yards.

Nicholson had another all-around performance for UCHS against North Greene. He had 2 catches for 30 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown.

“I need to acknowledge how well Owen is playing right now,” Rice said. “His leadership and tenacity through these first three games has been incredible. He has 40 tackles and 6 touchdowns through 3 games, and has had 2 other touchdowns called back. We are really excited about the year he is having so far.”

The Blue Devil defense held North Greene to just 48 offensive yards – 15 in the air and 33 on the ground.

“The defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and that allowed our linebackers and defensive backs to make plays,” Rice said.

Scott Owens and Roby Lemmon had 3 tackles each. Kody Lewis, Michael Harrington and Austin O’Dell had 2 tackles each. O’Dell also had 2 sacks.

• • •

Rice said he hopes last week’s victory will give his team a lift moving forward.

“This win was huge,” he added. “I think our guys understood that going in, and that’s why we were so focused. We, hopefully, will build off this momentum.”

The Blue Devils will host the 2-0 Happy Valley Warriors at Gentry Stadium on Friday, Sept. 8, at 7:30 p.m.

“They are probably the best team on our schedule,” Rice said of the Warriors. “They won 11 games last year and that doesn’t happen just by chance. They are extremely well coached and we know we are going to get a great effort from them. We are going to go to work this week and continue to improve. Our guys will be fired up to play this one.”

Runners earn top-10 medals

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School cross country runners used the experience they gained from their first meet of the season to improve their results at their second meet.

Running in Greeneville on Thursday, Aug. 31, the Blue Devils and Lady Devils had five runners finish in the top-20, including two – junior John Campbell and sophomore Cheyenne Wilson – in the top-10.

“At the first race they were just getting their feet under them,” head coach Thad Higgins told The Erwin Record. “In this one they really dropped their times a lot. When you come out for that first race, you don’t really know what to expect. The runners get more comfortable after that first race and settle into the season as it goes along.”

Campbell finished in seventh place in the 5K race with a time of 19:09 – which marked a more than 30-second improvement from the team’s first meet at South Holston Dam on Aug. 26.

“I talked to John before the race and told him that now was the time to step up,” Higgins said. “We need to see what he can do early in the season. He definitely did that. He ran his 5K personal best. That is very big for him.”

Sophomore Darren Soulier finished 17th place with a time of 19:59.

“He also dropped his time by more than 30 seconds,” Higgins said. “Darren is trying to run in practice and in the races with John. He has done that. You can tell by his times.”

Wilson led the way for the Lady Devils, finishing in 10th place with a time of 23:34.

“I think that is the first time she has done that,” Higgins said. “I am really proud of her for that. She dropped her time (from the previous meet) by over a minute. Cheyenne really stepped up in this race.”

Senior Megan Todd finished just behind Wilson with a time of 23:58 in 11th place.

Freshman Sabrina Todd finished in 17th place with a time of 24:53.

The UCHS runners’ next meet will be the Becky Selfe Invitational at Sugar Hollow Park in Abingdon at 9 a.m. on Saturday, Sept. 9.

“We are slowly going to start changing the way we practice to work on speed up and down hills,” Higgins said. “We may start doing faster drills and fewer long runs. They already have the miles under their belts now. They ran all summer and did long runs. I think, mentally, they will transfer to that really well and see the results of that at the next race.”

Jr. Lady Devil volleyball team posts winning record

The Unicoi County Middle School junior varsity volleyball team includes, pictured from left, back row, Bella Davis, Olivia Bailey, Makenzie Casey and Hannah Clark; front row, Samantha Walden, Katie Hensley, Sydney Compton and Amanda Miller. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

The Unicoi County Middle School varsity volleyball team includes, pictured from left, back row, Emalle Benard, Alex Withers, Savannah Sparks, Bayleigh Hyder, Hannah Shelton and Makenzie Casey; front row, Olivia Bailey, Rachel Hatcher, Raquel Torres, Bella Davis and Rocio Reynoso. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Hard work and dedication have led to a winning record for the Unicoi County Middle School volleyball team this season.

According to their head coach, Stephanie Howard, the Jr. Lady Devils held tryouts this summer, then began officially preparing for competition.

“The girls dedicated their last couple of weeks of vacation to volleyball,” Howard said.

When the season started, the Jr. Lady Devils found themselves competing against new opponents.

“The girls are debuting in a new conference, so we always want to make an impact immediately and make a name for ourselves,” Howard said. “We want to be known as a team of fighters who never give up.”

The Jr. Lady Devils have posted an overall record of 9-7, which includes a few key victories.

“On Aug. 24, the team really came together to sweep both games of a conference meet,” Howard said. “Led by a big night from Bayleigh Hyder and Olivia Bailey, the team defeated Jonesborough and Ridgeview by impressive margins. The girls also finished a middle school tournament at UCHS as the runner-up. This was due, in part, by great play from Hannah Shelton, Rachel Hatcher and Rocio Reynoso.”

Several players have made important contributions to the team this season, according to their head coach.

“Hannah Shelton is an all-around player who is a natural leader,” Howard said. “Savannah Sparks and Alex Withers have made an impact on the net with some blocks, as well as consistent serving. Emalee Benard has a rocket serve that we have been very pleased with.  Raquel Torres has been huge for us on the back row, as the team’s libero.”

The Jr. Lady Devils have non-conference matches scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 7, Monday, Sept. 11, and Tuesday, Sept. 12, before they enter postseason play on Saturday, Sept. 16, in Blountville.

Coach: Runners ‘gave great effort’ at first meet

By Keeli Parkey

The first meet of the season was a successful one for the Unicoi County Middle School cross country teams. The Jr. Blue Devils and Jr. Lady Devils raced in the Terry Hull Crawford Cross Country Classic in Greeneville on Thursday, Aug. 31.

“This is a 2-mile course and the runners worked hard and gave great effort,” head coach Lydia Hilliard told The Erwin Record.

Jr. Lady Devil Marissa Soulier stood out in the first competition of her eighth grade season – finishing in sixth place out of a field of 155 runners to receive a medal in the girls competition. Soulier finished the race with a time of 14:26, according to Hilliard.

“Marissa had an excellent run,” Hilliard said.

Other results for the Jr. Lady Devils included: Isabella Howard with a time of 19:26; Katlyn Nelson in 19:32; Jimena Rodriguez-Avila in 19:54; Betsabe Chavez in 21:01; Cora Hartley in 21:03; Candace Tolley in 21:03; and Paola Ramirez in 23:04.

Eleven girls teams participated in the race. The Jr. Lady Devils posted a team score of 208.

A new face led the way for the Jr. Blue Devils. Hilliard said seventh grader Tristan Duncan led the Jr. Blue Devils with a time of 15:29, which put him in 52nd place out of 228 runners.

Other results for the Jr. Blue Devils included: Aidan O’Hare with a time of 16:12; Christopher Chavez in 16:18; Will Byrd in 16:18; Canaan Webb in 17:05; Kade Lemmon in 17:13; Eli Riddell in 17:40; Branson Peterson in 18:13; Mason Hensley in 18:39; Damian Crawford in 19:15; John Bush in 20:14; Eli Bratton in 21:28; Johnny Tipton in 22:06; and Alex White in 24:46.

The UCMS cross country teams will compete on Thursday, Sept. 7, in the Warriors Invitational at Warrior’s Path State Park. The Jr. Lady Devils will begin their race at 4:30 p.m., with the Jr. Blue Devils running at 5 p.m.

“I am looking forward to our next meet,” Hilliard said.

Jr. Blue Devil football team 1-1 so far this season

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County Middle School football team is 1-1 after the first two games of the 2017 season.

“We started the season in mid-July when it was very hot,” head coach Larry Howell told The Erwin Record. “The team got off to a great start as we had close to 40 players show up for the first practice. The coaches started by working on the basics of football in blocking and tackling. Coaches Jonathan Cooper, Cane Cannon and Bodhi Bradford worked with basic fundamentals of blocking with the offensive line. Coach Travis Griffith worked with wide receivers on route running, stalk blocking, and catching the football. I worked with quarterbacks and running backs on agility, ball security and formations related to the playbook. It was a learning experience for all as the coaches got to know the players strengths and the players got to learn the basics of football and the coaching styles that each coach uses to get the most out of the players.”

The Jr. Blue Devils are working in a complex system.

“We have over 60 plays in our offensive playbook,” Howell said. “That is a lot for players to understand because each one has its own unique set of circumstances in order for it to work. We also have played several defenses with several stunts and coverage in each one.”

On Aug. 22, the Jr. Blue Devils defeated “a good Sullivan North team” 12-8 to start the season with a 1-0 record, according to Howell.

“We had a great second half,” Howell said of the game against North. “Our game-winning drive ate up all of the fourth quarter clock except 1:20. We had a great kickoff and pinned them back inside their 20-yard line which left them little time to do anything. Our defense kept them pinned back as time ran out.”

The Jr. Blue Devils’ first road game led to their first loss of the season.

“We had our first road game at Church Hill and ran into the best, if not one of the best teams, in our conference,” Howell said. “We were defeated, 40-0. They had great players and were well coached. I felt our kids were as not focused as they needed to be so we have been working on that in practice this week and hopefully when we go on the road this week to play Bluff City, we will do better at being focused on the task ahead of us.”

In practice and in games, the Jr. Blue Devil defense has proved itself as the strength of the squad.

“Coaches Cooper, Cannon, and Bradford work with defensive ends and defensive tackles,” Howell said. “Coach Griffith works with defensive backs and I work with linebackers. Our players have shown a knack for toughness and tackling. It is the first experience in football for a lot of these kids and learning the concepts of team defense as well as offense has been a difficult hurdle to cross for the coaches but we have made a tremendous improvement over the last month.

“We have worked hard on special teams. Kicking, punting and covering kicks have shown improvement. Our expectations for them is to improve daily and build on what each day’s lessons bring. We want to play a variety of defenses and be more balanced in running and passing the football on offense. We are not there yet, but we are making daily progress.”

The team has been successful this season thanks to a total team effort, according to Howell.

“I stress to the team that football is the ultimate team game and no one is above the other,” he said. “It takes all of us to be successful from the strongest eighth grader to the smallest sixth grader. All of our players have had an impact on what we do. The starters cannot have a meaningful practice without the non-starters giving them a competitive look in drills and scrimmages. This makes the starters better and the non-starters more ready when their turn comes up in a game.”

At the end of the day, being a Jr. Blue Devil football player is about representing Unicoi County and the middle school, Howell said.

“No matter what the scores are the rest of the year, I want our players to develop a love for the game and learn what it is to work hard at making yourself a better person, player and teammate,” he added. “It is a big honor to wear the blue and white and represent Unicoi County. Some of the best memories I have are from when I played football for Unicoi County. It taught me dedication, self discipline and teamwork. I tell our players that they represent about 10 percent of the eligible boys at the middle school and football is the toughest sport to play or there would be more of them out. They should walk the halls with pride knowing they have stuck it out through the hard preseason and now through a quarter of the season.

“I hope they will play the game in high school and get from it what I have been so fortunate to experience. Our players have made tremendous strides from the first day of practice. I know they will continue to improve as the season goes on.”

The Jr. Blue Devils are scheduled to travel to Bluff City for a game on Thursday, Sept. 7, at 6 p.m. They will host Colonial Heights at Gentry Stadium on Tuesday, Sept 12, at 6 p.m.