Lady Devil basketball team begins season 5-1

Tenley Holt drives to the hoop during the Lady Devils’ victory over Hampton. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County High School girls’ basketball team is off to a solid start this season.

Last week, the Lady Devils (5-1) won three of four games in the competitive Food City Thanksgiving Classic played at Sullivan East High School in Bluff City.

Head coach Kerri King said she was pleased overall with her team’s play in the tournament.

“I thought as a team we started playing more coherently as the tournament progressed,” she told the Erwin Record. “We communicated better on defense, looked to set each other up and executed on offense. We are making progress.”

The team opened the tournament on Monday, Nov. 25, with a 52-32 win over Unaka. Tenley Holt led the scoring with 21 points, followed by Caroline Podvin, who scored 18 points. Ashtan Vance contributed 6 points during the game, followed by Abigail Rush’s 4, Hannah Shelton’s 2, and Leah Edney’s 1.

The Lady Blue Devils fought hard on Wednesday, Nov. 27, in a game against Greeneville but lost, 58-41, for their first loss of the season. Vance led the way in scoring with 16 points. Holt and Kaylia Street each scored 5. Jocelyn Metcalf scored 4 and Hannah Shelton scored 2.

The ladies bounced back from the loss to Greeneville with a 47-38 victory over Hampton on Friday, Nov. 29. They had an 11-5 lead at the end of the first quarter and held on to that advantage for the victory.

Against Hampton, Podvin scored 16 points in the win. Vance had 12. Holt had 10. Metcalf had 3. Shelton, Street and Rush each scored 2.

The Lady Devils wrapped up the tournament with a 53-29 blowout victory over State Line (Virginia) on Saturday, Nov. 30.

Podvin almost had a triple-double in the game with 19 points, 10 rebounds and 7 steals. Shelton scored 10 and had 3 steals. Holt scored 10 and had 4 rebounds. Vance scored 9 and had 7 steals. Laurel Osborne scored 5. Rush and Metcalf each scored 3. Marissa Soulier scored 2 and Leah Edney scored 1.

• • •

The Lady Devils were scheduled to travel to Cloudland for a non-conference contest on Tuesday, Dec. 3, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They will travel to North Buncombe High School (North Carolina) for a non-conference game on Wednesday, Dec. 4. They will open Three Rivers Conference play at Happy Valley on Friday, Dec. 6. The Lady Devils will return home for non-conference games against Chuckey-Doak on Saturday, Dec. 7, and Hampton on Tuesday, Dec. 10. The junior varsity girls are scheduled to play at 4 p.m., with the varsity girls playing at 6:30 p.m.

Blue Devil basketball team goes 2-2 at holiday tournament

Brock Thompson dribbles by a Unaka defender. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

The Food City Thanksgiving Classic was a learning experience for the Unicoi County High School boys’ basketball team.

“I feel like we identified our strengths and our weaknesses,” Blue Devil head coach John Good said of the tournament hosted by Sullivan East. “I thought we played unselfishly.”

The Blue Devils (5-2) opened the tournament with a hard-fought 62-55 loss to South Greene on Tuesday, Nov. 26.

“We fouled way too much in the game,” Good said. “We did fight back; I would expect nothing less.”

The Rebels held a 20-8 lead after the first quarter and a 33-21 lead at the break. The Blue Devils made a run in the third quarter, outscoring South Greene by 10 points, to trail by only two points, 43-41, going into the final eight minutes of play.

The Rebels opened the quarter on an 8-2 run to lead 51-43 with five minutes to play in the game. Three free throws by Brett Lingerfelt and one by Phoenix Holt brought the Blue Devils within striking distance, 51-47, before the Rebels stretched out their lead to 59-50 with around one minute to play.

Lingerfelt then scored five consecutive points to bring UCHS within four points, 59-55, with 21 seconds to play. However, the Rebels hit their free throws down the stretch to hang on for the win.

“Give them credit, they handled the ball well and hit their free throws,” Good said.

As a member of District 2-AA, South Greene is a potential region tournament opponent for the Blue Devils. Playing them early in the season is beneficial to the team, according to Good.

“It provides you with information on the areas in which we need to improve,” he said of playing a potential postseason foe.

Lingerfelt led the Blue Devils with 20 points in the loss. Brock Thompson scored 14. Robbie O’Dell scored 9. Lucas Slagle scored 7 and had 11 rebounds. Caleb Adkins and Bryson Peterson each scored 2. Holt scored 1.

The Blue Devils bounced back from the loss with an 81-39 victory over Unaka on Friday, Nov. 29. Defense was key to the win, according to the head coach.

“We responded well after losing on Tuesday,” Good said. “We didn’t foul and we guarded their three-point shooters well.”

Twelve UCHS players scored in the win. Thompson led with the team with 15 points. Slagle scored 12 and had 9 rebounds. Zachary Hopson scored 8. Lingerfelt, Adkins and Nicohlas Lynch each scored 7. O’Dell and Grant Hensley scored 5 points each. Holt, Nicholas Hensley and Mason Barcel scored 4 each. Jordan Bridges scored 3.

Later on Friday, the Blue Devils held off a third-quarter comeback by KACHEA to win, 65-52.

“After a long day – playing at 10:30 a.m. and then waiting around for the 6 p.m. game – I was pleased with our effort,” Good said of the win over KACHEA. We got the ball inside, hit our free throws and defended well.”

Thompson scored 22 and had 7 rebounds and 6 assists in the win. Slagle had a double-double with 21 points and 15 rebounds. Lingerfelt scored 12 and had 4 rebounds. Nicholas Hensley scored 4. O’Dell scored 3. Peterson scored 2 and Hopson scored 1.

The Blue Devils struggled to shoot the ball in a 60-46 loss to Hampton on Saturday, Nov. 30.

“We shot poorly from the field and free throw line,” Good said. “We kept competing but we just couldn’t make a shot.”

Lingerfelt scored 12 and had 4 rebounds. Peterson scored 8. Hopson and Lynch scored 5 each. Slagle scored 4 and had 11 rebounds. O’Dell scored 4 and had 7 rebounds. Thompson scored 4. Bridges and Adkins each scored 2. Grant Hensley scored 1.

• • •

The Blue Devils were scheduled to travel to Cloudland for a non-conference contest on Tuesday, Dec. 3, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They will travel to North Buncombe High School (North Carolina) for a non-conference game on Wednesday, Dec. 4. They will open Three Rivers Conference play at Happy Valley on Friday, Dec. 6. The Blue Devils will return home for non-conference games against Chuckey-Doak on Saturday, Dec. 7, and Hampton on Tuesday, Dec. 10.

“We will try to get better each time out,” Good said. “Being on the road, we will need to manage the two areas we can control – our attitude and effort.”

The junior varsity boys are scheduled to play at 5 p.m., with the varsity boys playing at 8 p.m.

Jr. Blue Devils have talent

The 2019-20 Unicoi County Middle School Jr. Blue Devil varsity basketball team includes, pictured from left, back row, Christopher Chavez, Gavin Tipton, Caleb Peterson, Keilet Rodriguez, Ty Engle and Luke Berry; front row, Mason Hensley, Hayden Johnson, Garrett Sellars, Gage Casey, Kolby Jones and Jackson Simmons. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Unicoi County Middle School boys’ basketball coach Jordan Simmons is upbeat about the Jr. Blue Devils’ prospects for 2019-20. A combination of talented players and intensive training in team communication promises to lead the Jr. Blue Devils to a memorable season.

Simmons, who does double duty as the school’s principal, has the challenge of bringing nine new players on board this year, for a total of 26 players in all. But what these newcomers lack in experience they more than make up for in terms of raw talent and energy.

“Two of my sixth graders are especially strong players,” he said. “But, for them to succeed, they must adapt to the constantly changing demands of inter-school play.”

This points out the need for effective player-to-player communication, a fact that Simmons emphasized in his recent interview with The Erwin Record.

“Communication between players is a big part of my training philosophy,” he said. “One example is game terminology. Players must all use the same vocabulary. Otherwise, they might miss crucial instructions and surrender control of the ball.”

Simmons is working with his counterparts at Unicoi County High School, including head coach John Good, to develop a comprehensive training program for his players. Together they are working hard to give UCMS players a solid grounding in essential skills like shooting and dribbling.

This is Simmons’ first year as the head UCMS basketball coach. He brings with him a total of 14 years of coaching experience, along with his skills as a classroom instructor and school administrator.

The 2019-20 UCMS Jr. Blue Devil basketball program includes Gage Casey, Garrett Sellars, Kolby Jones, Hayden Johnson, Mason Hensley, Christopher Chavez, Ty Engle, Jackson Simmons, Keilet Rodriguez, Gavin Tipton, Luke Berry, Caleb Peterson, Cole English, Cade Peterson, Brock Peterson, Dakota Schwenke, Gabe King, Kolby Jones, Jorge Raygoza, Jace Garland, Isaac Harris, Karson Buchanan, Zeke Campbell, Rhett Allen, Blaize Holt and Brady Simmons.

So far during the 2019-20 season the Jr. Blue Devil varsity squad has posted a record of 5-3. The junior varsity squad is 5-1.

UCMS is scheduled to travel to Hampton on Monday, Dec. 2 and host Happy Valley on Thursday, Dec. 5.

Players return to Jr. Lady Devil team

The 2019-20 Unicoi County Middle School Jr. Lady Devil varsity basketball team includes, pictured from left, back row, Abigail Vidrio, Allie Lingerfelt, Lilly Hopson, Noell Farnor, Madison Bowling and Ellie Shelton; front row, Katlyn Nelson, Faith Bennett, Ava English, Sara Thomas and Kaley Toney. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

For Unicoi County Middle School girls’ basketball coach Jenifer Lingerfelt, the secret to success lies in mastering the essentials.

“We’ll be reinforcing the basics this year,” she said during an interview with The Erwin Record. “We are doing a lot of drills that will help the girls to master the skills every player should possess.”

These include passing, dribbling, shooting, and jumping.

Lingerfelt knows what she’s talking about and leads a coaching staff that includes Emmie Thompson and Lisa Baxter, with Sharon Slagle serving as an advisor.

Lingerfelt’s team is rich in experience, with 25 of her 27 players returning this year. Her seasoned players will help to school her two new arrivals in what being a capable basketball player is all about.

Along with sports-specific training, Lingerfelt and other Unicoi County athletic instructors are working with county health officials to promote a whole-life approach to physical fitness. This philosophy fuses physical activity with proper nutrition, adequate hydration, and avoidance of harmful substances like alcohol, tobacco, and illicit drugs.

“We’re trying to build up the whole person,” Lingerfelt said. “Laying the foundation for a lifetime of good health.”

In the past, schools sometimes valued athletic ability over academic progress. Lingerfelt wants everyone to know that those days are in the past, as far as Unicoi County is concerned.

“Going forward, we’re going to monitor our player’s grades – making sure that they’re learning what they need to know,” she said.

The Jr. Lady Devil varsity squad has posted a record of 3-7 so far this season. The junior varsity team is 0-4.

The program includes Kaley Toney, Katlyn Nelson, Ava English, Allie Lingerfelt, Noell Farnor, Sara Thomas, Faith Bennett, Abigail Vidrio, Lilly Hopson, Ellie Shelton, Madison Bowling, Danika Hendricks, Marlee Cornett, Madlyn Huskins, Andrea Tucker, Bella Sams, Kinley Carver, Kaley Toney, Peyton Higgins, Briana Butler, Laney Rogers, Chloe Moore, Sadie Griffith, Ellie Hensley and Candy Scott.

UCMS is scheduled to travel to Hampton on Monday, Dec. 2 and host Happy Valley on Thursday, Dec. 5.

Good expects Blue Devil basketball team to compete

The 2019-20 Unicoi County High School Blue Devil varsity basketball team includes, pictured from left, back row, head coach John Good, assistant coach C.J. Good, assistant coach Logan Lyle, Boone Reed, Lucas Slagle, Nicholas Lynch, Nicholas Hensley, Caleb Adkins, assistant coach Mike Boyd, assistant coach Michael Smith and statistician Andy Bennett; front row, manager Ty Johnson, Caleb Swinehart, Mason Barcel, Phoenix Holt, Bryson Peterson, Grant Hensley, Brett Lingerfelt, Zachary Hopson, Jordan Bridges, Brock Thompson and Robbie O’Dell. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

From Staff Reports

Take a peek inside the Unicoi County High School boys’ basketball locker room and you’ll see a sign that says “players play but TOUGH players win.”

That pretty well sums up the philosophy of head varsity coach John Good, as he leads his team into the upcoming season. Good leads a team that includes assistant coaches Michael Smith, C.J. Good, Logan Lyle, and Mike Boyd. Together they have worked overtime to prepare their team for the challenges that lie ahead.

A crucial aspect of their strategy is consistent, rigorous focus on the basics of the game. Training began with spring practice, followed by camps at Maryville College, Middle Tennessee State University, and UNC Asheville for the varsity players and an ETSU-based camp for the freshman and junior varsity players.

These training sessions instilled in UCHS players the fundamental skills every basketball players needs: running, passing, jumping, dribbling, and, of course, shooting. Physical conditioning was also a big emphasis at the camps, with group workout sessions designed to build a solid core of strength, flexibility, and endurance in each player.

Another essential quality for sporting success is teamwork, a topic on which Good has strong opinions. When asked what style of play fans can expect at the upcoming games, he said “fast, tough, and unselfish.”

Good’s message is clear. There’s no room for prima donnas in the world of UCHS basketball. Each player uses his particular strengths for the good of the entire team.

Last season’s 9-24 record gives the Blue Devils ample opportunities for improvement this time around. For Good, the secret to future success lies in making the most of the present.

“We don’t have expectations, nor do we make excuses,” Good said. “We don’t talk about wins and losses. We talk about competing. If our players compete to their maximum ability, then the scoreboard will take care of itself.”

Just because the Blue Devils are a team doesn’t mean that individuals are unimportant. Each player has a vital role and an opportunity to excel.

“Brock Thompson and Brett Lingerfelt have produced on the varsity level,” said Good. “We expect them to continue doing so.”

Good also mentioned that this past summer was a time of growth and improvement for many of his players.

“I’m really excited to coach this bunch,” he said.

As young athletes mature, they gain the edge of experience while still enjoying the raw energy of youth. Part of the process of cultivating success is expecting each player to contribute in some way. This is another point that Good stressed in his comments.

“If we put a player on the floor, we expect him to have a positive impact,” he said. “Those who don’t make it to the floor are expected to have an impact on our practice sessions.”

Every basketball team has its particular strengths. For the Blue Devils, their outstanding ability is shooting the basketball. This, in turn, involves a number of specialized athletic qualities, including balance, focus, and consistency.

Nurturing these abilities is what basketball is all about. Good and his assistants are helping to forge the future, not only of Unicoi County but of our nation as a whole.

Speaking of Unicoi County, Good was outspoken about the community in which he works and coaches.

“Unicoi County is a special place,” he said proudly, “and I have told this to everyone. Our tradition of local support is what every coach and player desires. There is a tradition here that is second to none.”

Last year the Blue Devils made it to regional quarterfinals. Their conference schedule for this season includes games against Elizabethton, Happy Valley, Johnson County, Sullivan Central, Sullivan East, and Sullivan South. When asked about the Blue Devils’ upcoming opponents, Good was blunt.

“We cannot afford to take any night off,” he said. “We must compete each and every night.”

This competitive spirit in no way diminishes Good’s respect for the Three Rivers Conference. “It’s an outstanding conference with good teams and players and great coaches,” he said.

The 2019-20 UCHS varsity basketball squad includes seniors Caleb Adkins, Nicholas Hensley, Phoenix Holt, Brett Lingerfelt, Nicholas Lynch and Boone Reed. Juniors on the team are Mason Barcel, Jordan Bridges, Zachary Hopson, Robbie O’Dell and Brock Thompson. Bryson Peterson is a sophomore on the team. Freshmen players are Grant Hensley and Lucas Slagle.

•••

The Blue Devils opened the season last week with three victories, including two on Thursday, Nov. 21.

First, the team defeated Volunteer, 63-56, on the road. Thompson scored 15 and had 4 rebounds in the win. O’Dell scored 14 and had 5 assists. Slagle had a double-double with 13 points and 12 rebounds. Peterson scored 9.

Later Thursday evening, they defeated University High, 78-74, in Erwin. Thompson scored 32 and had 5 rebounds in the win. O’Dell had 11. Adkins scored 10 and had 5 rebounds and 6 assists. Slagle scored 8 and had 17 rebounds. Peterson scored 7. Lingerfelt had 5 assists.

Playing at Johnson County on Saturday, Nov. 22, UCHS defeated Mount Mission (Virginia), 62-50. Thompson scored 20 and had 6 assists and 6 rebounds. O’Dell had 9 and had 7 rebounds. Adkins scored 8 and had 6 rebounds. Lingerfelt scored 7. Slagle scored 6 and had 8 rebounds.

The Blue Devils opened play in a Thanksgiving tournament being hosted by Sullivan East on Tuesday, Nov. 26, against South Greene after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to play Unaka in the tournament on Friday, Nov. 29, at 10:30 a.m. and KACHEA at 6 p.m. They will also play Hampton at 3 p.m. on Saturday, Nov. 30.

The Blue Devils will travel to Cloudland on Tuesday, Dec. 3, then to North Buncombe High School (North Carolina) on Wednesday, Dec. 4. On these days, the junior varsity team will play at 5 p.m., followed by the varsity at 8 p.m.

UCHS football players receive region honors

Head coach Drew Rice talks to Kody Lewis on the sideline of a UCHS football game during the 2019 season. (File photo)

By Keeli Parkey

In the days following their season-ending loss, several Unicoi County High School football players were recognized by the teams and coaches of Region 1-AAA for their efforts on the gridiron.

Among the award recipients, according to UCHS head coach Drew Rice, was Kody Lewis, who received the league’s Offensive Player of the Year award. During his standout career as a Blue Devil, Lewis had 5,187 total yards and scored 61 touchdowns. He had more than 100 yards in a game 17 times, more than 200 yards five times and had two games with more than 300 yards. He was also a force on defense with 261 tackles. The team won 25 games during his career.

“Kody is a generational talent. To be able to run like he can, is simply a God-given ability,” Rice said. “A kid could train from the time they are 4 years old every single day, and still never run a legitimate 4.4 forty like he does. Now to his credit, he has taken his natural gifts and tried to max them out. He is a warrior in the weight room. He is probably the strongest kid pound for pound I have ever coached. I have said for the last two years, that his individual success has been in direct correlation with our team’s success.

“I’ve been asked that question by a lot of people about where he ranks in the history of the program, and I always say that I can’t really speak to all the great players that played here long before I was born, and long before my parents were even born,” Rice continued. “However, I believe he is still one of the best players to ever play here. Statistically, he has some staggering numbers for his career.”

L.J. Mitchell was named the region’s Defensive Player of the Year. During the 2019 season, Mitchell had 79 tackles, 11 sacks, 3 forced fumbles and 1 fumble recovery.

Miguel Vasquez received the Specialist of the Year award. This season he made 49-54 of his extra-point attempts.

Blue Devils named to the Region 1-AAA first team were: Zhante Breedlove, Rodrigo Castellon, Diego Diaz, Lane Garland, Michael Harrington, Roby Lemmon, Brock Thompson and Peyton Whitson.

Players named to the Region 1-AAA second team were: Evan Huff, Esteban Mendoza, Matthew Sellars and Isaiah Smith.

Dakoda Bell received academic all-region honors.

• • •

After losing the first two games of the season, the Blue Devils finished the season with an overall record of 6-5. They took second place in the region with a 4-1 record.

The 2019 season was the first time in 30 years the program had back-to-back winning seasons. And, it was the fifth consecutive with at least five wins for the UCHS program. The last time the Blue Devils did that was 1985-89.

“I guess the biggest thing I will always credit this team with is how they stayed the course after an 0-2 start, and still went on to have a winning season and finished second in our league,” Rice said. “Another thing I am very proud of is how they played Happy Valley and Johnson County, beating them both by a combined score of 69-0. That’s our two biggest rivals, and it’s even bigger when you consider how much we have struggled against those two teams in recent years.”

The team’s sole region loss came at the hands of Chuckey-Doak in the final minutes of a back-and-forth battle played in Afton on Oct. 4. Rice, who has a 23-18 overall record as head coach, said it was one of the toughest losses since he took over the Blue Devil program in 2016.

“We haven’t lost many close games in the last three years. For the most part, if the game has been close in the fourth quarter, we have found a way to win,” Rice said. “That logic obviously didn’t hold true that night though. We got down two touchdowns in the first half, and then were up 10 with six minutes left. And then to get beat on a tipped ball with 18 seconds left was just brutal, and that game ended up being for the region championship. That game still keeps me up at night, and probably always will.”

The second place finish in the region gave the Blue Devils a home playoff game for the second consecutive season. It was in the first round of the playoffs where their season came to an end with a loss to Gatlinburg-Pittman.

A lot of the credit for the team’s success in 2019 goes to its seniors, according to Rice.

“These seniors were just a tremendous group of workers,” Rice said. “They only won one game in three years when they were in middle school, and then to end up winning 25 games in their four years of high school is really something. It says a whole lot about their resolve and their commitment. Making the playoffs every year they were in high school, and hosting the first round both their junior and senior seasons is really something to be proud of.”

Quarterback Brock Thompson was also a key player in the Blue Devils’ success this season, according to the head coach.

“I will always be the first to give Brock a ton of credit for our success. He has so much put on him,” Rice said. “We signal every play in, almost always have some sort of motion and then has to get the ball wherever it is supposed to get to. All in less than 25 seconds or so. He really made a difference for us when we started playing him in the secondary as well. We were 6-2 in games that he was playing free safety for us. We are blessed to have him one more year.”

Others were also key cogs in the UCHS offense.

“Diego Diaz, Peyton Whitson, Evan Huff, L.J. Mitchell, Tanner VanHoy and Tracy Vanover all deserve a lot of recognition on the offensive side of the ball,” Rice said. “We averaged almost 35 points a game, which is tremendous, so that does not happen without guys who can get the ball and go do something meaningful with it.

“Our offensive line of Roby Lemmon, Michael Harrington, Nick Farnor, Dakoda Bell and Rodrigo Castellon paved the way for us. They were rock solid. We are going to miss some of those guys very badly as we transition into next year.”

The Blue Devil defense was also solid thanks to several players.

“Our defensive line of L.J. Mitchell, Zhante Breedlove, Michael Harrington and Rodrigo Castellon were tremendous as well,” Rice said. “Roby Lemmon and Lane Garland were two seniors at linebacker that did every single thing we ever asked of them, and did it well. They both were everything you could ever ask for in two young men. Robbie O’Dell, Matthew Sellars, and Tanner VanHoy were all big for us in the secondary as well.”

The UCHS junior varsity team posted a record of 4-3 during the 2019 season.

“I thought our young guys really got better as their season progressed,” Rice said of the JV squad. “Our last couple of JV games compared to our first couple were not even close. It was exciting to watch them get better every single week.”

Serving as assistant coaches during the 2019 season were Malcolm Foreman, Jason Hensley, Brandon Adams, Mark Peterson, Jordan Cooper, Eric Tilson, Trevor Berry and Austin Hensley.

• • •

It won’t be long before the program begins preparations for the 2020 season.

“We will get back in the weight room in a couple of weeks,” Rice said. “Our guys who are not in other sports, will be in there five days a week from January to next November. It’s a tremendous grind, and it’s certainly not for everyone. We will continue to emphasize adding strength, size and explosion. As well as a great focus on injury prevention, we have made tremendous strides concerning that in the last three seasons.”

Rice also said he and the coaching staff want to continue to build on the success of the last three seasons.

“I think we are really building a culture of hard work, discipline and accountability. My hope is that the success we have had will only lead to more success,” he added. “Our middle school program has won six games the last two seasons, so we look forward to what we can do with the talent that we currently have coming up.

“The only realistic goal we have not achieved yet is a region championship. So, that is our focus and that is what we are going to use to keep us hungry and motivated on those days in February when they may not feel like lifting weights, or those days in July when its 95 degrees outside and they don’t feel like practicing in the heat,” Rice continued. “More than anything though, I hope we are building great young men. If we can build young men who will go out and be great fathers and husbands later in life, then what we do on the football field will take care of itself.”

The planned improvements at Gentry Stadium also have Rice excited for the 2020 season.

“I think we are going to have one of the nicest stadiums for a school our size in the state,” he said. “I think that it will instill a lot of pride in the program, and get even more middle and elementary school-aged kids playing football. I hope it creates a great viewing experience for our fans as well.”

Blue Devils’ season ends with playoff loss to Gatlinburg-Pittman

L.J. Mitchell avoids a tackle to gain extra yards after a catch during the Blue Devils’ playoff loss on Friday, Nov. 8, at Gentry Stadium. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2019 season has come to an end for the Unicoi County High School football team.

On Friday, Nov. 8, the Blue Devils (6-5) couldn’t recover from some early mistakes and were defeated by Gatlinburg-Pittman (9-2) in 3A playoff action at Gentry Stadium.

“We played a very good football team Friday night,” UCHS head coach Drew Rice said. “We made some key mistakes at crucial points early in the game and let it get away from us. You can’t do that against a team of that caliber. I am very proud of how our guys fought for four quarters though – they all laid it on the line.”

The Highlanders took a 7-0 lead on their first drive of the game on a 10-yard touchdown pass from J.D. Shults to Ethan Stinnett.

The Blue Devils were able to respond on their first drive, going 65 yards on 10 plays. The drive ended with a 3-yard touchdown run by Kody Lewis. Miguel Vasquez then tied the game with just under three minutes to play in the opening quarter with his successful extra point attempt.

Things then began to unravel for the Blue Devils as the Highlanders began to take advantage of mistakes by the home team. Gatlinburg-Pittman scored 27 unanswered points during the rest of the first half to hold a 34-7 lead at halftime.

In addition to the deficit at the break, the Blue Devils also had to deal with an injury that forced Lewis out of the game.

“Kody got shaken up a little bit, and the doctors just didn’t feel great about him going back in,” Rice said. “So we held him out. He has a bright future ahead of him and we did not want to jeopardize that in any way. It definitely was a big hit losing him in the first half. With that being said, I thought our offense executed very well in spurts in the second half.”

The Highlanders held a 48-7 lead at the end of the third and took a 55-7 lead in the fourth quarter before the Blue Devils scored again. The UCHS scoring drive took only one play as Diego Diaz broke loose in the middle of the field for a 68-yard touchdown. Vasquez’s extra point made the score 55-14.

A fumble by the Highlanders on the ensuing kickoff gave the Blue Devils the ball back on the 15-yard line. Diaz carried for 9 yards on first down before rushing into the end zone for his second touchdown of the game. UCHS then trailed 55-21 with 8 minutes to play in the game after another successful extra point from Vasquez.

“I think Diego really ran tough for us,” Rice said. “He would have been the feature back for most of the teams on our schedule; he just happened to be playing behind an all-state running back in Kody. Diego was tremendous all year for us in whatever we asked him to do.”

Staying in the fight, the Blue Devils went for an onside kick, but it was recovered by Gatlinburg-Pittman. The Highlanders would score again with less than 2 minutes to play for the final score of 62-21.

Friday’s game was won in the trenches as the size of Gatlinburg-Pittman caused trouble for the Blue Devils.

“They were able to control the line of scrimmage all night,” he said. “That’s how you win football games, and that’s exactly what they did. I thought we did some really good things though. We were able to move the ball on them throughout the game, but it just wasn’t enough. Their size up front really gave us trouble, the same way bigger teams we had played earlier in the year did. Our guys really fought and I am proud of the resolve they showed.”

On Friday, the Blue Devils had 310 yards of total offense, while Gatlinburg-Pittman had 472.

Diaz had 12 carries for 124 yards and 2 touchdowns. Quarterback Brock Thompson passed for 48 yards. L.J. Mitchell had 2 catches for 28 yards. Peyton Whitson had 2 catches for 19 yards.

For the UCHS defense against the Highlanders, Isaiah Smith had 4 tackles. Michael Harrington and Mitchell had 3 each. Tanner VanHoy, Lane Garland, Zhante Breedlove, Ethan Fuller and Robbie O’Dell had 2 each.

The loss was the final game for the Blue Devil seniors.

“They have been a tremendous group,” Rice said. “They will always be special to me, as their work set into action success that has not been seen here in decades. So, I will always be thankful for each and every one of them. We wish them success as they go out into the world, and just know they will always be Blue Devils.”

One of those seniors was Lewis, who had 108 yards and 1 touchdown in only one half of action on Friday. According to Rice, Lewis had 5,187 total yards in his career. He rushed for 4,267 yards and 57 touchdowns. He caught 2 passes for touchdowns and returned 2 kickoffs for touchdowns.

“Kody scored 61 touchdowns in four years – 60 of those touchdowns coming in the last three years,” Rice said. “He holds the school’s single-season rushing record for yards and touchdowns, as well as the school’s career record for rushing yards, total yards and touchdowns. He was the first football player to be named all-state in 2018, in at least 30 years, maybe longer than that. He is going to go down as one of the greatest football players to ever play here.”

• • •

Despite the playoff loss, the 2019 season was another successful one for the UCHS football program.

“We had a good season. These guys put together the first back-to-back winning seasons in 30 years and that’s something nobody will ever be able to take from them,” Rice said. “We definitely had a couple plays and games we would have liked to have another shot at, but that’s life. We talk to our guys all the time about how this game will prepare them for whatever life throws at them. I hope they can carry the discipline and toughness that football requires with them for the rest of their lives.”

The loss at Chuckey-Doak earlier in the season, which kept the Blue Devils from a league crown, still stings, though.

“We were a tipped ball away from a region championship,” Rice said. “That’s a tough pill to swallow for me, our coaches and these guys. But we will just use that to motivate us this offseason as we get back to work in the weight room and continue to do the things that have allowed us to be successful in the last couple of years.” 

Rice gives credit to his players for the team’s success.

“I think we were successful because of the way these guys have worked,” he said. “These seniors were freshmen when we took over that first offseason and really changed how we worked out and the things we required of them. Their dedication to this program and each other has been tremendous. Our work in the weight room has allowed us to have a lot of success running the football. We have rushed for over 5,500 yards the last two seasons and that’s just tremendous. We scored 364 points this season, 18 points away from leading the entire area in total offense. Those are tremendous numbers and it’s all credit to these guys and the work they have put in.”

The 2019 season was the fifth consecutive with at least five wins for the UCHS program. The last time the Blue Devils did that was 1985-89.

“Hopefully we can continue to play at a high level and create similar results,” Rice said. “We are very talented in our younger grades, so we are very hopeful for the future of Unicoi County football.”

As they go into the offseason, the playoff loss will be used as a teaching tool for returning players.

“Region 2 is probably the best region in the state in class 3A,” Rice said. “So for us to advance to the later rounds of the playoffs, we are going to have to get through those teams. Last year we were able to beat Kingston from Region 2 and advanced, but then ran into Alcoa. It’s extremely tough, but we can only control what we can control. We just have to continue to work and get bigger and stronger and try to rise to that level of competition.”

• • •

In other 3A playoff action between Region 1 and Region 2 on Friday, Kingston (7-4) defeated Chuckey-Doak (6-5), 28-6; Austin-East (8-3) defeated Johnson County (4-7), 41-0; and Alcoa (10-1) defeated West Greene (5-6), 56-6.

Gatlinburg-Pittman will face Alcoa and Kingston will play Austin-East. Those games are set for Friday, Nov. 15, at 7 p.m.

Blue Devils defeat Longhorns

Tanner VanHoy carries the ball for the Blue Devils at Johnson County on Friday, Nov. 1. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

A home playoff game and a winning season were on the line for the Unicoi County High School football team when they faced the Johnson County Longhorns (4-6, 3-2) in Mountain City on Friday, Nov. 1. And although they played a sloppy first half, the Blue Devils (6-4, 4-1) rose to the challenge.

“I was very proud of how our guys played,” UCHS head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “These seniors did not want the Volunteer game to be their last one at Gentry Stadium, so they made sure we got at least one more at home. That says a lot about them.”

The Blue Devils took a 6-0 lead on their first possession of the game thanks to a six-play, 63-yard drive that culminated in an 11-yard touchdown run by Kody Lewis.

“It’s always good to strike first. I do think when we scored so easily on that first drive that we relaxed a little bit, and led to a couple sloppy drives that followed,” Rice said.

Neither team would score in the remainder of the first half. Penalties were a major factor in keeping the Blue Devils out of the end zone before halftime. At the same time, the UCHS defense did its job, according to the head coach.

“I think we let our guard down a little bit when it only took us four plays to go down and score on the opening drive,” Rice said. “Our defense did a great job of keeping them out of the end zone. Almost all of our penalties came in those two drives which caused the drives to stall. It’s definitely not how we wanted to play in the second quarter.”

Halftime allowed Rice and the UCHS coaching staff to refocus the team.

“We challenged our guys to clean up some of the sloppiness and execute better. To their credit, they did exactly that in the second half,” Rice said. “We executed much better in the second half. We were able to turn them over and capitalize on their mistakes.”

The improvement in the Blue Devils’ play was evident from the first drive of the third quarter. After a kickoff return by Tanner VanHoy, the UCHS offense began the drive on their own 40- yard line and began to establish its running game. After short carries by Lewis, Diego Diaz had a 14-yard gain. Lewis then broke several tackles on his way to the end zone from 37 yards out. Miguel Vasquez then converted the extra point and UCHS led 13-0 with 10 minutes to play in the third quarter.

The Blue Devil defense then forced a fumble, recovered by Michael Harrington, which gave UCHS possession on Johnson County’s 24-yard line. Three plays later, Lewis scored again. Vasquez hit another extra point and the Blue Devils held a commanding 20-0 lead with around six minutes to play in the third quarter.

“The success we had running the ball, really opened up our passing game,” Rice said of the second half. “We were able to hit some big plays off of play-action in the second half. (Quarterback) Brock (Thompson) did a great job of running the offense all night.”

The Blue Devils scored two more touchdowns in the game – one by Evan Huff in the third and one by Diaz in the fourth – as their defense completed the shutout. UCHS won the game 34-0.

“It’s a testament to their commitment to each other and this program,” Rice said of the win in Mountain City. “These guys have been very resilient all year long. I commend them for that.”

Lewis had another big night for UCHS. The senior had 24 carries for 192 yards and 3 touchdowns. He also had 2 catches for 43 yards. 

“Kody was really stout running the ball,” Rice said. “He passed 4,000 yards rushing for his career, which is a tremendous accomplishment. He is closing in on 5,000 total yards for his career as well. He broke his own record of rushing touchdowns that he set last year. He is now at 26 touchdowns on the season. Those numbers are really staggering to think about.”

Thompson was also solid against the Longhorns, according to the head coach. The junior quarterback was 5-9 with 109 yards and 1 touchdown.

“I thought Brock did a great job on both sides of the ball,” Rice said. “Our offensive and defensive lines really controlled the line of scrimmage. Rodrigo Castellon really played well for us there. Diego Diaz gave us a tremendous effort as well at running back.”

Diaz had 9 carries for 73 yards and touchdown. Huff had 1 catch for 10 yards and a touchdown. Tracy Vanover had 1 catch for 44 yards. Peyton Whitson had 1 catch for 10 yards.

Lane Garland had 6 tackles. L.J. Mitchell had 5 tackles and 2 sacks. Roby Lemmon had 5 tackles. Harrington had 2 tackles, 2 sacks and a fumble recovery. Gabe Tipton had 3 tackles and a sack.

UCHS had 379 yards of offense in the win. Johnson County had 155.

• • •

With their victory, the Blue Devils claimed second place in Region 1-AAA, earned themselves a home playoff game and guaranteed the program’s second consecutive winning season since the 1988 and 1989 campaigns.

“Hopefully, it’s a trend that will become the norm for our program,” Rice said of the back-to-back winning seasons. “There was a time when just getting in the playoffs was a huge deal, and now we have hosted the first round two years in a row here and even advancing in the playoffs last year. Our next step needs to be solidifying a region championship. We were a tipped ball away from that being a reality this year. Hopefully, that is something that will motivate our returning guys even more over this offseason. Our JV had the first winning season since I have been coaching here, and our middle school just put together the two winningest seasons in school history. All of that would point to, hopefully, a very bright future in the coming years.”

The Blue Devils earned second place in Region 1-AAA, which gives them a home playoff game on Friday, Nov. 8, at Gentry Stadium.

“It’s huge and very exciting for these guys,” Rice said of the home playoff game. “For these seniors to get to host the first round their last two years of high school is an awesome achievement. I think we learned last year that hosting provides a much more promising shot to win and advance. I am just glad these guys get to play at least one more time at Gentry Stadium.”

The Blue Devils’ opponent will be Gatlingburg-Pittman (8-2, 4-2), the third place team from Region 2-AAA.

“They are a great football team,” Rice said. “They are 8-2 and their only two losses have been to Alcoa and Austin East. They are the best team we will have seen all season. With that being said, I think we match up well with them. We know we are going to have to put together our most complete effort of the season to get this one. But the awesome thing about the playoffs is, everyone’s record is 0-0 and anything can happen.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m. on Nov. 8. UCHS officials also wish to remind those who plan to attend the game that the only passes that will be accepted are TACA cards and TSSAA Championship cards. UCHS season passes will not be accepted. Parking passes will be honored, but not for admission. Tickets are $8. Gates will open at 4:30 p.m.

Other local playoff games on Friday will be: Kingston (6-4) at Chuckey-Doak (6-4); Johnson County (4-6) at Austin East (7-3); and West Greene (5-5) at Alcoa (9-1).

Early deficit dooms Blue Devils against Volunteer

Kody Lewis avoids a tackle to score one of his four touchdowns against Volunteer at Gentry Stadium on Friday, Oct. 25. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

An early deficit proved to be too much for the Blue Devil football team as they hosted Volunteer on a very rainy evening at Gentry Stadium in Erwin.

“I thought we came out extremely flat to start the game, and it ended up costing us,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice said of the Oct. 25 contest. “We can’t dig ourselves into a hole like that, especially against a 5A football team.”

After forcing the Blue Devils to punt on the first possession of the game, Volunteer (3-6) needed only four plays to march down the field and into the end zone. The Falcons’ first touchdown was a 12-yard run by Peyton Derrick. Dawson Dykes converted the extra point and the visitors held a 7-0 lead with six minutes to play in the first quarter.

The Falcons added two touchdowns in the second quarter as the rain began to come down even harder. They took a 14-0 lead when quarterback Garrison Barrett hit Derrick on a 13-yard touchdown pass. Volunteer then took a 20-0 lead when Derrick broke loose for a 64-yard touchdown run with less than one minute to play in the first half.

The Blue Devils started their ensuing possession at Volunteer’s 40-yard line thanks to a 42-yard kickoff return by Evan Huff. On first down, Kody Lewis broke free and scored the Blue Devils’ first touchdown of the game. Miquel Vasquez converted the extra point and UCHS went into halftime trailing 20-7.

The rain put a damper on the UCHS passing game, particularly in the first half.

“Brock was limited from where he hurt his leg in the West Greene game,” Rice said. “He’s a competitor, and really toughed it out for us though. The rain was pretty consistent the entire game, so when it’s constantly soaking the ball, it makes it really difficult to throw the ball downfield.”

After a Blue Devil fumble, Volunteer reclaimed a 20-point lead in the third quarter when Cameron Johnson rushed from three yards out. The Falcons led 27-7 with around eight minutes to play in the third quarter.

The Blue Devils fumbled again on their next possession, but took the ball back when Bryson Peterson snagged an interception and returned the ball to midfield. After a penalty backed the Blue Devils up, Lewis broke free for a 39-yard gain. A few plays later, he found the end zone again. Vasquez’s extra point brought UCHS within striking distance, 27-14, with around three minutes to play in the third quarter.

However, Volunteer quickly responded. This time scoring on a 54-yard pass from Barrett to Derrick. The Falcons led 34-14 going into the fourth quarter.

Throughout the game, the physical play and speed of Volunteer impacted the game.

“That’s why we scheduled them,” Rice said. “5A football is a physical brand of football that isn’t always played in our league. We made this schedule the way it is to help us win playoff games. Hopefully playing against a bigger team like that will help us down the final stretch here.”

The Blue Devils got within striking distance again, 34-21, in the fourth quarter when Lewis scored from 26 yards out. But, once again Volunteer responded – this time on a 2-yard carry by Johnson. The Falcons led 40-21 with seven minutes to play in the game. Although UCHS would score again – on a seven-yard carry by Lewis – the lead proved to be too much. The Falcons won the game, 40-28.

“We got within striking distance a couple of times, but that 20-0 start was just too much to overcome,” Rice said.

Playing from behind also proved difficult in the poor conditions.

“We were still in the ball game in the fourth quarter, but the weather conditions certainly weren’t ideal to score a lot of points in a short amount of time,” Rice said. “I did think we fought until the end though. Our guys woke up after we got down like that and we started playing like we were capable of. I was proud of the relentlessness we showed.”

The rain was a factor in the game, according to Rice.

“It certainly hampered our offense,” Rice said of the wet conditions. “We certainly had some uncharacteristic turnovers. They had to play in the weather too, so I don’t think we can use that as an excuse.”

The Blue Devils had four turnovers in the loss.

“We just have to take care of the ball,” Rice said. “We know the weather made it tough to do, but that’s the difference in winning and losing a football game like that. … Our turnovers came at awful times. We put our defense in some bad spots with field position because of them. ”

Penalties also hurt the Blue Devils against the Falcons. UCHS was called for nine penalties, while Volunteer was called for four.

“We were sloppy at times for sure,” Rice said of his team’s play. “We just weren’t ready to play for whatever reason. I know this week (Johnson County) is something our guys have been waiting on all year, but we cannot overlook anyone.”

Rice said he was pleased with how his team kept trying to get back in the game.

“I thought all our guys fought,” he added “Sloppy play aside, nobody quit, and that would be an easy game to mail it in early on. We have grown up a lot in those situations compared to years past.”

Thompson was 7-13 for 65 yards and 2 interceptions in the loss. Lewis had 26 carries for 197 yards and 4 touchdowns. Diego Diaz had 11 carries for 29 yards. Tanner VanHoy had 1 carry for 6 yards and 2 catches for 5 yards. Peyton Whitson had 2 catches for 39 yards. Huff had 2 catches for 13 yards. Tracy Vanover had 1 catch for 10 yards.

LJ Mitchell had 9 tackles and 1 sack for the UCHS defense. Zhante Breedlove had 4 tackles and 1 sack. Lewis had 4 tackles. Peyton Woodby, Lane Garland (1 sack), Isaiah Smith, Rodrigo Castellon, Peterson and Robbie O’Dell had 3 tackles each.

• • •

There will be a lot on the line when the Blue Devils travel to Mountain City to face Johnson County (4-5, 3-1) on Friday, Nov. 1.

“They are a tough football team like they always are,” Rice said of the Longhorns. “We are going to have to have a great week of preparation and be ready to go play in a hostile environment.”

Friday’s contest is the last of the regular season for both teams and has important playoff implications.

“It’s really simple, if we win we will be the number two seed (in Region 1-AAA) and will host the first round of the playoffs at Gentry Stadium,” Rice said. “If we lose, we will be the number three seed and will have to travel.”

Possible playoff opponents for the Blue Devils from Region 2-AAA are Alcoa (8-1, 6-0), Austin-East (6-3, 4-1), Gatlinburg-Pittman (7-2, 3-2) and Kingston (6-3, 3-2).

Several factors will be key for the Blue Devils to get a win at Johnson County.

“We have to take care of the football on offense and play our techniques and responsibilities on defense,” Rice said.

The Blue Devils will go into Friday’s game with a squad at almost full strength, according to the head coach.

“For this late in the season, I would say we have been pretty blessed with health,” Rice said. “That’s a credit to coach (Mark) Peterson, our strength and conditioning coordinator, and to the work these guys continue to put in the weight room each week.”

Kickoff against the Longhorns is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

(Editor’s note: The print version of this article incorrectly stated that the final score was 41-28. The final score was 40-28. The Erwin Record apologizes for the error.)

UCMS football team wraps up successful season

By Keeli Parkey

For the second consecutive year, the Unicoi County Middle School football season was a successful one.

“We have had back-to-back six win seasons for the first time in school history, so the high school is getting some good football players coming up to go with the talented players they already have,” UCMS head coach Larry Howell said.

The Jr. Blue Devils posted an overall record of 6-2. They defeated Sullivan East, Holston, Mosheim, Sullivan North, Blountville and Church Hill. Their two losses came at the hands of Rogersville and Colonial Heights.

“We had a solid group of eighth graders,” Howell said. “It would be hard to single out anyone without leaving out some of the players that had impacts on the team. Our offensive and defensive lines played well throughout the year and the backs and receivers played great.”

Aiding the Jr. Blue Devils’ success were several returning players.

“We had five players that played all three years and several that have played two years,” Howell said. “That was the key to our success. Having them be familiar with our system is always good. The players practiced hard and it showed up in the games. We also had a great group of seventh and sixth graders that we will look forward to coaching up next year.”

As a feeder program for the Unicoi County High School football team, the middle school works with the UCHS staff.

“I spend some time with the varsity to get a feel for what they do and try to incorporate some of it into our program. The high school coaches have been great to us and help whenever and with whatever we need,” Howell said. “I would like to thank (UCHS head) coach (Drew) Rice and all of his staff for their help and for letting me spend time with them. They have always made us feel welcome and a part of Blue Devil Football Nation.”

A supportive coaching staff also aided in the Jr. Blue Devils’ success in 2019.

“I want to thank Ben Peterson, Jon Copper and Cane Cannon for coaching with me,” Howell said. “I really thought we worked well together and had a great time. I would also like to thank the parents of these young men we coached. They were always supportive and positive in every way.”

Blue Devils race past West Greene

Evan Huff gains yards for the Blue Devils during their win over West Greene on Oct. 18. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team snatched momentum out of the air in their home contest against Region 1-AAA foe West Greene on Friday, Oct. 18.

“I thought we came out of the gates as good as we have all year,” Rice said. “Our defense gave us a big boost with the turnovers and we were able to really click offensively. It was a good win for us.”

On the Buffaloes’ (4-4, 2-2) first three possessions of the game, the Blue Devils (5-3, 3-1) snagged three interceptions – two by Brock Thompson and one by Tanner VanHoy. Each interception led to a touchdown for UCHS – all scored by Kody Lewis – and gave the team a 20-0 lead with around six minutes to play in the first quarter.

“I told our defense that when we can cause turnovers like that, we are very tough to beat,” Rice said. “I think we set a great tone early with the interceptions we caused. Our offense did a good job of capitalizing off of those turnovers.”

After forcing West Greene to punt on the next possession, UCHS added another touchdown near the end of the first quarter when Thompson hit L.J. Mitchell from two yards out for a score. Miguel Vasquez converted the extra point and the Blue Devils held a commanding 27-0 lead.

“We executed the gameplan very well on both sides of the ball,” Rice said of his team’s play in the first half. “I thought we brought a lot of energy into that game and it showed up on the scoreboard.”

There were two scary moments for the Blue Devils in the first half as both Thompson and center Nick Farnor left the game with injuries.

“They went down three plays a part, which is really chaotic to lose your starting center and starting quarterback like that in the middle of an important game,” Rice said. “Our backup center was already out, so we really got in a jam there. Dakoda Bell did a great job of coming in there and snapping for us the entire second half, despite never playing center before. It was huge.”

UCHS led 27-0 at halftime. During the break, Rice and the coaching staff had to decide how to proceed with both their starting quarterback and starting center forced to the sideline.

“We just wanted to get our snaps straightened out when Nick went out,” Rice said. “Our backup center, Dawson Hampton, was out as well, so we were down to the third and fourth string center at times Friday night. It’s impossible to be successful on offense if we aren’t getting a good quarterback-center exchange.”

The Blue Devils saw players step up to fill the void in the second half, according to Rice.

“Robbie O’Dell, Caleb Swinehart and Bryson Peterson all stepped up when we needed them and played very well for us,” Rice said. “We are very excited about all those guys for the future.”

UCHS opened the second half with great field position thanks to a 34-yard kickoff return by Jordan Bridges. Four plays later, Lewis found the end zone again and UCHS lead 33-0.

The offenses for both teams had solid third and fourth quarters, scoring several touchdowns each. Lewis added two more touchdowns in the second half and teammate Diego Diaz scored one.

UCHS led 47-20 at the end of the third quarter and won the game, 53-34.

The game was the first where Lewis, who finished with 133 yards on 18 carries, had not been hampered by an injury this season, according to Rice. The senior has scored 20 touchdowns so far this season.

“He ran like he was 100 percent healthy for the first time maybe all year Friday night,” Rice said of Lewis. “He had six touchdowns and passed the 1,000-yard mark for the season. We did a good job of creating running lanes for him and our passing game forced their defense to stay off-balanced.”

Other players also stood out to the head coach in the victory, including Thompson who was 5-6 passing for 106 yards and a touchdown before leaving with the injury.

“I thought Brock played extremely well on both sides of the ball,” Rice said. “He had two nice interceptions on defense and threw some great balls on offense. We have been giving him a lot of freedom to call some plays at the line of scrimmage and it has been really good to us; he has done a great job with it. Roby Lemmon was a road grader up front for us, that’s two years in a row against them where he got great movement on his blocks and was finishing them five and six yards down the field; it’s really impressive.”

Diaz had 15 carries for 137 yards and 1 touchdown. VanHoy had 1 carry for 12 yards and 1 catch for 14 yards. Evan Huff had 1 catch for 48 yards. Peyton Whitson had 1 catch for 20 yards. Tracy Vanover had 1 catch for 18 yards.

Mitchell had 8 tackles. Isaiah Smith had 6. Lane Garland and Preston Woodby had 5 each.

• • •

The win over West Greene keeps the Blue Devils near the top of the Region 1-AAA standings.

“We are still in control of our own destiny as far as hosting a playoff game,” Rice said. “If we beat Johnson County (on Nov. 1), we will host the first round at Gentry Stadium. We mathematically guaranteed ourselves a spot in the playoffs Friday night as well.”

Chuckey-Doak remains at the top of the region at 4-0. They defeated Claiborne, 62-16, last week. The Blue Devils and Johnson County are both 3-1 and will play one another in Mountain City on Nov. 1 in a game that will determine which team will take second place and get to host a playoff game. West Greene is 2-2 in the region, while Claiborne and North Greene are both 0-4.

“We want to continue to improve each week,” Rice said. “The season is so long. It’s a tremendous grind physically and emotionally. Our guys have had an excellent approach to their preparation all year long. That’s a testament to them and their work ethic.”

• • •

Before they face off with Johnson County, the Blue Devils will host Volunteer on Friday, Oct. 25. Prior to kickoff, the football team and other UCHS sports programs will recognize their senior members.

Rice is hopeful that both Thompson and Farnor will be able to play when the Blue Devils host Volunteer on Friday, Oct. 25, at Gentry Stadium.

“We think both Nick and Brock will be good to go by Friday,” he said. “They both had some swelling in places that didn’t look good Friday night, but both their X-rays came back clean.”

Rice expects the Falcons (2-6) to come to Gentry Stadium expecting to win.

“They are a 5A football team, so their record is very deceiving,” he said. “They are a good football team. We will have to be ready and come out and execute on both sides of the ball. We will have to take care of the football and play our assignments on defense.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. with senior night festivities taking place around 6:45 p.m.

Lady Devil soccer team ends season

The UCHS Lady Devil soccer program recognized its senior members during halftime against KACHEA on Oct. 8. Pictured, from left, Isabelle Reynoso, Bernice Luquin, Zayra Andrade, Chelsea Kinil and Audrey Tipton; not pictured, Gisel Llamas. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2019 season came to an end for the Unicoi County High School girls’ soccer team with a 5-0 loss to Sullivan Central in the district tournament on Oct. 14. The Lady Devils finished the season 1-11 overall.

“The season was frustrating and good all at the same time,” head coach Justin Ciralsky told The Erwin Record. “It was frustrating because of the record and losses, but good in terms of the ladies’ progression from the start of the season until the end.”

The team’s only victory came at West Greene on Oct. 10 and the coach hopes to take that positive and use it as a springboard for next season.

“We played a great game against West Greene and even played well for a majority of the last game (against Sullivan Central,” Ciralksy said. “We have lots of work to do and we are committed to growing in the offseason.”

Six seniors – Isabelle Reynoso, Bernice Luquin, Zayra Andrade, Chelsea Kinil, Audrey Tipton and Gisel Llamas – played their last game as Lady Devils against Central.

“Our senior class was great,” Ciralsky said. “We will miss them and their leadership terribly, but they have done a great job training up the younger players, so I believe we are in good hands.”

This season was the first coaching the girls’ team for Ciralsky, who has been the head coach of the Blue Devils’ soccer for many years.

“It was different for sure,” Ciralsky said of coaching girls at the high school level. “I have coached girls club teams in the past and I have really enjoyed it. These girls had great attitudes throughout the season and they helped me grow as a coach for sure. We had a lot of fun with them this season. I am excited to see what the future holds.”

Blue Devil football team ready for rest of season

Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice reviews game information with senior Kody Lewis during the team’s loss at Chuckey-Doak on Oct. 4. The Blue Devils have three regular season games left on their schedule. (File photo)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2019 season has been one of highs and lows for the Unicoi County High School football team.

“It’s been up and down for sure,” head coach Drew Rice said of the season thus far. “I am proud of how we responded after those first two weeks to go on a really good run there during September and set ourselves up for the postseason.”

The first two weeks of the season were some of the toughest thus far, as the Blue Devils dropped to 0-2 after losses at South Greene and to Hampton at home.

“Losing the first two like we did was certainly a challenge,” Rice said. “I thought our guys bounced back really tough after that start. I think that says a lot about the kind of young men we have. We talk all the time about how football teaches you so much about life. There are great days and there are days that are really tough in life, and football is the same way. If we can teach a group of young men how to deal with adversity when they are 16 and 17 years old, then hopefully that will serve them well later in life when real adversity hits them.”

Lessons were learned from those non-conference losses, according to Rice.

“I think it refocused us some, and I feel like we responded really well to it,” he added. “I do think we lost to two really good football teams there though.”

Following the 0-2 start, the Blue Devils bounced back to win four consecutive games during September, including two region games. They defeated non-conference foes Happy Valley and Sullivan East and conference opponents North Greene and Claiborne. The team scored 65 points in each of those league victories. The Blue Devil defense also stood out.

“I think when our defense is being disruptive and causing turnovers, we are really tough,” Rice said. “The games we have done that, we have been very successful. I think we have been pretty consistent offensively the last five games and we have played at a high level.”

UCHS took its 2-0 region record to Chuckey-Doak on Oct. 4 for a battle of league unbeaten teams. In a very memorable contest, it was the Black Knights who came out on top, scoring the game-winning touchdown with less than 30 seconds to play.

“It was tough to swallow, and still is,” Rice said of the loss. “Hopefully, the players recognize that you have to play for 48 minutes to win the most meaningful football games.”

Many Blue Devils have made significant contributions to the team’s success so far in 2019, according to Rice. Leading the way has been senior Kody Lewis.

“Kody has been playing through some minor injuries all season really,” Rice said. “It speaks to how tough he is and how he has still been able to rush for almost 1,000 yards through seven games and not even be at 100 percent.”

Others have also contributed to the offense.

“Diego Diaz has been tremendous for us as well, giving us some huge yards throughout the season,” Rice said. “(Quarterback) Brock (Thompson) conducts our offense unlike anyone else probably could. He has won a whole lot of football games for us in his career, and we look forward to seeing what all he can accomplish. Peyton Whitson, Evan Huff, Tanner VanHoy and Tracy Vanover have all been great for us in our passing game.”

Defensive-minded players have also been an asset on the other side of the ball this season.

“Roby Lemmon and Lane Garland have been really tough for us at linebacker – they play like you would want seniors to play,” Rice said. “Zhante Breedlove, L.J. Mitchell, and Rodrigo Castellon have all been really tough for us on our defensive line as well.”

UCHS has also benefitted from special teams this season.

“Esteban Mendoza, who is a freshman for us, has been tremendous with his kickoffs and his punts. He has a shot to be a big-time college football kicker if he continues to work and develop his craft,” Rice said. “Miguel Vasquez has been a huge weapon for us on (extra points). He is currently 33-35 on extra points and he had a stretch where he hit almost 30 in a row. Both those guys have been huge for us in the kicking game.”

• • •

The Blue Devils are now 4-3 overall with a 2-1 record in Region 1-AAA. Their bye week last week has allowed players and coaches to prepare for the remainder of the regular season.

“We are pretty healthy for the most part,” Rice said. “The bye week came at a good time. We tried to let some of our guys who had some nagging injuries take advantage of the week off and get all of our guys’ legs back under them.”

With Chuckey-Doak in the top spot, UCHS is currently tied for second place with West Greene and Johnson County – their two remaining league opponents. They will host West Greene on Friday, Oct. 18, and will travel to Johnson County on Friday, Nov. 1. Between those games, the Blue Devils will host Volunteer for senior night on Friday, Oct. 25.

To win a region championship, the Blue Devils must defeat both West Greene and Johnson County and will need Chuckey-Doak to lose two games. The Black Knights still have to play Claiborne on Oct. 18 and West Greene on Nov. 1.

“We have talked about how all we can control is us,” Rice said. “So our goal is to win these last three and host a playoff game for the second year in a row. That’s something that we have 100 percent control of.”

Rice expects West Greene to come to Erwin looking for a victory this week.

“They are a good football team,” he said of the Buffaloes. “They have had some impressive wins, so we know we are going to have to bring a great effort and focus this Friday.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Johnson County on the road in Mountain City in a few weeks will be another battle against a solid football team.

“It’s always a tough game with them, especially up there,” Rice said of the Longhorns. “We just have to take care of business between now and then, and worry about them when the time comes.”

Rice encourages the community to come out and support the Blue Devils.

“We always strive to put a product on the field that people can be proud of,” he said. “These guys, especially these seniors, have invested a countless amount of hours into being the best we can be and they deserve all the support they can get.”

Blue Devil football team drops to second in region

Kody Lewis leaps over a Chuckey-Doak defender to gain a few of his 141 yards during the Blue Devils’ loss on Oct. 4. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Chuckey-Doak snatched an important victory away from the Unicoi County High School football team on Friday, Oct. 4 in Afton.

“We are definitely disappointed in the end result, but I am very proud of how hard our guys played for four quarters,” UCHS head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “I think we emptied the tank; it just wasn’t the outcome we hoped for.”

It was a battle between Region 1-AAA unbeaten teams that saw both squads fall behind, then reclaim the lead. In the end, it was the Black Knights (4-3, 3-0) who put together a game-winning scoring drive with less than two minutes to play to defeat the Blue Devils (4-3, 2-1).

“I hope we learned that it’s never over until there are four zeros on the clock,” Rice said. “I think we relaxed a little there in the fourth when we got up late; we cannot do that against good football teams.”

Chuckey-Doak drew first blood on Friday, scoring on the first possession of the game to take a 6-0 lead. UCHS responded on their next possession, scoring a touchdown on a 14-yard run by Kody Lewis. Miquel Vasquez then converted the extra point and UCHS took a 7-6 lead.

The Black Knights then went on to control most of the first half and held an 18-7 as time ticked away in the second quarter. UCHS began to retake momentum with less than 3 minutes to play in the quarter when the Blue Devil defense stopped Chuckey-Doak on fourth down, which gave UCHS quarterback Brock Thompson and the Blue Devil offense the ball with enough time for a scoring drive.

The drive, which began with a 34-yard pass from Thompson to Peyton Whitson, concluded with a touchdown pass to L.J. Mitchell from 8 yards out. Vasquez was good on the extra point and the Blue Devils went into the break down 18-14 with momentum on their side.

“I really felt good about the game after that drive,” Rice said. “Brock took us down the field and made some great throws. L.J. made a tremendous catch on the goal line to cap off the drive.”

In the third quarter, Tanner VanHoy took the opening kickoff 47 yards, giving the Blue Devils excellent field position – and Rice’s team took advantage. After runs by Lewis and Thompson, Thompson then hit Whitson in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and a 21-18 UCHS lead.

“We made a few adjustments and I thought we settled down and played much better,” Rice said of his team’s efforts after halftime. “We adjusted some things on each side of the ball to try and put ourselves in a better place to be successful.”

The next scoring drive by UCHS began with less than 3 minutes to play in the third quarter and culminated in a 4-yard touchdown run by Lewis. Vasquez again converted the extra point and UCHS held a 28-18 lead with 10:34 to play in the game.

“We knew it was far from over, even with that kind of lead,” Rice said of his team’s mindset in the fourth quarter. “We knew we would need to score again, and keep them from scoring.”

It took four minutes off the clock, but the Black Knights scored and completed a 2-point conversion for a 28-26 score with 6:31 to play in the game.

The Blue Devils were quick to respond. On first down, Lewis raced away from everyone at midfield for another touchdown and a 34-26 UCHS lead. While a plus for the Blue Devils, the quick score put their defense back on the field without much downtime.

“You never want to turn away points, but yes scoring that quickly may not have been the best thing in that situation,” Rice said. “It definitely makes you wonder, but you also can drive yourself crazy saying what if this and what if that.”

On Chuckey-Doak’s next drive, the Blue Devils sacked quarterback Matthew Palazzo twice and forced fourth down and 18. Palazzo then made one of the plays of the game, hitting Evan Murvin for a 23-yard touchdown. The 2-point conversion failed and UCHS now held a 34-32 lead with around 4 minutes to play.

“We have to be able to get off the field in those situations,” Rice said. “I don’t know if there’s anything more frustrating than getting a team backed up on late downs and then they find a way to convert, especially late in the game like that. Credit to them, they made some huge plays down the stretch.”

After recovering an onside kick, the Blue Devils took possession around midfield. Thanks to runs by Lewis, UCHS gained a first down, but were then forced into a fourth and 1. The ball again went to Lewis, but he was stopped in the backfield by the Chuckey-Doak defense.

“We just wanted to keep the ball away from them and get a couple first downs,” Rice said. “We did pretty well until that fourth down, and that was probably on me, I should have made a better play call there.”

The Black Knights took over on downs near midfield with 1:25 to play. With 24 seconds to go Palazzo threw the game-winning TD. Chuckey-Doak won the game 38-34 and took over first place in Region 1-AAA at 3-0.

The loss drops the Blue Devils to 2-1 in the league and in a tie for second place with Johnson County and West Greene.

“It definitely hurts our shot at a region title,” Rice said. “Playoff wise we can still host the first round, we control our own destiny concerning that, which is huge.”

Rice also said he was pleased with how hard his team fought to get the win.

“I thought all of our guys battled,” he added. “I think we really fought for four quarters and I am very proud of that.”

The UCHS offense had 318 yards in the loss. Thompson was 7-13 for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns. Lewis had 22 carries for 141 yards and 3 touchdowns. Whitson had 3 catches for 72 yards and 1 touchdown. Diego Diaz had 6 carries for 31 yards. Evan Huff had 1 catch for 43 yards. Mitchell had 1 catch for a TD. Roby Lemmon had 7 tackles. Mitchell had 6.

• • •

The Blue Devils have a bye week this Friday. They will return to action when they host region foe West Greene (4-2, 2-1) at Gentry Stadium on Friday, Oct. 18.

“We are going to try and heal up and get rid of some of the nagging injuries we have,” Rice said. “We will continue to lift and get a jump start on West Greene.”

For more photos of the UCHS game at Chuckey-Doak, visit The Erwin Record’s online photo store.

Rodriguez sets middle school cross country record

By Keeli Parkey

For the second consecutive year, Unicoi County Middle School runner Keilet Rodriguez represented his school at the state level – and he represented it well.

Rodriguez set a personal best time and a new school record while competing at the TMSAA State Championship in Clarksville on Saturday, Oct. 5. He completed the 2-mile course in 12:39 and finished in 27th place out of a field of 120 runners.

“It was Keilet’s last run of the season on a course that was super fast, dry and flat. It was also his second trip as a seventh grader to the TMSAA State Championships,” coach Lydia Hilliard said. “He set a personal goal of 12:40 and pushed to the end with a strong finish and achieved a personal best time of 12:39.”

The previous record for the 2-mile run was held by Nolan Tankersley with a time of 13:03.

“It has been an awesome and rewarding season for Keilet,” Hilliard said. “Coach (Kelly) Waley and I are very proud of all of his accomplishments. Keilet has been an inspiration to the cross country team and we look forward to next year.”

Blue Devil football team earns fourth consecutive victory

Blue Devil quarterback Brock Thompson takes aim down the field during his team’s 28-22 win at Sullivan East on Friday, Sept. 27. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team overcame a sluggish start – and Mother Nature – to win its fourth game in as many weeks.

“It was ugly, but we will always take a win,” head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “I thought our guys showed some real guts in the second half. … Sullivan East is probably the best 0-5 team in the state of Tennessee. They have played some very close games that they were a play here and a play there away from winning. I am proud of how our guys got it figured out,  though. That’s a game I am not sure we win in years past.”

Playing at Sullivan East (0-5) on Friday, Sept. 27, the Blue Devils (4-2, 2-0) found themselves down 8-0 to the Patriots with about 10 minutes to play in the second quarter.

“We were probably on track for a let down game,” Rice said of his team’s performance early in Friday’s game. “We had played so well for three straight weeks, and then East not being a region game, combined to make us not be as ready as we should have been.”

The Blue Devils began to put things together on their ensuing drive. Thanks to runs by Kody Lewis and Diego Diaz, and completed passes by Brock Thompson to Tracy Vanover and Tanner VanHoy, UCHS marched down to the 4-yard line. It then took two runs before Diaz punched the ball into the end zone.

“It’s always big to respond to a score with a score,” Rice said. “It was big to move it down the field and score like we did.”

Rice chose to send the extra-point team onto the field. Miquel Vasquez successfully completed the attempt for an 8-7 score with 5 minutes to play in the half.

Much of the momentum the Blue Devils gained thanks to the touchdown disappeared on the kickoff as Sullivan East’s Blake Scher raced with the ball down to the Blue Devils’ 23-yard line. A few plays later, the Patriots scored again and took a 15-7 lead with 2 minutes to play in the half.

UCHS then put together one of its most important drives of the game. Starting at their own 35-yard line, Thompson first hit Evan Huff for a 5-yard gain, then hit Peyton Whitson for a 25-yard gain, then he completed another pass to Vanover to bring the Blue Devil offense down to East’s 27-yard line. Lewis then ran for his first touchdown of the game. Vasquez again converted the extra point for a 15-14 score with less than one minute to play in the first half.

“The drive before the half was huge,” Rice said. “We went down the field methodically there. Brock did a great job running the two-minute drill. We didn’t even have to use a timeout on that drive. I was very proud of that. It would have been tough going into the lightning delay without a score there.”

With the teams about to return to the field after halftime, lightning was spotted in the area and officials called a lightning delay. During the unexpected break, Rice and his coaching staff kept the Blue Devils focused on the task at hand.

“I am not sure how big of a difference it made,” Rice said of the delay. “I was very proud of how we came out and played well right out of it though. There was no lull, and that’s something we preached the entire halftime. We just kept preaching to them to stay ready and they handled it all with a lot of maturity.”

When the game resumed, UCHS kept East out of the end zone during a six-minute drive. The Blue Devils began their first drive of the second half on their own 10-yard line. On first down, Lewis broke free for a 66-yard gain. Diaz then gained 12 yards on back-to-back carries before Lewis scored again. Following another successful extra point by Vasquez, UCHS took their first lead of the game, 22-15, with 4:28 to play in the third quarter.

The Blue Devil defense again held Sullivan East scoreless. UCHS began its next possession on their own 12-yard line. As he did on the previous possession, Lewis broke free on first down again – this time for 88 yards and his third touchdown of the game. Vasquez was good again for a 28-15 UCHS lead with just over a minute to play in the third.

“Kody was the best player on the field and he just made some big-time plays when we needed them,” Rice said. “Kody and Diego are running super tough for us right now. The one-two punch they give us is extremely tough for opposing teams to defend.”

Sullivan East would not go down without a fight and put themselves back in the game as the final quarter started thanks to a touchdown run by quarterback Dylan White seconds into the fourth quarter. Following the extra point, UCHS held a slim 28-22 lead.

“We probably scored too quick. Which you never want to turn down points, but scoring like that so quickly made our defense get right back on the field,” Rice said. “The longer the defense is on the field, especially against a good team, they are eventually going to have some breakdowns. It’s really tough.”

UCHS was kept out of the end zone on the next possession and East took over possession around midfield with less than seven minutes to play in the game. On third-and-7, White’s pass was tipped by Thompson and recovered by Roby Lemmon, giving UCHS the ball with 3 minutes to play.

“I thought the turnover we caused on the last drive was huge,” Rice said. “Brock made a tremendous break on the ball, tipped it, and Roby came down with it. We work on a tip drill every week in practice. Those two guys just refused to lose, and I am very proud of that.”

The Blue Devils ran down the clock and came away with a 28-22 victory. Rice said battling for the win at Sullivan East will be beneficial for his team.

“I think we needed a game like that,” he added. “All of our wins before that win had been running clocks. So to have to grind one out, against a bigger school, hopefully shows what we are made of.”

UCHS had 427 offensive yards – 56 passing and 371 rushing. East totaled 272 yards – 89 in the air and 183 on the ground.

Thompson completed 6-8 passes for 56 yards. Whitson had 1 catch for 25 yards. Vanover had 2 catches for 18 yards. VanHoy had 1 catch for 8 yards. Huff had 2 catches for 5 yards.

Lewis rushed 16 times for 273 yards and 3 touchdowns. Diaz had 17 carries for 85 yards and 1 touchdown. L.J. Mitchell had 1 carry for 6 yards.

Mitchell had 7 tackles. Thompson had 6. Lemmon had 6 tackles and an interception. Lewis, Lane Garland, Isaiah Smith and Bryson Peterson had 5 tackles each. VanHoy and Zhante Breedlove had 3 tackles each.

• • •

The Blue Devils will return to Region 1-AAA play on Friday when they travel to Afton to face Chuckey-Doak (3-3, 2-0).

“They are a good football team,” Rice said of the Black Knights. “They beat Johnson County and almost beat South Green last Friday night. We will have to be ready to get this one. We need to have a great week of preparation and will have to go down there and fight it out.”

A win over Chuckey-Doak on Friday is vital to the Blue Devils’ hopes of a region crown, according to Rice.

“We are the only two undefeated teams left in our region, so this has huge implications for November,” he said. “We need as many fans as possible at Chuckey-Doak this Friday night to support these young men in a huge game.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

UCMS girls’ soccer team concludes inaugural season

The Jr. Lady Devil soccer team recently concluded the first season of girls’ soccer at Unicoi County Middle School. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

The inaugural season is in the books for the Unicoi County Middle School girls’ soccer program.

“I think it ended up being an amazing first year for girls’ soccer,” said Lauren Trivette, Jr. Lady Devil head coach.

The UCMS team was created in order to aid the Unicoi County High School girls’ soccer program.

“The soccer program began this season because they wanted a feeder program for the high school,” Trivette said. “Principal Jordan Simmons and Jason Hensley, the athletic director, realized bringing soccer to the middle school level would prepare them for high school and make it more successful in our county.”

Soccer was a new sport for Trivette, who played sports during her time at UCHS and has coached other middle school sports during her teaching career.

“One big challenge for me was learning the sport,” Trivette said. “Soccer wasn’t an option when I was in high school here, so having to learn a new sport with new rules was a big challenge. It was also a challenge getting girls to play in the beginning, but we ended up having 23 girls.”

With new players and a new program, the emphasis was on the fundamentals of the game, Trivette said.

“We focused a lot on basics this year because there were a lot of girls that had never played soccer,” she added. “We focused on dribbling, the best ways to pass the ball and receive the ball, and ways to find the open spot on offense. Defensively, we focused on coming up on the ball and getting low, finding the best opportunity to kick the ball and making sure we kick far and wide to get it out and down the field.”

Uncertain of how many players they would have, UCMS officials scheduled only six games for the new program. And, while they were winless this season, Trivette said it was still a successful one.

“We ended up 0-6 this year, but there was so much improvement,” she said. “At the beginning of the season, we got beat 11-0 in the first half. We did not know how to defend or how to space out on offense. Our last game, our passing was incredible and we actually scored a goal that wasn’t a penalty kick. We grew closer and they learned to play as a team and I was extremely impressed with their improvement throughout the season.”

Trivette believes the UCMS program will be an asset to its players.

“I feel like they learned the game of soccer and have a good start if they decide to continue their careers,” she said. “Most of them did not know the rules when we first started and now they know the foundations and can build on that as they continue.”

The 2019 UCMS Jr. Lady Devil soccer team included: Madyson Bowling, Addison Huskins, Faith Bennett, Lilly Hopson, Madalin Huskins, Melissa Reynoso, Jasmine Al-Abed, Aguada Sandoval, Sara Thomas, Nikole Swafford, Morgan Mosley, Addison Valentine, Brisa Saldana, Brianna Freeman, Legacee Varney, Janiela Soto,  Karen Montejono, Sophia Powers, Grace Little, Laney Rogers, Abby Petterson, Kinley Carver and Brianna Butler.

Blue Devils bulldoze Claiborne Bulldogs in Homecoming game

Freshman Caleb Pelaez returns a kickoff for a touchdown during the Blue Devils’ 65-13 victory over Claiborne at Gentry Stadium on Friday, Sept. 20. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team gave the homecoming crowd plenty to cheer about at Gentry Stadium on Friday, Sept. 20, as they cruised to a 65-13 victory over Claiborne (2-3, 0-2).

“I thought we played well,” head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “We came out of the gates fast and never really slowed down. I was very proud of how we played.”

The victory puts the Blue Devils’ overall record at 3-2 and their Region 1-AAA record at 2-0. It was also the team’s third consecutive victory in as many weeks.

“Football is meant to be played with a certain level of passion and fire,” Rice said. “We have figured out that it’s a lot more fun when you approach the game that way, and our play has been pretty solid the last three weeks because of that.”

Rice also attributes the Blue Devils’ success after two early defeats to the players’ “focus and commitment.”

“We said after the first two games that we knew we were better than we had played and that if we continued to show up and work every day, that the wins would take care of themselves,” Rice added. “They have done that, and I think it speaks to the trust we have as a team. We have moved some guys around in some places and it’s made a big difference. But more than anything we are executing better on both sides of the ball. Our energy has been very high the last three weeks and our play has mirrored that.”

During the first quarter against Claiborne, the Blue Devils started their first scoring drive of the game thanks to a fumble recovery by Lane Garland around midfield.

“Our defense did a good job of keeping their offense off the field for the most part,” Rice said.

Quarterback Brock Thompson then pitched the ball to Evan Huff, who raced down the field for a 28-yard gain. Kody Lewis this ran untouched into the end zone from 25 yards out. Miquel Vasquez converted the extra point – his first of nine on the night without missing – for a 7-0 UCHS lead.

The Blue Devil defense then forced the Bulldogs to punt and took over possession around midfield once again. It took only four plays for Lewis to find the end zone again and for UCHS to lead 14-0. And, with just over 2 minutes to play in the first quarter there was little doubt that the Blue Devils had control of the game.

“Anytime you can jump out in front of someone early, it’s huge,” Rice said of the early lead. “Our guys pushed down the gas and never looked back. I thought we played very well with the lead, and handled being up with a lot of maturity.”

The Blue Devils scored 37 points in the second quarter as their dominance continued. Touchdowns included a 45-yard pass by Thompson to Huff; a 22-yard pass by Thompson to L.J. Mitchell; an 8-yard run by Lewis; a 72-yard kickoff return by Caleb Pelaez; and a 5-yard run by Garland. The UCHS defense also scored in the second quarter thanks to a safety by Jordan Bridges.

The Blue Devils held a 51-7 lead over the Bulldogs at halftime.

At the break, Rice told his team to stay focused on getting the victory – and that’s what they did.

“We talked about it a lot at the half,” Rice said. “I don’t think we played a starter in the second half. That speaks volumes to our young guys and how well they are able to go in and run all three phases of the game in a varsity setting is just tremendous. We have some unbelievably talented freshmen.”

Richie Laughren scored on a 6-yard run for the Blue Devils in the third quarter and Bridges scored on a 39-yard pass from Eli Bratton in the fourth.

Getting varsity experience for younger players is something Rice and the UCHS coaching staff have been able to do during the team’s blowout victories in the last three weeks. This, according to Rice, will be beneficial to the team down the road.

“We got everyone in for multiple plays and were able to execute all special teams in the second half with our JV units,” he added. “For them to be able to go in and play an entire half, it’s a real compliment to them. This freshmen group is our most talented class from top to bottom, we are really excited about them. Being able to rest the older guys in the second half is huge as well, especially at this point in the season.”

Claiborne’s two touchdowns came in the second and fourth quarters. The Bulldogs had 238 total yards of offense against the Blue Devils – 127 passing and 111 rushing – along with 3 turnovers.

The UCHS offense totaled 392 yards with 171 coming in the air and 221 on the ground.

“I will always give credit to our offensive and defensive lines when we have a dominant game,” Rice said. “That’s where the game is won. Outside of those guys, I thought our secondary played extremely well. I also thought freshman Caleb Pelaez really showed what he is capable of. He had a kickoff return for a touchdown and almost returned another punt for a touchdown. He’s super explosive and is going to be very fun to watch over the next four years.”

Thompson was 6-8 for 105 yards and 2 touchdowns. Bratton was 2-3 for 66 yards and 1 touchdown.

Lewis had 8 carries for 102 yards and 3 touchdowns. Diego Diaz had 4 carries for 65 yards. Laughren had 5 carries for 46 yards and 1 touchdown. Nehemiah Edwards had 2 carries for 6 yards. Garland had 1 carry for 5 yards and a touchdown.

Huff had 3 catches for 72 yards and 1 touchdown. Bridges had 1 catch for 39 yards and 1 touchdown. Bryson Peterson had 1 catch for 27 yards. Mitchell had 1 catch for 22 yards and a touchdown. Tracy Vanover had 1 catch for 9 yards. Tanner VanHoy had 1 catch for 3 yards.

Garland led the UCHS defense with 5 tackles and a fumble recovery. Blake Edney and Zhante Breedlove each had 3 tackles. Robbie O’Dell had an interception.

Esteban Mendoza kicked-off for UCHS 10 times for a total of 539 yards. Vasquez was 9-9 on extra point attempts.

“I think we are playing our assignments really well on both sides of the ball,” Rice said. “We have a good vibe about us right now; hopefully that will continue.”

***

The Blue Devils get a break from region play this week, but not from tough competition, as they travel to Bluff City to face Sullivan East (0-4).

“They had Johnson County beat in the first game of the year, so that’s all I need to know about them,” Rice said of the Patriots. “They play in a tremendously tough league in 4A, so their record is deceiving. We are going to have to have a great week of practice and preparation and stay hungry.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

“We just need to continue to sharpen all aspects of our game,” Rice said. “You can never get complacent in this game. We are continuing to lift three days a week right now and I think that is starting to show up in how we are able to win the line of scrimmage and how our guys are finishing runs and tackles.”

For more photos from the Blue Devils’ win over Claiborne visit The Erwin Record’s online photo store.

Volleyball team defeats Happy Valley

By Keeli Parkey

As they await players to return from injuries, the Unicoi County High School volleyball team continues to put up a fight against opponents.

“We need to stay injury free, get back to a standard/consistent lineup, and play as a team,” head coach Shelley Swinehart told The Erwin Record. “Once we all get healthy and play consistent matches together, I believe we will see even more success on the court.”

Last week, the Lady Devils (7-10, 3-4) defeated Happy Valley in non-conference play in Erwin on Sept. 16. UCHS made quick work the Lady Warriors, winning in three sets (26.6, 25-10, 25-3)

“We played well against Happy Valley despite having one of our outside hitters out and one middle player out,” Swinehart said. “Ashtan Vance stepped up for us and carried our offense. Our seniors – Ashtan Vance, Hallee Casey, and Gabby Davis – were strong on defense in the back row. Savannah Sparks stepped into our outside hitter role and I have been very proud of her for taking on a role that she has only had to do in JV games so far this season.”

The Lady Devils then lost to KACHEA in non-conference play on the road on Sept. 17. After losing the first two sets (13-25, 18-25), UCHS bounced back to win the third (25-21). However, KACHEA regained control of the match to win the fourth set (15-25) and get the victory.

With less than a month left in the season, Swinehart is seeing a lot of positives from her team.

“Our cohesiveness as a team has been a strong point for us this season,” she said. “We have struggled with this aspect though in the last couple of matches due to the fact that we have had so many injuries.

“This past week, two of our injured players returned. We’re hoping the other two will return this week. Our practice Sunday was one of the best practices we had so far this year. We worked on bringing that team cohesiveness back and we are hoping that will be present in our matches this week.”

Another positive has been the play of the program’s newer members.

“Younger players continue to grow and step up into varsity positions as varsity players get injured,” Swinehart said. “We played in the Rocky Top classic two freshmen and four sophomores. They played hard and consistent. Our seniors supported them on the court. With the encouragement from the other varsity players, our young players still enabled us to constantly compete with teams who were playing mostly juniors and seniors.”

The Lady Devils hosted Elizabethton on Monday, Sept. 23, and traveled to Sullivan Central on Tuesday, Sept. 24, for conference games after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to host conference foe Johnson County on Thursday, Sept. 26.

UCHS cross country runners continue to improve race times

From left, Cheyenne Wilson, Marissa Soulier and Darren Soulier were top finishers at the Blue Ridge Invitational at Providence Academy last week. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

Coach Thad Higgins is happy with what he is seeing from his Unicoi County High School cross country runners.

“The real takeaway from last week is the overall improvement that the team has seen,” Higgins told The Erwin Record. “At the beginning of the season, I said that our goal was to see constant growth and each runner has met that goal.”

The Blue Devils and Lady Devils competed in the Blue Ridge Invitational at Providence Academy on Tuesday, Sept. 10. The meet saw Marissa Soulier win third place, Cheyenne Wilson take ninth and Darren Soulier win 10th.

Next, the teams competed at the annual Fender’s Farm Carnival on Saturday, Sept, 14.

“The Blue Devils and Lady Devils had an excellent race at the Fender’s Farm Carnival this weekend,” Higgins said. “Marissa Soulier again stood out as one of the top competitors with an eighth-place finish overall.”

Marissa Soulier finished the race with a time of 21:16. Wilson finished the race with a time of 24:12.

Darren Soulier was the top finisher for the Blue Devils, finishing the race with a time of 19:47. Wyatt Miller finished the race with a time of 20:25.

“Wyatt Miller stood out Saturday as he set a personal record by almost a minute and a half,” Higgins said. “Wyatt fought to hold on to Darren throughout the race, but Darren eventually pulled away to clinch the top team performance on the guys’ side with a time of 19:47. They’re beginning to compete with each other in the races, which will be a benefit to both of their times.”

The newest members of the Blue Devil team also made their presence known in Jonesborough on Saturday. Results included: Canaan Webb with a time of 21:29; Tristan Duncan in 21:30; Ivan Luquin in 21:35; Javier Castellon in 23:17; and Austin Crothers in 31:40.

“Our freshmen guys all fought with each other throughout the race as well for the top junior varsity spot,” Higgins said. “Canaan was able to overcome Tristan and Ivan, but they were all within six seconds of each other.”

The Fender’s Farm Carnival was the first race of the season for new runner Tyler Church, who finished the race in a time of 27:22.

“We would like to welcome Tyler to the team,” Higgins said. “He recently joined the Cross Country team and ran his first race ever this weekend.”

Last week’s results showed how much the UCHS runners have improved since the beginning of the season, according to Higgins.

“I can’t overstate how proud I am of our team at this point in the season,” Higgins said. “We have seen incredible jumps in race times. Everyone has dropped their time from what they ran in our first race at Run for the Hills.”

• • •

The next meet for the UCHS runners is the Bristol Cross on Saturday, Sept. 28, at Steele Creek Park in Bristol.