Blue Devil football team survives test at West Greene

By Keeli Parkey

For the Unicoi County High School football team, last week’s game at West Greene was a tale of two halves. And, fortunately for the Blue Devils (8-1, 4-0), that tale had a happy ending.

Kody Lewis rushes for some of his 396 yards against West Greene. The junior also scored 4 touchdowns in the 41-2 victory by the Blue Devils over the Region 1-3A opponent. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Kody Lewis)

“I thought we were very sluggish in the first half, but I thought we came out and really showed some grit and determination in the second half when we needed it the most,” head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record.

Facing the Buffaloes (2-6, 1-3) on the road on Friday, Oct. 12, Rice’s team found itself in a Region 1-3A battle with its undefeated record on the line. The teams traded blows throughout the first half of a very physical game and went into halftime with the Blue Devils holding a very narrow 14-13 lead. Scoring for UCHS in the first half were Brett Strother and Kody Lewis – both on 10-yard runs. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt after both scores.

Halftime allowed the Blue Devils to regroup, make adjustments and rally around one another – and it showed in the second half.

“We have played so well for the last five or six weeks, I feel like maybe we were due for a slight lull at some point,” Rice said. “The thing that I liked to see was our guys responded to us challenging them at halftime to come out and play like we knew we were capable of playing. We just talked about small things that were having a big impact on the game. I felt like we cleaned up a lot of those mistakes in the second half.”

The Blue Devils took control of the game in the third quarter.

On the first possession of the second half, UCHS made a point to run the ball – and run it they did on every play. The drive ended with a 7-yard touchdown run by Lewis. Porras again converted the PAT and UCHS took a 21-13 lead.

UCHS forced West Greene into a turnover on downs before putting together another scoring drive by running the football on every play. Despite three penalties against the Blue Devil offense, Rice’s team managed to score on a 22-yard run by Lewis. Another successful PAT by Porras gave UCHS a 28-13 lead with just under 2 minutes to play in the third.

On the first play of the Buffaloes’ next drive, Tanner VanHoy snagged the first of his two interceptions in the game.

“I thought Tanner’s two interceptions were huge,” Rice said. “We have been waiting for him to have a game like that. He’s very capable, and I was very happy for him.”

The Blue Devils didn’t waste the opportunity to add another score. Again running the ball on every play, the drive culminated in Strother’s 4-yard touchdown run. UCHS took a 34-13 lead into the final quarter. 

“We just decided until they stopped us running it, we were going to keep doing it,” Rice said. “(Quarterback) Brock (Thompson) did a great job of running our offense. He had a couple tough breaks on some interceptions, but that’s just part of the game. It happens at every level.”

West Greene scored in the fourth quarter with 10 minutes to play in the game, but the Blue Devils quickly responded thanks to Lewis’ 15-yard touchdown run as UCHS came away with a 41-20 victory.

Rice said he was very pleased with how his team bounced back in the second half to secure the win.

“It was good to see,” he added. “Our leadership from some of our older guys was tremendous. Great teams are player driven, not coach driven. I credit a whole lot of our success this year on the leadership from some of these seniors and juniors.”

The UCHS offense had 575 total yards – 536 rushing and 39 passing. Of those rushing yards, Lewis totaled 396 for another standout performance by the junior. Lewis also scored 4 touchdowns bringing his season total to 19.

“Kody was tremendous,” Rice said. “His stats right now are incredible. That’s a credit to our offensive line for the work they are doing up front. They really had their way Friday night with West Greene’s defensive line and that makes calling plays easy when they are winning their individual battles like that.”

Lewis and the players who work hard to block for him are a real asset to the Blue Devils.

“Kody can score anytime the ball is in his hands,” Rice said. “He just needs enough space to get to the second level and he is gone. It’s an unbelievable weapon. Our offensive line, tight end Austin O’Dell, and H-backs Noah White, LJ Mitchell and Lane Garland are workhorses who don’t get enough credit for the job they do opening up holes for our backs.”

Strother scored 2 TDs and had 11 carries for 76 yards.

“I thought Brett’s leadership was about as much as you could ask out of a high school kid,” Rice said. “He had a couple catches, ran the ball extremely well for us and was a force on defense. I can’t say enough about his maturity and leadership.”

Ty Wilson had 4 carries for 54 yards. Gavin Keasling had 1 catch for 16 yards. Peyton Whitson had 1 catch for 10 yards.

The Blue Devil defense held West Greene to 206 total yards. Lewis led the defense with 9 tackles. Noah White had 7 tackles, Strother had 5 and Jacob Schreck had 4. VanHoy had 2 tackles and 2 interceptions.

• • •

The win over West Greene kept the Blue Devils undefeated in Region 1-3A play and in a tie for first place with the Johnson County Longhorns (7-1, 4-0). The Blue Devils and Longhorns will play for a region championship in Erwin on Friday, Oct. 26.

“I think myself, the staff and these guys just want to achieve our goal of a region championship,” Rice said. “We have talked about it since last December and now we are just a week and a couple of days away. It’s surreal in a way. I cannot explain how bad I want us to find a way to get it done for these young men. They deserve the success.”

The win over the Buffaloes also sealed a home playoff game for UCHS, which will be played on Nov. 2 at Gentry Stadium in Erwin. Likely opponents will be Region 2-3A teams Northview Academy or Gatlinburg-Pittman, depending on the results of the final game of the season.

This week is a bye week for the Blue Devils.

“We are going to keep our lifting and running schedule the same to keep our strength and conditioning where we want it, but we will probably back off a little bit this week in practice and try to really work on our fundamentals and heal up a little bit,” Rice said. “I don’t think focus will be a problem this week. Our guys have worked all year to get to this point. It’s exciting for us and the community.”

Season ends for Lady Devil soccer team

By Keeli Parkey

The 2018 season soccer season came to an end for Unicoi County High School last week.

Playing in the first round of the District 1-AA tournament, the Lady Devils (2-13) lost to Sullivan Central in a do-or-die game. The final score was 9-0.

“The season as a whole was a learning experience for the team,” head coach Bettina Chirica told The Erwin Record. “The majority of the girls have never played soccer before, so they learned how to play the game, but even more importantly, they built lifelong skills of teamwork, commitment, and discipline. The girls created friendships that will last a lifetime.”

A group of six seniors led the team this season.

“The seniors were the glue that held the team together,” Chirica said. “Two of them, Katherine Altemose and Andrea Lopez have been with the team since the first year that it started four years ago. Other seniors included Halie Hawkins, Juana Ponce, Spencer Garant and Carly Kinsler. The legacy they leave are the foundation for future generations to come. I’m so thankful for the leadership and commitment of the seniors. They will be dearly missed.”

Chirica said that Garant, who is a student a Cloudland High School and co-oped to UCHS to play soccer, will be signing with the soccer team at Lees-McRae College in the near future.

Offseason work for next season’s Lady Devils will begin later this month on an indoor field, Chirica also said.

Blue Devil football team defeats Unaka Rangers

By Keeli Parkey

Brock Thompson throws one of his 11 completions at Unaka during the Blue Devil football team’s 42-0 victory on Friday, Oct. 5. Thompson threw for 201 yards in the game. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

Another week, another win.

The Unicoi County High School football team trounced the Unaka Rangers in Carter County on Friday, Oct. 5.

“I was pleased with how we showed up and took care of business,” head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record.

The 42-0 victory over the rangers was the seventh of the season for the Blue Devils (7-1, 3-0). It’s the first time a UCHS football team has reached that win total since 1989 when the team won 8 games.

“We have talked about it some, but we have said all season that we will reflect on what we have done once it’s all over,” Rice said of his team reaching win milestones. “In the meantime, we are just trying to go 1-0 each week and continue to work and prepare each week with that being the task at hand.

“We have a group of great young men who do anything and everything we ask of them. I have said before, that the level of commitment we ask them for is truly uncommon in today’s day and age. Our success is a credit to their willingness to show up and work, every single day.”

The Blue Devils took control of Friday’s game from kickoff, pinning Unaka deep into their own territory and forcing a punt. Taking over on their own 49-yard line, the Blue Devils needed only four plays to score the first touchdown of the game – a 17-yard run by Kody Lewis. Martin Porras converted the extra point and UCHS held a 7-0 lead.

After forcing another punt by Unaka, the Blue Devils put together another scoring drive – this one ending with a 20-yard touchdown pass from Brock Thompson to Peyton Whitson. Porras was successful again on the point-after attempt and UCHS held a 14-0 lead.

The second quarter belonged to the Blue Devils as Thompson led the offense to three passing touchdowns – a 26-yard pass to Brett Strother, a 21-yard pass to Gavin Keasling and a 30-yard pass to Lewis. Porras stayed perfect on the night and UCHS took a 35-0 lead into halftime.

“I thought Brock really executed well and ran the offense like a senior, it’s easy to forget sometimes that he is still just a sophomore,” Rice said. “He’s a special young man, and I am just glad he is on our team.”

Noah White scored the final touchdown of the game on a 9-yard run. Porras converted his sixth extra point on six tries for the final score of 42-0.

It was another game where the Blue Devils controlled the line on both sides of the ball.

“Offensively, our three seniors that play a lot are Ike Edwards, Justin Pike and Drew Keasling. They all do a whole lot for us,” Rice said. “Our juniors, who all started as sophomores last year, Roby Lemmon, Michael Harrington and Nick Farnor, have been tremendous. Our success offensively is a credit to all of them.

“Defensively, Drew Williams, Danny Lowery, Shane Armstrong, Austin O’Dell and LJ Mitchell have all been a force to deal with. Coach (Brandon) Adams, our defensive line coach, has done a great job working those guys.”

The Blue Devil defense held Unaka to 108 total yards on Friday – 109 in the air and -1 on the ground. Rice credits his team’s preparation for the Rangers’ hurry-up offense for the defensive effort.

“We tried to give our guys a hurry up look all week in practice,” Rice said. “Our young guys did a great job of giving us a good look on our scout teams all week. It really showed up on Friday night. … Our defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage. We have told them all year that they have the ability to take over games, they are tough to block when they play like they did Friday.”

Balance was the name of the game for the UCHS offense at Unaka. The team had a total of 422 yards – 208 passing and 214 rushing.

“We wanted to work on a variety of things Friday night, and were able to do that and that was the product of us trying to spread the ball around to a lot of different guys,” Rice said.

Thompson completed 11-15 passes for 201 yards and 4 touchdowns. Lewis had 6 carries for 64 yards and 1 touchdown and 1 catch for 30 yards and 1 touchdown. White had 5 carries for 75 yards and 1 touchdown and 1 catch for 20 yards. Strother had 3 catches for 78 yards and 1 touchdown. Whitson had 3 catches for 39 yards and 1 touchdown. Keasling had 1 catch for 21 yards and 1 touchdown. Ty Wilson had 3 carries for 24 yards. Porras was 6-6 on extra point attempts.

LJ Mitchell had 3 tackles, Lewis, Drew Williams and Tanner VanHoy had 2 tackles each. Austin O’Dell had a sack. Shane Armstrong and Robbie O’Dell each had a fumble recovery.

• • •

The will Blue Devils return to Region 3-A play on Friday, Oct. 12, when they travel to West Greene (2-5, 1-2) to face the Buffaloes.

“They are a good team,” Rice said. “We are going to have to have a great week of preparation and go execute come Friday.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

A win over West Greene will keep UCHS undefeated in region play at 4-0. If Johnson County (6-1, 3-0) defeats North Greene on Friday, the Blue Devil and the Longhorns will each be unbeaten and will battle for the region title on Friday, Oct. 26, in Erwin.

“We both control our own destiny,” Rice said of the Blue Devils and the Longhorns. “It’s exciting to look ahead, but right now we can’t. I don’t think our guys will look past them, mainly because they slipped up on us last year and I think these guys will be very motivated to go take care of this one.”

Blue Devil football team still unbeaten in region

Peyton Whitson gains yards in the red zone following a catch on Friday, Sept. 28. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Big Blue train continues to roll.

With a 49-17 victory over Chuckey-Doak at Erwin’s Gentry Stadium on Friday, Sept. 28, the Unicoi County High School football team did something no Blue Devil team has done in decades – win six games in a season. The last time that happened, which was in 1996, even the oldest members of the 2018 Blue Devil team had not even been born.

“It just speaks to their commitment to each other,” head coach Drew Rice said of his team’s success this season. “They don’t want to let each other down and that’s what great teammates do. They have bought in to what we are asking of them, which is a whole lot, and they’ve done it with a smile on their face. It’s been fun to watch.”

The Blue Devils (6-1, 3-0) scored first on Friday, thanks to an 83-yard run by Kody Lewis; it was the first of his four touchdowns on the night.

“Kody had one of the best statistical games we have had here in a long time,” Rice said.

In addition to the four TDs, Lewis also had 325 yards on 18 carries.

A successful extra point by Martin Porras gave the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead. The Black Knights responded on their ensuing drive with a field goal before Lewis scored and Porras was successful again for a 14-3 UCHS lead.

“I was pleased with how we came out and executed against a good football team,” Rice said. “That was as big of a game as we have had this year and our guys really rose to the occasion.”

Chuckey-Doak would score again in the first quarter, but a 32-yard run by Lewis gave the Blue Devils momentum, and a 21-10 lead, going into the second frame.

The only touchdown of the second quarter came on a 9-yard pass by Blue Devil quarterback Brock Thompson to Noah White. Porras was good again and UCHS took a 28-10 lead into halftime.

“I thought Noah did a lot of things for us. Things that don’t always show up on a stat sheet,” Rice said. “He and the offensive line deserve a lot of credit for the success we have had offensively.”

The Blue Devils took control of the game in the third quarter. While keeping the Black Knights out of the end zone, UCHS scored twice – on an 8-yard run by White and on an 84-yard run by Lewis – for a 42-10 score going into the fourth.

Chuckey-Doak scored on a 36-yard run by Chris Cutshaw in the final frame. Blue Devil Brett Strother also scored in the fourth on a 1-yard run for the final score of 49-17.

Once again, the UCHS football team was able to control a game en route to a victory.

“We take a lot of pride in how we prepare each week,” Rice said. “Our emphasis each week is the same, to go 1-0. We have a Sunday through Friday routine that we stick to very diligently. We believe the game is usually won before it’s ever played.”

The UCHS offense posted 474 total yards – 90 in the air and 384 on the ground – on Friday.

The game was another solid performance by Thompson. He was 6-9 passing for 90 yards and a touchdown. 

“Brock has been great,” Rice said of his sophomore quarterback’s performance this season. “The reason we have been so successful is because we have a guy who can run our offense extremely well.

“He hasn’t had to throw it as much because we are averaging over 250 yards a game rushing. Teams have tried to take away our passing attack because they are so afraid of Brock and Brett (Strother), so we have just tried to make them pay by keeping it on the ground. Brock has a chance to be one of the greatest to ever play here by the time he is a senior.”

Strother had 5 carries for 47 yards and 1 touchdown. He also had 1 catch for 49 yards. White had 3 carries for 17 yards and 1 touchdown. White also had 3 catches for 24 yards and 1 touchdown.

On the defensive side of the ball, White and Preston Woodby had 3 tackles each. Strother, LJ Mitchell and Lane Garland had 2 tackles each. Danny Lowery had 1 tackle and 1 sack.

• • •

The win over Chuckey-Doak kept the Blue Devils unbeaten in Region 3-A play and at the top of the standing with the also undefeated Johnson County Longhorns (5-1, 3-0).

Rounding out the Region 3-A standings are: Chuckey-Doak (3-4,1-2); Claiborne (1-6, 1-2); West Greene (2-4, 1-2); and North Greene (0-6, 0-3).

Remaining league games for the Blue Devils include a trip to West Greene on Oct. 12 and playing host to Johnson County on Oct. 26 in the final game of the regular season.

“We are trying to take it one week at a time, but yes we very much are looking forward to the possibilities for the rest of the season,” Rice said.

Before returning to region play, the Blue Devils will face the Unaka Rangers on the road in Carter County on Friday, Oct. 5.

“They have a really good quarterback who can throw it very well,” Rice said. “They do some good things offensively. We have to have another good week of preparation and get ready to go take care of business.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Season ends for UCHS volleyball team

Shelby Miller goes up for a kill against Sullivan East. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2018 season has come to an end for the Unicoi County High School volleyball team.

The Lady Devils (4-8, 7-16) were eliminated from postseason play by a loss to Sullivan East in the opening round of the District 1-AA tournament played at East on Monday, Oct. 1. The Lady Patriots bested UCHS in three sets (18-25, 21-25, 13-25).

UCHS finished in fifth place in the conference this season, which set up the opening round game against East, the fourth seed. The conference standings at the end of the regular season were as follows: 1 – Sullivan South; 2 – Elizabethton; 3 – Sullivan Central; 4 – Sullivan East; 5 – Unicoi County; 6 – Johnson County; 7 – Chuckey-Doak.

Freshman Shelby Miller had 9 kills and 4 blocks in the loss to East in the district. Senior Sarah Grace Larkey had 6 kills and 9 assists. Seniors Chloe Powers and Sydney Rogers each had 7 digs. Junior Blake Hall had 9 assists.

“Obviously, this isn’t how I wanted our season to end,” Lady Devil head coach LeAnn Lane said. “Going into this season, our team had high hopes and expectations; being that we had six seniors, Sarah Grace Larkey committed to playing at the next level and two returning junior starters and with the help of freshman Shelby Miller in the lineup.

“it should have been a top-three finish season. We were definitely capable of that,” Lane continued. However, we didn’t have many games where all the girls were connecting. Volleyball is one of those sports that everyone on the floor has to play their part and be ‘on.’ We would have games where two or three girls were on and it would help us compete, but not deal the win.”

Looking ahead to the 2019 season, Lane is expecting younger players to have to step in.

“Next season will be a rebuilding year with the 13 freshmen from this year, finding some of them to step into varsity roles as sophomores,” she said. “We have just a couple of sophomores that will also have to step up as juniors to compete at the varsity level for the first time.”

• • •

During the last week of the regular season, the Lady Devils earned a victory over Cherokee, non-conference opponent, but fell to conference foes East and Sullivan Central.

UCHS went on the road and defeated Cherokee in four sets (17-25, 25-20, 27-25, 25-11) on Sept. 24.

Miller had 11 kills and 2 blocks in the win. Larkey and Senior Emma Kelly had 7 kills each. Hall had 20 assists, 11 digs, 3 kills and 3 aces. Powers had 22 digs. Hallee Casey, who had recently returned to the lineup after an injury, had 11 assists and 8 digs.

On Sept. 25, the Lady Devils hosted Sullivan East, but fell in four sets (18-25, 11-25, 25-21, 20-25). Prior to the match, the program honored its senior members – Karrie Clayton, Kelly, Larkey, Powers and Rogers.

Hall had 22 assists and 15 digs in the loss. Powers had 27 digs. Larkey had 11 kills. Miller had 10 kills and 5 blocks. Rogers had 4 aces and 12 digs.

On Sept. 27, the Lady Devils lost on the road to Sullivan Central in three sets (19-25, 14-25, 15-25). Junior Ashtan Vance had 23 digs in the match. Powers and Rogers contributed 11 digs each. Miller had 7 kills.

• • •

The Lady Devil junior varsity squad wrapped up the 2018 season in the JV tournament on Saturday, Sept. 29. The team lost to Sullivan South in two sets (14-25, 17-25).

Freshman Raquel Torres had 8 digs. Freshman Caitlin Wilson had 2 kills and 1 block. Freshman Makenzie Casey had 2 kills. Freshman Hannah Shelton had 5 digs.

“I’m proud of our younger kids,” Lane said. “The JV is mostly made up of freshman and they’ve competed and got better all season by playing teams better than them. We split during the season with Elizabethton, who has juniors on their JV. I look to this group to help us in the coming seasons.”

Blue Devil football team goes to 5-1 on season

LJ Mitchell puts pressure on Central’s quarterback. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

On a milestone night for the Unicoi County High School football program, this 2018 group of Blue Devils helped make the night even more memorable.

Not only was the Friday, Sept. 21, game in Erwin the annual homecoming game, it also marked the 1,000th football game in the history of UCHS – and the Blue Devils rose to the occasion before one of the largest crowds at Gentry Stadium in recent memory. Led by head coach Drew Rice, the Blue Devils (5-1, 2-0) trounced Sullivan Central (0-5), 42-0, in a non-region game.

“I was very pleased with our execution and our effort,” Rice told The Erwin Record. “I think it was a great win for us.”

Participating in the 1,000th game in school history was significant, particularly for the coaching staff.

“We talked about it, and they were certainly aware of it,” Rice said of his players going into the milestone game. “I think as 16- and 17-year-old kids they might not have fully understood the magnitude of it, which may have been a good thing. Regardless, I thought they played fantastic and am super proud of them. Me personally, as someone who played here, it was certainly special. My grandfather, Keith Lyle, played here in the 1950s, so to have those sort of connections made it an awesome experience.”

After trading possessions with the Cougars on Friday, the Blue Devils got their first score of the night with less than 2 minutes to play in the first quarter when Kody Lewis broke loose for a 68-yard touchdown run. Martin Porras converted the extra point and UCHS led, 7-0.

The Blue Devils took complete control of the game in the second quarter, during which they played some of their best football of the season. Brett Strother scored two touchdowns, Lewis scored one and Austin O’Dell scored one to give UCHS a 35-0 lead at the half. O’Dell’s touchdown came after the Blue Devils forced and recovered a fumble just before halftime.

“Our execution was really strong, and I thought defensively we started to be really disruptive and it created some favorable situations for us,” Rice said.

The final score of the game came early in the third quarter when Strother took a kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown. As he did all game, Porras was good on the extra point for the final score of 42-0.

“Martin has been great this season,” Rice said. “He is one of our soccer recruits, and he has been tremendous for us. Our kicking has been pretty solid over the last couple years thanks to soccer guys who have been willing to come out and kick for us on Friday nights. It’s a win-win for everyone.”

The Blue Devil defense held the Cougars to only 77 total yards, the lowest for a UCHS opponent this season.

“I am very proud of them,” Rice said of the defense. “Our kids did a great job of preparing for them and our coaching staff did a great job of putting our guys in good positions. If we can continue to play that aggressive, and execute that well, we will continue to be successful.”

The play on the line was also a bright spot for the Blue Devils and several individuals shone in the win last week. 

“Our offensive and defensive lines really played well,” Rice said. “I thought they both controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball. Kody had another huge game and really ran hard. I thought (quarterback) Brock (Thompson) did a great job on managing the offense. Brett had one of his better games with a rushing touchdown, a receiving touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown. I really thought it was a team effort.”

Against Central, the Blue Devils showed the enthusiasm that is becoming a trademark of the program. This, according to the head coach, shows how much the players are dedicated to the program and the sport.

“I think it shows that they love the game,” Rice said. “We talk a lot about how football is too hard not to have fun doing it. I think our guys have really taken that to heart and it shows in how they approach the game. I hope it means we are heading in the right direction.

“I hope that our young guys see the successes of the older players and it motivates them to want to be doing the same thing in a couple years. The same thing goes for our middle school players and our youth league guys. We are trying to create a culture and a program that people want to be a part of.”

The UCHS offense had 311 total yards – 58 in the air and 253 on the ground.

Thompson was 6-9 passing for 54 yards and 2 touchdowns. Lewis had 8 carries for 171 yards and 2 touchdowns. Strother had 5 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown, 3 catches for 1 touchdown and a kickoff return for a touchdown. O’Dell had 1 catch for a touchdown. Easton Edwards had 5 carries for 18 yards.

For the Blue Devil defense, Ty Wilson, O’Dell and Tanner VanHoy all had fumble recoveries.

• • •

The Blue Devils will try to go 3-0 in Region 3-A play when they host Chuckey-Doak (3-3, 1-1) at Gentry Stadium on Friday, Sept. 28.

“They are a good football program,” Rice said of the Black Knights. “Coach (Ben) Murphy and his staff do a great job. We are going to have to be ready to get to work all this week in our preparation and get ready to go and get after it again Friday night.”

Not only will a win on Friday keep UCHS perfect in region play, it will also be the first time a Blue Devils has won six games since 1996. That year, UCHS finished the season 6-4.

“We have talked about it,” Rice said. “It’s certainly a goal of ours to have a winning season, but most importantly to remain unbeaten in the league.

“There’s a fine line there, I think, but we always talk about how we have to find confidence in our preparation – if you have done all the things leading up to that point to be successful, then the game should take care of itself. I think our older guys have done a great job of leading this team and ensuring we are ready each week.”

Kickoff on Friday is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

UCHS cross country athletes run ‘well’ at meet

By Keeli Parkey

The Fender’s Farm Carnival run held on Sept. 15 was a successful one for the members of the Unicoi County High School cross country program.

“Our athletes ran exceptionally well,” head coach Thad Higgins told The Erwin Record.

The top finisher for the program was freshman Marissa Soulier who finished in 11th place overall.

“Marissa ran a 20:55 which is a huge improvement,” Higgins said. “She’d been striving to break 21 minutes for the last couple races, so that was a huge milestone for her.”

Cheyenne Wilson completed the race in 23:54 for the Lady Devils.

Darren Soulier led the way for the Blue Devil team, with a season best time of 19:33. Teammate John Campbell finished the race in a time of 20:38. Wyatt Miller finished in a time of 22:41.

“We have been spending a lot of time on the paces that each athlete would run,” Higgins said. “I think that focus began to pay off in this race. However, we still have a lot of room to improve as individuals and as a team.”

The next meet for the UCHS runners will be the Trailblazer Invitational at Daniel Boone High School on Oct. 13.

“Fortunately, we have some time before our next race,” Higgins said. “This will really give us time to work with some different strategies and paces, and will even give us an opportunity to take recovery time so that our athletes feel as fresh as possible for their next race.”

Blue Devils race past Claiborne Bulldogs

Kody Lewis avoids a tackle during the Blue Devils’ 42-13 road victory at Claiborne on Sept. 14. Lewis scored three touchdowns in the game and rushed for 228 yards. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

An explosive third quarter carried the Unicoi County High School football team (4-1, 2-0) to a 42-13 victory at Claiborne on Friday, Sept. 14.

“I think it was the most complete game we have played,” head coach Drew Rice said. “I thought we went in and executed very well.”

Falling behind early in games has been an issue for UCHS this season. However, this was not the case on Friday as the Blue Devils got off to a solid start on Friday and took a 13-7 lead in the opening quarter thanks to touchdowns by Kody Lewis and Brett Strother.

“We made it a focus not to have the slow start,” Rice said. “I think it just shows how bought in these guys are, they are a tremendous bunch of young men. We have to have a great week of practice and be ready to go execute again.”

Despite forcing turnovers in the second quarter, the Blue Devils only scored one TD – on a 36-yard run by Lewis. Strother carried the ball into the end zone to complete the 2-point conversion and UCHS took a 21-7 lead into the break.

The Blue Devils took complete control of the game in the third quarter, scoring three touchdowns – one each by Lewis, Noah White and Richie Laughren. Rice attributes the team’s second half success on Friday to their off-field preparations.

“I think our weight room work and our conditioning really took over,” he said. “We started busting holes open and our offensive and defensive lines really started moving people around. It’s great to see all our work in the off-season showing up when it matters.”

The Bulldogs added a touchdown in the fourth quarter, but this didn’t put a damper on how well the UCHS defense performed against Claiborne’s crafty offense.

“It’s always a challenge preparing for an offense that you don’t see much,” Rice said. “They ran a triple option offense where you have to play disciplined and assignment football. The only big play they had was the touchdown pass in the first quarter and when you look at the film, it was actually incomplete. We were in the right position; it’s just one of those things you have to take and go on.”

The Blue Devils forced three interceptions – two snagged by Strother and one by Gavin Keasling.

“The turnover battle is such a huge part of the game,” Rice said. “If we can continue to be on the right side of that, we will continue to be successful. Brett made two great plays on both his interceptions. Gavin Keasling played very well at corner for us as well.”

UCHS had 68 passing yards and 361 rushing yards for a total of 429 yards in the game. Lewis scored 3 TDs and had 228 yards.

“Kody’s a special player,” Rice said. “All he needs is a crease and he is gone. I don’t know if I have ever seen a kid score as many times as he does without ever being physically touched by a defender. He has really devoted himself to getting bigger and more explosive, his success is a credit to how hard both he and his teammates have worked.”

Quarterback Brock Thompson was  6-11 for 68 yards. Strother had 3 catches for 12 yards and rushed for 54 yards and 1 TD. Austin O’Dell (27 yards), LJ Mitchell (21 yards) and Peyton Whitson (8 yards) each had 1 catch. Laughren had 4 carries for 25 yards and a TD. Isaiah Smith had 3 carries for 27 yards.

White had 5 tackles for the UCHS defense and 1 sack in the win. Mitchell and Danny Lowery had 4 tackles each.

• • •

Friday’s victory kept UCHS perfect in Region 3-A play

“It’s huge,” Rice said of going to 2-0 in league play. “Any road win is big, but a road region win is even bigger. We have two down, and three more to go to achieve our goal of a region championship. They understood the importance of that game and their play reflected that.”

Remaining region games include Chuckey-Doak in Erwin on Sept. 28, West Greene on the road on Oct. 12 and Johnson County at home on Oct. 26.

With the season now half over, Rice is pleased with where his team stands.

“I think we all wish we could have the Happy Valley game back,” he said. “But at the same time, we are sitting here at 4-1 and undefeated in the region. I think we have to feel pretty good about that. We knew we had a chance to be tough, but we still have plenty of football left to play.”

In the weeks ahead, limiting mistakes will be key to the team’s success, according to the head coach.

“I think taking care of the football is always going to be a focus,” Rice said. “We have shown over the last two years that when we do that, we are successful. We have to stay healthy and continue to try and go 1-0 each individual week. We are pretty healthy for the most part. You will always have bumps and bruises in this game, but we have been blessed so far with being able to stay healthy.”

• • •

If you’re a Blue Devil fan, Gentry Stadium will be the place to be on Friday, Sept. 21. Not only will Rice’s team host Sullivan Central (0-4), the school will also celebrate Homecoming 2018 and the 1,000th game in the history of Blue Devil football.

“(Sullivan Central) is a good football team,” Rice said. “Their record doesn’t show what type of team they are. We are going to have a to come out ready and execute and play disciplined football.

“This Friday is the 1,000th game in program history, as well as homecoming,” Rice continued. “We would like to invite everyone in the community to come out and support what these young men are trying to accomplish. We hope to see a big crowd Friday night.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Lady Devil soccer team wins on senior night

Classmates turned out – and painted up – to cheer for the Lady Devil soccer team as they faced West Greene in Erwin on Thursday, Sept. 13. UCHS won the senior night game, 3-2. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School girls soccer team gave its senior members a memorable senior night last week.

Playing West Greene at home in Erwin on Thursday, Sept. 13, the Lady Devils (2-8) scored two goals in the second half on their way to a 3-2 victory.

“It was our senior night, and it was amazing just because our student body pulled together to cheer the girls on,” head coach Bettina Chirica said. “It felt like we were all one family, which really represented the #1bluenation. The atmosphere of support was really felt. It helped inspire our girls to play hard.”

Juana Ponce, Spencer Garant and Valeria Ponce each scored a goal in the victory.

The Lady Devils opened last week with a 4-0 loss to Sullivan Central on Sept. 11.

• • •

UCHS is scheduled to host Greeneville in Erwin on Wednesday, Sept. 19, at 6 p.m. They will also play Elizabethton at home on Tuesday, Sept. 25.

UCHS volleyball team gets league win

By Keeli Parkey

With the season winding down, the Unicoi County High School volleyball (8-12, 4-5) team is battling for position in the Three Rivers Conference. And head coach LeAnn Lane hopes her squad can play its best at the right time.

Last week, the Lady Devils bested Providence (25-4, 25-16, 25-10) in non-conference action in Erwin on Monday, Sept. 10.

Shelby Miller led the team with 7 kills and 2 aces. Chloe Powers had 6 kills, 14 digs and 2 aces. Sarah Grace Larkey had 5 kills, 3 aces, 9 assists and 5 digs. Ashtan Vance had 4 aces and 7 digs. Emma Kelly had 5 kills.

UCHS added a needed win to its conference standings on Tuesday, Sept. 11, when the ladies defeated Chuckey-Doak (25-13, 25-14, 25-13).

Miller and Larkey each contributed 7 kills. Miller also had 4 blocks. Powers had 6 kills. Kelly had 3 kills. Blake Hall had 6 aces, while Vance added 2 aces and 9 digs. Sydney Rogers had 6 digs.

The Lady Devil junior varsity team also defeated Chuckey-Doak (25-12, 25-14). Caitlin Wilson had 5 kills and 8 aces in the win. Alex Withers had 4 kills. Dora Benton, Hannah Shelton and Makenzie Casey had 3 kills each. Natilee Clouse had 4 digs.

The varsity team’s victory over Chuckey-Doak brought the team’s conference record to 4-4 ahead of a matchup at Sullivan South on Thursday, Sept. 13.

“Now it’s a race to land higher than fifth place,” Lane said after the Chuckey-Doak victory.

At South, the Lady Devils lost in three sets (25-10, 25-18 and 25-20).

Remaining conference games for UCHS include matchups with Elizabethon on Sept. 19, Sullivan East on Sept. 25 and Sullivan Central and Sept. 27.

• • •

The Lady Devils faced Daniel Boone in non-conference play on Monday, Sept. 17, at KACHEA on Tuesday, Sept. 18, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

Their next scheduled match will be in Erwin against Elizabethton on Wednesday, Sept. 19. They are also scheduled to play at Cherokee on Monday, Sept. 24, and face Sullivan East in Erwin on senior night on Tuesday, Sept. 25. Matches are scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.

UCHS golf season ends at district

By Keeli Parkey

The 2018 golf season came to an end for the Unicoi County High School golfers at the larger schools District 1 golf tournament held at the Johnson City Country Club on Sept. 10.

Although they did not qualify for the region tournament, head coach Gene Renfro saw his Blue Devil golfers improve on their performances from last season.

“The team score at the district was 20 shots better than last year,” Renfro said. “I am proud of the guys for the improvement from last year and throughout the season. With that though, the course was tougher this year at the Johnson City County Club, but I believe the guys know shots were left out there or the score could have been lower even close enough to have placed ahead of David Crockett.”

Science Hill won the team competition with a score of 293. Other team scores were: Tennessee High – 320; Dobyns-Bennett – 321; Daniel Boone – 337; Sullivan South – 364; Elizabethton – 365; Sullivan East – 366; Sullivan Central – 367; Volunteer – 392; David Crockett – 467.

The Blue Devils posted a team score of 506. According to Renfro, individual scores were: Brett Lingerfelt – 102; Caleb Adkins – 148; Jordan Hensley – 117; and Nicholas Hensley – 139.

“I am proud of how the team came together this year with two players who had not played golf before stepping up to compete in our top three spots with Brett Lingerfelt and Jordan Hensley,” Renfro said. “With Lingerfelt along with Caleb Adkins, Nicholas Hensley, Nicholas Bender, Andy Cole, and Nicholas Lynch and Katlyn Higgins able to return for next season, things should continue to improve on the course.”

• • •

The Unicoi County golf program is raising funds by selling Dr. Enuf.

The team is selling cases of longneck glass bottles of regular, diet, herbal and diet herbal.

The cost is $21 for a case and the order will be placed Monday, Sept. 24, then delivered Thursday, Sept. 27.

For more information, email Renfro at renfrog@unicoischools.com.

Warriors hand Blue Devil football team first loss of season

Blue Devil Noah White carries the ball for UCHS during his team’s loss at Happy Valley on Friday, Sept. 7, in Carter County. The loss was the first of the season for the Blue Devils. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

A slow start doomed the Unicoi County High School football team against an old rival last week.

Playing at Happy Valley in a non-region game on Friday, Sept. 7, the Blue Devils (3-1, 1-0) fell behind 13-0 in the first quarter of a game that could have given the program its first 4-0 start to a season since 1984.

“We took one on the chin for sure,” head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “It was very disappointing, to say the least.”

The Blue Devils fell behind in the first quarter against South Greene and Sullivan East earlier this season, but they were able to overcome those deficits and win the games. That was the not case at Warrior Hill last week.

“It definitely was the difference in the game,” Rice said of the slow start. “We have said that if we continue to dig ourselves in a hole early, it would come back to bite us and that’s exactly what happened.”

The Blue Devils put together their first scoring drive of the game with around 5 minutes to play in the second quarter. Carries by Kody Lewis and a completed pass from quarterback Brock Thompson to Noah White brought UCHS near the goal line. On fourth-and-goal from the 6-yard-line, Thompson found Austin O’Dell in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt and the Blue Devils had momentum going into the second half.

UCHS took the lead in the third quarter on a 6-minute drive that culminated in a 4-yard rush by Lewis into the end zone. Porras again converted the extra point for a 14-13 Blue Devil lead.

On the Warriors’ ensuing possession, a penalty against Happy Valley forced them into a first-and-23 and it appeared the Blue Devil defense would be able to stop the drive. However, miscommunication by UCHS led to a play that changed the tide of the game. With 11 minutes to play, Dakota Cochran scored on a 40-yard touchdown pass. The Warriors successfully went for a 2-point conversion and took a 21-14 lead.

“Our secondary play was not great at any point Friday night,” Rice said. “We gave up some big plays at some very inopportune times. The seam route they hit on us to take the lead back really hurt. We were misaligned to it, which makes it even more frustrating.”

Lewis returned the next kickoff to midfield and the Blue Devils began a solid possession until mistakes, including a turnover, gave the Warriors possession with 9:30 to play in the game. The three UCHS turnovers on Friday were the first of the season for the squad.

“As happy as we were to not turn the ball over any in the first three games, we also knew that turnovers are a part of the game,” Rice said. “So, we probably were due for some breaks to not go our way. … Regardless, it doesn’t matter now and we have to move on, get better and focus on this week.”

Happy Valley put the game out of reach when they scored on the following possession. This time, on a 1-yard run by Cochran. The extra point missed, but the 27-14 lead was too much for UCHS to overcome and the Warriors held on for the victory.

“Thankfully, it wasn’t a region game,” Rice said of the loss. “We told our guys after that all our goals for the season are still staring us right in the face. A region championship, a home playoff game and a winning season are all still on the table for us. We cannot let one game dictate the rest of our season. We were 1-3 this time last year and made a pretty good run down the stretch, so we feel confident we can do that being 3-1.”

Friday’s game was the first time the UCHS offense had been outgained by an opponent this season. Happy Valley had 251 yards of total offense, while the Blue Devils had 232.

“Playing from behind basically the entire game really limited us to a degree as far as what we wanted to do offensively,” Rice said. “They brought a lot of pressure, like we knew they would, and they really disrupted our rhythm. Once we got down in the fourth quarter and they knew we had to pass it, it became very very difficult for us and that led to some bad turnovers.”

Thompson had 105 yards on 8-19 passing, with 1 touchdown and 3 interceptions. He also carried the ball 6 times for 32 yards.

“Those all aren’t Brock,” Rice said of the interceptions. “Probably only one of the three were. Our protection was not what we expect of our guys and we felt like it was a pass interference on the one to Brett (Strother) that didn’t get called in the first half.”

Strother had 4 catches for 44 yards. Peyton Whitson had 2 catches for 25 yards. White had 1 catch for 26 yards and 5 carries for 22 yards. O’Dell had 1 catch for 10 yards and a touchdown. Lewis had 13 carries for 67 yards and a touchdown.

White paced the Blue Devil defense with 3 tackles, 7 assists and a sack. Strother had 3 tackles and 5 assists.

• • •

Region 1-3A opponent Claiborne County (1-3, 1-0) awaits the Blue Devils on Friday, Sept. 14. Their only win of the season came on Aug. 30 at West Greene.

UCHS defeated Claiborne 21-0 in Erwin last season and 35-22 at Claiborne in 2016; however, Rice expects the Bulldogs to be a tough opponent.

“They run a tough offense to defend and they always give people trouble with it,” he added. “They have some good looking kids on film. It’s a long trip down there, so we are going to have to have a great focus all week, including Friday.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Coach: Lady Devil soccer team plays with heart

Lady Devil Katherine Altemose wins possession of the ball from a Sullivan South player during girls soccer action. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The wins haven’t come in recent weeks, but the effort has been there for the Unicoi County High School girls soccer team. Despite losing their last six games, the Lady Devils (1-7) continue to represent their school with pride, according to their head coach.

“The girls play with heart and give 100 percent effort,” Bettina Chirica said. “As a coach that’s all you can ask for. I am really proud of the girls for giving it their all.”

On Aug. 23, the team lost to Daniel Boone, 5-0, in Erwin.

“We played well during the Boone game,” Chirica said. “We had our opportunities. We let one goal slip away and we somewhat had a harder time staying mentally in the game. For the upcoming matches we will work on maintaining our positions better on the field and staying mentally focused.”

Juana Ponce, Halie Hawkins and goalie Carly Kinsler stood out in the loss.

The team dropped a 6-0 loss to Volunteer at home on Aug. 28 and a 5-1 loss at Daniel Boone on Aug. 30. The lone goal in those two games was scored by Spencer Garant.

In both games against Boone and Volunteer, Juana Ponce was exceptional,” Chirica said. “I moved her from playing forward to defense, and she did really well. Lana Deshner, Halie Hawkins and Andrea Lopez fought hard in the Volunteer game. In the Boone game, Katherine Altemose and Rachel Altemose played well.

“We have seen improvement as a team,” Chirica continued. “We need to work on the dynamics of finding each other on the field to make plays and continue keeping our game fitness up.”

Last week saw the Lady Devils fall to Sullivan South, 6-2, in Erwin on Sept. 4, at Volunteer, 9-0, on Sept. 5 and at home to David Crockett, 3-0, on Sept. 6.

Overall, from the Volunteer to the Crockett game we have seen improvement,” Chirica said.

• • •

UCHS played host to Sullivan Central on Tuesday, Sept. 11, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

They are scheduled to host Hampton on Thursday, Sept. 13, beginning at 6:30 p.m. The team will also honor its senior members that evening. They are also scheduled to travel to Sullivan South on Tuesday, Sept. 18, for a game beginning at 5:30 p.m.

Blue Devil football team 3-0 for first time since 1995

Brett Strother makes one of his 4 catches against North Greene on Friday, Aug. 31, at Gentry Stadium. The 53-8 victory gave the UCHS football program its first 3-0 start since 1995. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team stayed undefeated on the season with a 53-8 trouncing of Region 1-3A opponent North Greene at Gentry Stadium in Erwin on Friday, Aug. 31.

“I thought we came out and took care of business,” head coach Drew Rice said. “I am very proud of how our guys approached last Friday and how we executed.”

In addition to keeping the Blue Devils (3-0, 1-0) on the right track in league play, the win also marked a milestone – the first 3-0 start by a UCHS team since 1995. According to The Erwin Record’s archives, that season the team, led by head coach Zane Vance, defeated Cloudland (14-0), Sullivan East (13-6) and Chuckey-Doak (34-0) in its first three games of the season. The previous time a Blue Devil started 3-0 was 1989.

For Rice, the undefeated start is a credit to the work and dedication of his players.

“It sure beats being 1-2 or 0-3, but we try to take everything one week at a time,” the head coach said. “Our emphasis is to go 1-0 every week – the hope is this keeps us focused on the task at hand, not dwelling on past successes or failures, as well as not looking too far ahead either.

“With that being said,” Rice continued, “I think these young men should be commended for the start we have had. They have worked like Trojans since we started in the weight room last December. It’s nice to see such commitment being rewarded because the type of commitment they have exhibited is rare in today’s society. We just want to create a culture and a program that this community can be proud of. Hopefully, we can continue the success we have had so far.”

Against North Greene on Friday, the Blue Devils took total control of the game from kickoff and held a 39-0 lead at the end of the first quarter. Senior Brett Strother put on a show in the quarter, scoring three touchdowns. Also scoring for the Blue Devils were Gavin Keasling, Austin O’Dell and Noah White.

“We made it a goal of ours for the week to have a great start,” Rice said. “In the first two games, we did not come out of the gates at our best. So we made it a focus last week to have a great start and try and prevent digging ourselves into a hole early.”

Senior Ty Wilson scored for the Blue Devils in the second quarter and UCHS took a 46-0 lead into halftime.

Due to the significant lead, the third and fourth quarters were cut from 12 minutes to 8 minutes each, and the clock ran almost continuously in the second half. The Huskies got on the scoreboard in the fourth quarter and the last UCHS score came on a 55-yard touchdown run by Isaiah Smith.

In the second half, Rice and his coaching staff gave many players who do not often see varsity action time on the field.

“It was great to get a lot of guys their first varsity action,” Rice said. “I thought they went in and ran our offense and defense very well. Isaiah Smith had a great run for a touchdown. It was a very impressive play for a freshman, he is going to be a great player for us like (brothers) Jacob and Michael were.”

The Blue Devil offense totaled 453 yards against the Huskies – 267 passing and 186 rushing. Sophomore quarterback Brock Thompson passed for 250 yards and 5 touchdowns. Strother had 4 catches for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns. Keasling had 1 catch for 23 yards and touchdown. O’Dell had 1 catch for 20 yards and a touchdown. White rushed for 81 yards and a touchdown. Smith rushed for 55 yards and a touchdown. Wilson rushed for 8 yards and a touchdown. Richie Laughren had 3 carries for 25 yards. Easton Edwards had 1 carry for 20 yards.

The Blue Devil defense held North Greene to 171 yards – 79 in the air and 92 on the ground. Smith had 4 tackles for UCHS. Tanner VanHoy had an interception and a fumble recovery in the win. Garrett Shelton had 3 tackles. Jacob Schreck also had a fumble recovery.

• • •

Standing in the way of a 4-0 start for the Blue Devils will be the Happy Valley Warriors. The old rivals will face off in Carter County on Friday, Sept. 7.

“It’s a program that has had a lot of success recently,” Rice said of Happy Valley. “They have won 19 games the last two years, which is really tremendous to think about. Their coaching staff does a great job, and they have some talented kids. It’s going to take a tremendous focus and effort to go get a win Friday night.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Runners have success in early meets

Marissa Soulier received a medal for her fifth-place finish in the Terry Hull Crawford Classic last week. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

The first two races of the season for the Unicoi County High School cross country teams took place under very different conditions.

The runners opened the season on Aug. 25 in Bristol, Tennessee, on an uncharacteristically chilly morning.

“We kicked the season off with Run for the Hills at the South Holston Dam,” head coach Thad Higgins said. “It was an excellent cool morning for a first race. We had a very successful race with some fast times and even a top finisher.”

The Soulier siblings were the top finishers for both the Blue Devils and Lady Devils. Sister Marissa came in ninth place overall with a time of 21:42, while brother Darren finished with a time of 20:36.

The second meet of the season was held on Thursday, Aug. 30, in Greeneville.

“In contrast to Run for the Hills, the Terry Hull Crawford Classic was a hot evening race,” Higgins said. “In spite of this, our team ran very well and had great improvement in the areas we had been working on since our first race. The first race gave us an idea of where we needed to set pacing goals throughout the race, and I was really proud of how diligent our athletes were about hitting those goals throughout the race.”

Marissa again led the Lady Devils, finishing in fifth place overall with a time of 22:27, and earning a medal for her performance, according to Higgins.

Cheyenne Wilson also ran a good race, finishing in 15th place overall with a time of 24:37.

Darren led the Blue Devils with his 19th place finish and time of 21:01. John Campbell ran a time of 21:59 and Wyatt Miller ran a time of 24:45.

“We would also like to congratulate Wyatt Miller on completing his first high school cross country race,” Higgins said. “We can’t wait to see what else he’s got in store this season.”

• • •

The UCHS runners will have a few weeks of practice time before their next meet, which is scheduled for Sept. 13 at Sullivan North High School. They are also scheduled to run at Fender’s Farm on Sept. 15.

Blue Devil football team goes to 2-0 on season

Blue Devil senior Noah White avoids a tackle and races into the end zone to score the game-winning touchdown for the UCHS football team against Sullivan East on Friday, Aug. 24. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

When the Unicoi County High School football team faced Sullivan East in 2017, the game came down to the final minute with the Patriots winning on a hail mary pass. Last week’s clash between the 3A Blue Devils (2-0) and the 4A Patriots (0-2) was just as dramatic. This time, however, it was UCHS who came out on top.

“I thought it was a great team win against a 4A football team,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice said. “I think we have plenty of things we have to clean up, but I couldn’t be prouder of our guys finding a way to get it done.”

As they had done in their season opener the previous week, the Blue Devils found themselves facing an early deficit on the road in Bluff City on Friday, Aug. 24, as East scored around the 4-minute mark of the first quarter to lead 7-0. Dakota Deel carried the ball into the end zone for the Patriots.

“On one hand, I am glad our guys have that grit and resolve to overcome getting behind early, but on the other it’s certainly not something we want to make a habit of,” Rice said. “We are going to make it a focus this week to have a better start.”

The Patriots ran the ball fairly easily throughout much of the first half, as the Blue Devils made adjustments.

“We knew going in that they were huge up front,” Rice said of East. “I think as the game went on, our conditioning really showed up as they started to wear down some. We just tried to play fast and play our assignments for all four quarters.”

Another issue, particularly in the first half for the Blue Devils, were penalties, including holding calls against the offense that stalled possible scoring drives.

“The holding calls killed us, some of which I am still not sure were holding calls,” Rice said. “Regardless, they called them so we have to make that a focus moving forward. I think if we don’t get a couple of those holding calls in the first half, I feel like we would have gone into the half with more than 7 points.”

The Blue Devils would put things together on their final drive of the first half. Taking over possession with 4:30 on the clock in the second quarter, junior Kody Lewis carried the team into East territory. Quarterback Brock Thompson then carried the ball for 8 yards, then the Blue Devils gave the ball back to Lewis who punched into the end zone from 19 yards out. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt and the Blue Devils went into the break tied, 7-7, with the Patriots.

“I think it was big to go into the half tied up as opposed to trailing,” Rice said. “We went into halftime feeling like we were going to be fine.”

The Patriots put together a solid drive in the third quarter, getting deep into Blue Devil territory; however, a forced fumble recovered by Blue Devil senior Justin Pike ended the drive and gave UCHS the momentum it used to score on the ensuing possession.

The Blue Devils took over with just over 5 minutes to play in the third quarter. Carries by Lewis and a completed pass by Thompson to senior Brett Strother brought UCHS to midfield. Two unsuccessful plays put the Blue Devils into third-and-12, but the team responded with Thompson finding senior Austin O’Dell on a 37-yard pass. Strother then scored his first touchdown of the season for a 13-7 score.

Taking over just seconds into the fourth quarter, the Patriots we not going to go quietly on their home field. The Blue Devils forced them into a third-and-20, but a halfback pass gave the Patriots first-and-goal. UCHS forced a fourth down, but East quarterback Dylan White found a receiver in the end zone. The point-after attempt was successful and the home-standing Patriots led 14-13 with less than 6 minutes to play.

Memories of last season’s last-second defeat to East at Gentry Stadium in Erwin could have deflated the Blue Devils, but that was not the case.

“It says a lot about their belief in one another,” Rice said. “It’s been nice to be able to run the football like we have in the first two games.”

After Lewis gave the team good field position on the kickoff return, UCHS gave the ball to senior Noah White who avoided tackles on a very memorable run to score the game-winning touchdown.

“It was really special, especially for Noah to make that play when we really needed it,” Rice said of White’s run. “Kody was gassed from carrying us all night and he had just made a great kickoff return. Noah stepped in and just took off with it. We executed that play almost perfectly. I think if we can have a great season, we may look back and see that that play was a pivotal point in our season.”

East had one last chance to score, but Blue Devil senior Danny Lowery’s sack on fourth-and-six gave UCHS the ball back and the Blue Devils ran out the clock to hold on for the 19-14 victory, the first for UCHS over East on the gridiron since 2013.

“Any win is great, and certainly one against a bigger school is even better,” Rice said. “We have a lot of respect for Sullivan East and their program. They have had some really good teams in the last two or three years. We felt like they stole one from us last year, so it was nice to get that taste out of our mouth from a year ago.”

The Blue Devils had 291 total yards of offense – 219 on the ground and 72 in the air – and for the second consecutive game did not commit a turnover. East had 267 yards – 180 rushing and 87 passing and 1 turnover.

Thompson was 6-12 passing for 61 yards. O’Dell had 1 catch for 37 yards. Strother had 2 catches for 14 yards and 7 carries for 39 yards and a touchdown. Lewis had 16 carries for 119 yards and a touchdown. White had 2 carries for 50 yards and a touchdown. Junior Jacob Schreck and senior Ty Wilson each had 3 tackles to lead the UCHS defense.

•••

UCHS will host North Greene (0-2) on Friday, Aug. 31, for the first Region 1-3A game of the season at Gentry Stadium in Erwin. The Blue Devils defeated the Huskies, 43-0, last season in Greene County; however, Rice does not expect an easy contest this week.

“They have a lot more kids out than they did last year and a new coach,” Rice said of the Huskies. “They do some good things on film. This is our first region game of the year, so we have to have an even greater focus this week to ensure we take care of business.”

Rice asked that the community come out and support the Blue Devils.

“I would just like to encourage the community to come watch these young men play Friday night at Gentry Stadium,” he added. “They have worked unbelievably hard to get to this point. The Relay For Life is also having some events before and after our game this Friday, so we would like to get as many people there as possible.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Blue Devils battle Rebels, Mother Nature in opener

Kody Lewis finds a gap in the South Greene defense. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team had to battle two opponents in their first game of the season – the South Greene Rebels and Mother Nature. In the first quarter, the Rebels gave the Blue Devils problems. Then in the second quarter, Mother Nature took control of the game, forcing a delay of almost two hours before play could resume.

Before the lightning and rain came, South Greene took the first possession of the game into the end zone for a 6-0 lead when Levi Myers rushed from 1 yard out. The Blue Devils then got nowhere on their first possession of the game and had to punt. The Rebels then scored again on a 2-yard run by Nick Hopson for a 12-0 lead.

Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice said first-game jitters got the best of his team early in the contest.

“I think a lot of it was first-game nerves,” he said. “There’s such a build up to that first one. We start talking about it as soon as spring practice is over, and then once it’s here, it can be almost an overwhelming feeling.”

UCHS got on the scoreboard when quarterback Brock Thompson hit Kody Lewis for a 48-yard touchdown. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt and the Blue Devils had life.

“We talk a lot about always believing we are going to be successful, and I think that game was a good example of our kids taking that to heart,” Rice said. “Even when we got down 12-0, I don’t think any of them thought we were going to lose. It says a lot about their determination and resolve.”

The Blue Devils then took the lead for good when Thompson hit Peyton Whitson from 26 yards out. Porras again converted the point-after attempt and UCHS held a 14-12 lead.

Then, Mother Nature took control of the game. Lightning was spotted and the field and bleachers were cleared just as a downpour began. Coaches, players and fans had to wait out the weather delay and a power outage before play resumed around 9:45 p.m.

“It was nerve-wracking because there were so many variables, the lightning, the rain and then the power going out,” Rice said. “Then our worry went to getting warmed back up after having to sit so long and regaining the momentum we gained right before the storm started. We just told them they had to stay ready and that when we went back out, that we would have to get it going again.”

When play resumed, UCHS added to the lead, this time on a 7-yard touchdown run by Lewis. Porras did his job again and the Blue Devils led 21-12. South Greene stayed in the game with a 48-yard touchdown run by Caleb Parkins. The team’s two-point conversion failed and UCHS went into the third quarter with a 21-18 lead.

In the third quarter, it appeared the Blue Devils had taken control of the game again when Lewis scored on a 40-yard touchdown run, followed by a successful Porras kick. But, again the Rebels responded. This time, Tristan Biddy took a kickoff return 70 yards for a touchdown. UCHS led 28-24 at the end of the quarter.

In the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils built a two-touchdown cushion thanks to Lewis’ fourth score of the game and a 2-yard run by Noah White. UCHS led 42-24 until the Rebels scored the final touchdown of the game. The Blue Devils won, 42-32.

“I thought we fought through some things, both on the field and with the delay, that showed what our kids are made of,” Rice said. “We had some guys who really laid it all on the line and the final result showed that.”

There was a lot that the head coach liked on Friday.

“The positives were that we survived all of those circumstances, and still came out with a win,” Rice said. “We took care of the football, as we had zero turnovers. We had a lot of success running the football, which is something that we want to be able to hang our hats on. The slow start would be the only big negative that I would point out. We have some small things we have to correct, but overall I am pleased with where we are heading into Week 2.”

The Blue Devils had 331 total yards of offense – 84 passing and 247 on the ground. Thompson was 4-9 for 84 yards and 2 touchdowns. Lewis had 4 touchdowns, 3 of which were rushing touchdowns. He also had 161 yards on 19 carries and 1 catch for 48 yards.

Brett Strother had 12 carries for 64 yards. Whitson had 1 catch for 26 yards and a touchdown. White had 4 carries for 19 yards and a touchdown. Porras was 6-6 on point-after attempts.

White and Strother led the Blue Devil defense with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively. Jacob Schreck and Tanner VanHoy each had 8 tackles. Roby Lemmon and Lewis each had 7. LJ. Mitchell and Danny Lowery had 6 tackles each.

The Blue Devils will travel to Sullivan East for a non-conference game on Friday, Aug. 24, at 7:30 p.m.

“They are a 4A football team that is huge up front,” Rice said of the Patriots. “They are good at what they do. We are going to have to play fast and play our assignments to counter all their size.”

Fifteen starters return for Blue Devil football team

The Unicoi County High School football team will open the 2018 season at Gentry Stadium against South Greene on Friday, Aug. 17. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

An athletic and experienced team will take the field for Unicoi County High School this football season.

“I just think we have a lot more experience,” head coach Drew Rice recently told The Erwin Record. “Last year we returned four starters from that 2016 team. This year, we return 15 starters. So that hopefully should be a big difference for us. Also, I know we are a much stronger football team. Our strength numbers have gone up significantly. Coach (Mark) Peterson has done a great job getting these guys ready.”

After starting the 2017 season winning only one of their first four games, the Blue Devils rallied to win four of its last six games, finishing the regular season with a 5-5 record overall and third place in Region 1 of Class 3A. The team qualified for the playoffs with a 3-2 league record where they lost to Austin-East and finished with a 5-6 overall record. Rice said the 2017 season was a learning experience, not just for the players, but for the coaching staff.

“I think I learned just as much on what not to do, as what to do,” he said. “I think last year, especially those first two games, the staff and myself learned that we have to make sure we are putting our kids in the best possible positions to be successful. I go back and watch the South Greene and Sullivan East games probably once a month, and just think how in the world did we think that was going to work. I think all coaches do this and probably beat themselves up more than they should, because hindsight is always 20/20. As the year went on though, I think we found our groove and really played some good football for the next six games or so.

“My hope is our guys learned how to overcome some adversity and that they can count on one another,” Rice continued. “We also had a whole lot of guys who played a lot of football last year who are back this year and that experience they gained is hopefully very valuable.”

Since the end of the 2017 season, Rice said his team has focused on getting stronger.

“We have made an unbelievable commitment to our strength and conditioning program,” he added. “We go five days a week year around, minus about six weeks between the end of the season and the beginning of our offseason program. Our focus has been to become the strongest, fastest, and most explosive football team we can be. We have had some guys really make some great strides with their bodies.”

Rice said the coaching staff has also made changes to how the Blue Devils will play this season.

“We have tried to simplify somethings offensively and defensively that we want to do, so our guys can hopefully just go out there and let their athletic abilities take over and just play,” he said.

The speed of several Blue Devils will be a real asset for the 2018 team.

“We think our speed is really a strong suit for us,” Rice said. “Kody Lewis, Brett Strother and Noah White are as fast as any kids we have had here in the last 10 years or more. They all are a weapon for us with the ball in their hands; we are just going to have to find a way to ensure they all get enough touches every Friday.”

The team also has threats on the other side of the ball, according to the head coach.

“Our defensive line is going to cause a lot of people trouble as well,” Rice said. “Shane Armstrong, Drew Williams, Austin O’Dell, Danny Lowery and LJ Mitchell have all had great summers and we believe they are going to be a tough draw for the teams we play.”

Senior Brett Strother, the 2017 Region 1-3A Offensive Player of the Year, is expected to make plays all over the field again this season. Strother will play wide receiver, running back, quarterback, linebacker, safety and will return kicks.

“Brett has a chance to score anytime he touches the ball,” Rice said.

Lewis, a junior, was the team’s leading rusher in 2017.

“He has unbelievable straight-line speed,” Rice said. “He has put on some weight and we really think he is primed to have a huge year for us. He will play running back and safety. He gives us a home run threat offensively and should be able to run down about any play from the defensive side.”

White will play running back, receiver and linebacker in his senior season.

“Noah may very well be our most valuable player considering all he does for us,” Rice said. “He has gained about 25 pounds since last season. He is a very tough kid that cares a whole lot about this football program and it being successful. He is everything you could ask for in a football player.”

Armstrong, another senior, has started for the Blue Devils since his sophomore season.

“If we can keep him healthy, he will be a nightmare for other teams to block,” Rice said. He has been a kid who has lived in the weight room the last two years. He has a nose for the football and plays with great leverage. He will play defensive line, running back and will also be our punter. He brings a lot of experience and toughness to our football team.”

Unlike most players his age, sophomore quarterback Brock Thompson comes into the 2018 season with a year of experience under his belt.

“I think the experience Brock got last season is extremely valuable,” Rice said. “Although he is just a sophomore, he has the experience of a junior or senior already. Not to mention, the success he has had at his position; it’s just tremendous. He threw for 1,200 yards in just 9 games last year. He is a special talent and we are very blessed to have him for the next three years.”

Rice said he expects the 2018 Blue Devils to not only qualify for the playoffs, but to do more.

“We have set some high expectations for ourselves,” he said. Our goal is to win a region championship. We feel like if we can stay healthy, and continue to get better as the season goes on, that we will be playing in October for a championship. Making the playoffs is now an expectation for us. If we can make that happen again this year, these seniors will have gone to the playoffs all four years of their careers which hasn’t happened in over 30 years here.”

UCHS will again play in Region 1 of Class 3A against Chuckey-Doak, Claiborne, Johnson County, North Greene and West Greene.

The 2018 campaign will begin on Friday, Aug. 17, when the Blue Devils host South Greene at Gentry Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

Joining Rice on the coaching staff this season are assistants Malcolm Foreman, Jason Hensley, Brandon Adams, Mark Peterson, Jordan Cooper, Devin Whitehead, Trevor Berry and Eli Barnwell.

“These kids, our coaching staff, and our Gridiron Club have worked tirelessly to create a program that our entire community can be proud of,” Rice said. “We spend a lot of time talking to our guys about how they are viewed as a football player first, and everything else second. We try to hold each other accountable for everything we do with that in mind.

“I would just like to encourage everyone to come and support these young men who have given a whole heck of a lot of themselves, for something that’s much bigger than them,” Rice continued. “Our hope is to put a product on the field every Friday night that is worth the community’s time, but more importantly to be something they can be proud of.”

The remaining 2018 schedule is as follows (* denotes region game):

• Aug. 24, at Sullivan East

• Aug. 31, vs North Greene*

• Sept. 7 at Happy Valley

• Sept. 14 at Claiborne*

• Sept. 21 vs Sullivan Central

• Sept. 28 vs Chuckey-Doak*

• Oct. 5 at Unaka

• Oct. 12 at West Greene*

• Oct. 19 Bye Week

• Oct. 26 vs Johnson County*

Volleyball coach hopes to see team ‘finishing the win’

The players on the 2018 UCHS Lady Devil volleyball varsity team include, pictured from left, back row, assistant coach Laura Rogers, Hallee Casey, Gabby Davis, Shelby Miller, Ashtan Vance, Blake Hall and head coach LeAnn Lane; front row, Karrie Clayton, Sarah Grace Larkey, Brooklyn Jones, Emma Kelly, Chloe Powers and Sydney Rogers. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2017 Unicoi County High School volleyball team was competitive, but this didn’t always translate to victories. Head coach LeAnn Lane believes her 2018 team has what it takes to turn those losses into wins.

“Last year we finished in fifth place out of six teams in the conference with a record of 2-8,” Lane, who is entering her third season leading the program, recently said. “However, our record did not show our competitiveness. Last season we took Elizabethton – the second place finisher – to four and five games, which had not been done in the past. We also took one game from (Sullivan) South, who was undefeated last season – another feat that had not been accomplished. Overall, we lost 20 games within a 5-point margin, which shows we were competitive, but struggled with finishing the win. That’s what we hope to accomplish this year – finishing the win.”

Coming together as a team was a focus of this preseason, according to the head coach.

“During the preseason, we have worked a lot on team play,” Lane said. “We participated in the Coastal Carolina Team Camp, which was very beneficial, not only for team bonding but to find out what lineup is going to work best for this season.”

Eleven players make up the 2018 varsity squad, including: seniors – Karrie Clayton, Brooklyn Jones, Emma Kelly, Sarah Grace Larkey, Chloe Powers and Sydney Rogers; juniors – Hallee Casey, Gabby Davis, Blake Hall and Ashtan Vance; and freshman Shelby Miller.

Lane said that out of these 11 players, eight return with experience.

“That gives us great confidence for a bright season,” Lane said.

Jones and Rogers were sidelined for much of the 2017 season due to injuries.

“They have put in a lot of off-season work to return strong this season,” Lane said. “Jones, who finished her sophomore year receiving all-tournament team at the district tournament is expected to play big at the net, while Rogers has showed much improvement as a defensive specialist.”

Clayton and Kelly will play double duty on the outside and right. Larkey will be relied on, along with Hall, a 2-year starter, at the “reigns” of the team, according to Lane.

“Larkey, the leading hitter on last season’s team has gained quickness in the offseason and looks to be a threat both as a setter and a hitter,” the head coach added.

Powers had more than 300 digs last season, including 30 in the district tournament.

“Powers will be given the Libero position this season with expectations of collecting double the digs from last season,” Lane said.

Vance is another returning starter from last season.

“Vance peaked at the end of last season and showed her potential with a double-double in kills and digs in the district game against Elizabethton,” Lane said.

Casey plays as a setter, while Davis is both a setter and defensive specialist. 

Miller is a newcomer to the team and to Unicoi County.

“Miller, whose family returned to Erwin after living in Alabama for years, fills a much needed open position left from one of last season’s seniors and has quickly matched the skills of the seasoned players,” Lane said. “Of the six seniors, four are looking to play at the next level, while freshman Miller is already gathering the attention of college coaches.”

Lane said she believes this squad has what it takes to be one of the top teams in the conference.

“Each year, I’ve set that expectation that reaching the top three in the conference is possible,” she added. “I highly believe that more than ever this season. Every single game is important this season in order to get there. I believe our girls have the confidence needed to win this season; especially after being so competitive last season and just falling short. I feel they also see how well rounded the team is and how each girl has a special role to play. I’m hoping to work on mental toughness during the preseason play and work out kinks for us to finish the win this season.”

The Lady Devils will compete in a conference with Chuckey-Doak, Elizabethton, Johnson County, Sullivan Central, Sullivan East and Sullivan South.

Fourteen players will play on the junior varsity and freshman team. This Lady Devil squad includes: sophomores – Dora Benton, Ashley Clayton and Natilee Clouse; and freshmen – Emalee Benard, Emily Bryant, Makenzie Casey, Bayleigh Hyder, Bridget Michelsen, Amanda Miller, Rocio Reynoso, Hannah Shelton, Savannah Sparks, Raquel Torres, Caitlin Wilson and Alex Withers.

Laura Rogers will serve as an assistant coach for the program.

• • •

The Lady Devils opened the 2018 season on Aug. 13 at home against Greeneville. They also hosted Johnson County on Aug. 14 after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue.

The team is scheduled to travel to Chuckey-Doak on Thursday, Aug. 16. The varsity squad will compete in a tournament at Elizabethton on Saturday, Aug. 18. The Lady Devils will host Volunteer on Monday, Aug. 20, and Sullivan South on Tuesday, Aug. 21, with matches scheduled to begin at 4:30 p.m.

Soccer coach hopes UCHS program continues to grow

The 2018 UCHS Lady Devil soccer team includes, pictured from left, back row, head coach Bettina Chirica, Carly Kinsler, Katherine Altemose, Gisele Llamas, Juana Ponce, Isabelle Reynoso, Chelsea Kinil, Iliana Martinez-Lopez, Halie Hawkins, Kaylee Lamb and assistant coach Victor Chirica; front row, Spencer Garant, Zayra Andrade, Valeria Ponce, Maria Cedillo, Adilene Luquin, Leshli Lopez, Maria Cedillo and Rachel Altemose; not pictured, Lana Deshner, Clarita Ozuna and Bernice Luquin. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

In its first three years in existence, the Unicoi County High School girls soccer team saw more success than the season before – and that tradition is on the verge of continuing in 2018.

“Overall we are starting to settle in as a program and become established,” head coach Bettina Chirica said. “Last year we won some important games, so this year we have to continue working hard and keep improving.”

The Lady Devils finished with a 4-10 record in 2017. Their season came to an end with a loss to Sullivan South in the first round of the District 1-AA tournament. Of their four wins last season, two are very memorable for their head coach.

“Two key games that stood out to me were when we beat (David) Crockett on their senior night and won against Sullivan South on our senior night,” Chirica said. “In the past, we lost to both Crockett and South – two strong teams. By winning those games it gave us confidence and made us feel like our hard work was finally paying off.”

Having more experienced players on the squad allowed Chirica to go beyond teaching the basics of the game to the team.

“This preseason we have been working on fitness and playing in small-sided games,” she said. “This year we dived right into game-like scenarios focusing on tactical play.”

There will be a key factor that will give the Lady Devils an edge this season, according to their head coach.

“Our strength will be team unity,” Chirica said. “Our girls connect with each other off the field and that resonates onto the pitch as well. They communicate well and find each other for passes. I expect the girls to show leadership in their community and in the school setting. Playing on the soccer team is a privilege, and they are held to a high standard on and off the field.”

Leading the charge for the Lady Devils will be senior goalie Carly Kinsler, senior midfielder Spencer Garant, senior forward Juana Ponce, sophomore Lana Deshner, senior Halie Hawkins, senior Andrea Lopez and junior Chelsea Kinil.

UCHS will compete in a conference against Sullivan South, Elizabethton, Sullivan Central, Greeneville and Volunteer in 2018. The season began on Tuesday, Aug. 14, at Elizabethton in a game that will not count in the league standings. They will travel to West Greene for a game on Thursday, Aug. 16, at 6 p.m.

The Lady Devils will host Greeneville on Tuesday, Aug. 21, at 6 p.m. in conference action. Being able to again play home matches is a blessing for Chirica and her squad.

“We are so thankful to have a home field to be able to play,” she said. “This year’s senior group of girls know the struggles and obstacles that were faced in the past of always having to travel. Because of the adversity from the past, it has made us appreciate what our community and school system have graciously provided for us. Although the concept of having a home field might seem trivial to some, for us it represents a place we can call our own, and we are very thankful for that.”

Also competing on the 2018 Lady Devil soccer team are: seniors – Clarita Ozuna and Katherine Altemose; juniors – Kaylee Lamb, Isabella Reynoso, Gisele Llamas, Zayra Andrade and Bernice Luquin; and sophomores – Leshli Lopez, Adilene Luquin, Maria Cedillo, Valeria Ponce, Rachel Altemose and Iliana Martinez-Lopez.

Victor Chirica will again serve as an assistant coach for the program.