Blue Devil football head coach Drew Rice talks with players during a game earlier this season. Rice will lead his team to Johnson County to face the Longhorns on Friday, Oct. 27. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

After a week to rest from game action, the Blue Devils are preparing to play the most important game of the season when they travel to Mountain City to battle Johnson County on Friday, Oct. 27.

“The bye week is always nice to heal up some and hopefully ensure us coming out at full tilt Friday night,” head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “We feel like we have a good game plan in place, we just need to have a good week of practice now.”

The Longhorns (9-0, 4-0) currently sit atop the Region 1-AAA league. The Blue Devils (5-4, 3-1) and the West Greene Buffaloes (5-4, 3-1) are currently tied for the league’s second spot. West Greene defeated UCHS, 23-15, in Erwin on Oct. 13. Johnson County defeated West Greene, 28-21, on Sept. 15.

The Blue Devils have already qualified for the playoffs and will be playing a postseason game on Nov. 3.; however, the opponent and location of that game will depend on the results of this Friday’s games. The best thing the UCHS football team can do to help itself is beat Johnson County – a task easier said than done.

“They are a good football team, no question,” Rice said of the Longhorns. “They are having a special year; they have a boat load of seniors who have played a lot of football together.

“It’s going to take a complete effort to get the win,” Rice continued. “We are going to have to execute our game plan on both sides of the ball and win the turnover battle. I think we match up well with their speed. We have played the teams in our league, excluding West Greene, as good or better than they have, so we feel good about the matchup. Beating them last year to get in the playoffs I think is a big deal, too, because our guys believe they can win. A lot of them had to play in that game last year due to us having some guys out, so that experience is extremely valuable.”

Win or lose at Johnson County on Friday, the Blue Devils cannot finish lower than third in the region. According to Rice, Friday’s results could play out in three ways:

• If the Blue Devils defeat the Longhorns and Chuckey-Doak beats West Greene, UCHS will win the region and be the top seed for the playoffs. This seed would mean the Blue Devils would face either Northview Academy or Pigeon Forge in Erwin in the first round of the playoffs on Nov. 3.

• If the Blue Devils defeat the Longhorns and West Greene beats Chuckey-Doak there would be a three-way tie for first place in the region and UCHS would have a share of the region championship. However, according to Rice, with the tiebreakers for the playoff seeding the Blue Devils would be the number 3 seed and would most likely have to travel to Austin East for the first round of the playoffs.

• If the Blue Devils lose to Johnson County – regardless of what happens in other league games – UCHS would finish third and have to travel to Austin East for a playoff game on Nov. 3.

Rice said he believes his team will be ready to take on the Longhorns on Friday.

“We always talk about believing in our preparation and we try to make that a huge emphasis,” Rice said. “Our mantra all year has been, ‘Champions behave like champions before they are champions.’ So we have tried to take that to heart, and it’s pretty cool to see these guys and our program have that opportunity to make that a reality after talking about it for so long.”