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.

Blue Devil football team defeats Happy Valley

Kody Lewis rushes for a few of his 188 yards against Happy Valley at Gentry Stadium on Friday, Sept. 13. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

After struggling in the first two weeks of the season, the Unicoi County High School football team is back on track.

On Friday, Sept. 13, the Blue Devils (2-2, 1-0) dominated Happy Valley (3-1) in a victory at Gentry Stadium. It was the program’s first win over the Warriors since 2013 and the second consecutive victory for UCHS in as many weeks.

“It was a great win,” Rice said. “Not just because we were 1-2 or they were 3-0, but because of how our guys played. They played inspired for four quarters. It was great to see them play like we know they are capable of.”

The Blue Devils were slow coming out of the gate last week – committing two turnovers on their first two possessions. Luckily, the UCHS defense rose to the occasion and erased the mistakes of the offense.

“They both were fluke plays,” Rice said of the turnovers. “You watch the film and we drop an easy pass and the ball gets knocked loose on the play-action. Sometimes you have things like that happen to you. I was very proud of how we responded to those – our defense came right out and got two huge stops after each of those. Football a lot of times is less about what actually happens and more about how you respond to it.”

The Blue Devils put together their first scoring drive of the game late in the first quarter and continuing in the second quarter. Starting on their own 4-yard-line, it took 13 plays for UCHS to find the end zone, which they did on a run by senior Kody Lewis. Miquel Vasquez then converted the point-after attempt (PAT) for a 7-0 UCHS lead with 11:49 to play in the first half.

Essential to the first scoring drive, as it was to the entire game, was the Blue Devils’ ability to successfully run the ball against the Warriors.

“Running the football and stopping the run on defense is how you win games,” Rice said. “Friday night was a great example of that. Our offensive linemen really did a great job of getting a push and our backs had all kinds of room to get into space.”

The Blue Devils then held Happy Valley scoreless on two possessions. The next UCHS scoring drive began late in the second quarter at their own 47-yard-line. The Blue Devils marched down the field thanks to successful carries by both Lewis and senior Diego Diaz.

“It was great to see so many guys have success running the ball, especially Diego,” Rice said. “He is a senior who shows up to work every single day and never complains; that’s the kind of young man I want to coach.”

Lewis found his way into the end zone with 16 seconds to play in the first half. Vasquez again converted the PAT and UCHS held a 14-0 lead at the break.

Both the Blue Devils and the Warriors were unsuccessful on their first possessions of the second half. However, UCHS took control of the game in the third quarter. Diaz scored on a 26-yard run, then on the next Blue Devil possession, Tracy Vanover recovered the ball in the end zone for another score.

UCHS held a 28-0 lead after three quarters.

The final Blue Devil score of the game culminated with a touchdown carry by quarterback Brock Thompson after an 11 play, 80-yard UCHS drive.

As he had been the previous week at North Greene, Vasquez was perfect on PATs. His steadiness will be important for UCHS as the season progresses, according to Rice.

“He has done a tremendous job,” Rice said of Vasquez. “Caleb Swinehart and Tanner VanHoy have done a tremendous job as well, snapping and holding. There are a lot of moving parts to the kicking game, that’s why a lot of high school teams struggle with it. Coach (Brandon) Adams (the UCHS special teams coordinator) does a fantastic job with all of our special teams.”

The Blue Devils won the game, 35-0.

Rice said he was proud of the play of his defense.

“I feel like it was a collective effort,” he added. “It very well may be the best defensive effort we have had in my three years as a head coach. That’s a credit to our kids and defensive staff’s preparation. Coach (Jason) Hensley and our defensive coaches had a great game plan going in.”

For their head coach, it was how the team approached Friday’s game that made the difference.

“The mindset of our guys and their approach to the game was important,” Rice said. “They were locked in all week and went out Friday and executed at a very high level. If we can play like that each week, we will be a tough team to beat.”

Success at North Greene the previous week aided in the win over Happy Valley. 

“Winning produces winning,” Rice said. “I think it becomes a habit. I think we are at a point now in our program, even including those first two games, where our guys expect to win. That’s really important. Hopefully, we can build off of the momentum we have created.”

The Blue Devils had 453 total yards of offense against the Warriors. Of that total, 403 were on the ground. Lewis had 19 carries for 188 yards and 2 touchdowns. Diaz had 21 carries for 186 yards and 1 touchdown. Isaiah Smith had 5 carries for 25 yards. Thompson had 4 carries and 1 touchdown. He also completed 3 passes for 50 yards. Peyton Whitson had 2 catches for 40 yards. Tanner VanHoy had 1 catch for 10 yards.

On defense, the Blue Devils held Happy Valley to 65 total yards. Roby Lemmon led the Blue Devils with 8 tackles. Lane Garland had 5 tackles. Thompson, L.J. Mitchell, VanHoy and Robbie O’Dell had 3 tackles each.

• • •

The Blue Devils will return to Region 1-AAA play on Friday, Sept. 20, when they host the Claiborne Bulldogs (2-2, 0-1).

“They are always tough,” Rice said of Claiborne. “They are 2-2, so they have had some success just like us. We will have to have another good week of preparation and we will have to be sound defensively. It’s a region game, so it’s extremely important.”

UCHS will also celebrate a special annual event this week.

“This week is Homecoming, so we would like to encourage and welcome everyone to come and support these young men on Friday night at 7:30 p.m. at Gentry Stadium,” Rice said.

Lady Devil volleyball team battling injuries

Savannah Sparks completes a dig during a recent Unicoi County High School volleyball match. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School volleyball team added a win – and a loss – to its league record last week.

“We have been plagued with injuries this season,” head coach Shelley Swinehart told The Erwin Record. “It seems every match we play someone has gotten hurt. Right now our focus going forward is to get healthy and stay healthy.”

Playing at home on Tuesday, Sept. 10, the Lady Devils (6-4, 3-4) lost to Sullivan South in three sets (17-25, 23-25, 7-25). Two days later, the Lady Devils defeated Chuckey-Doak in Erwin in three sets (25-12, 25-20, 25-13).

“Our second half of conference play started last Thursday with Chuckey-Doak, so we are also focused on getting some wins against teams we played tough in the first half of the season,” Swinehart said. “The girls continue to work hard and play tough every match. They are resilient and strong. Our seniors continue to show leadership on the court and our sophomores and freshman continue to play strong despite their youth and always facing more experienced players.”

• • •

The Lady Devils hosted Happy Valley on Monday, Sept. 16, and faced KACHEA on the road on Tuesday, Sept. 17, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline for this issue. They are scheduled to host Elizabethton on Monday, Sept. 23, and travel to Sullivan Central on Tuesday, Sept. 24.

Blue Devil football team earns first victory of 2019 season

Junior Blue Devil wide receiver Evan Huff makes a North Greene defender miss a tackle during the UCHS football team’s victory on Sept. 6. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

It took one play for the Unicoi County High School football team to score and less than one minute before they completely controlled their first Region 1-AAA game of the season.

That dominance lifted the Blue Devils (1-2, 1-0) to a 65-6 victory over the North Greene Huskies (0-3) in Baileyton on Friday, Sept. 6.

“I was pleased with how we played,” UCHS head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “We were able to get the ball to a lot of different people and got everyone on the sideline in at some point, so anytime you can do that, that’s a good thing. I thought we came out and executed well.”

After losing their first two games of the season, Friday’s victory was an important won for the Blue Devils.

“I think we saw what we are capable of being,” Rice said. “We just have to continue to improve each week, and good things will happen. (The win is) everything. We know our non-region schedule is tough, so to take care of business in our region is what we must do. I am proud of how our guys approached it.”

The Blue Devils started their first drive against the Huskies at midfield. On first down, quarterback Brock Thompson hit Evan Huff for a 51-yard touchdown return. Miquel Vasquez then converted the point-after attempt (PAT) for a 7-0 UCHS lead.

The UCHS defense then pinned North Greene deep in their own territory, allowing Zhante Breedlove to recover a fumble in the end zone for a touchdown. Vasquez was converted another PAT and the Blue Devils led 14-0 with just over one minute gone in the first quarter.

“I thought our entire defense played really well,” Rice said. “Zhante played like we know he is capable of. He is a big physical kid with a great motor, so we need more of that out of him each week.”

Next, the Blue Devil defense again pushed North Greene deep in the Huskies’ territory – and again took advantage. This time, L.J. Mitchell forced a safety with a tackle in the end zone, giving UCHS a 16-0 lead with 9:55 to play in the first quarter.

“Our guys showed up, went out and executed,” Rice said. “We did a good job of executing our game plans on both sides of the ball.”

The Blue Devils scored two more touchdowns in the first quarter – a 42-yard run by Thompson and a 10-yard run by Kody Lewis. Vasquez converted both PATs and UCHS held a 30-0 lead at the end of the first quarter and never looked back. UCHS lead 51-6 at halftime and 58-6 before scoring another touchdown in the fourth quarter for the 65-6 final.

The lead allowed Rice to play everyone on his bench.

“I thought they played great,” he said of his less experienced players. “We didn’t play hardly any starters in the entire second half so our young guys got some great work. We know we have some really talented young guys, so their development throughout the season is a very high priority for us.”

The Blue Devil offense had its best game of the season so far – amassing 393 total yards, including 218 passing yards by Thompson. The junior quarterback completed 8-11 passes, for 3 touchdowns; he also had 2 carries for 34 yards and 1 touchdown.

“Going in we wanted to get our offense and Brock going,” Rice said. “So hopefully, we can continue that momentum going into Happy Valley this week. We have to play our correct techniques and carry out our assignments.”

Huff had 4 catches for 96 yards and 1 touchdown. Tanner VanHoy had 1 catch for 70 yards and a touchdown. Peyton Whitson had 2 catches for 45 yards and a touchdown. Tracy Vanover had 1 catch for 8 yards. Vasquez was a perfect 9-9 on PATs.

The Blue Devil offense also had 175 yards on the ground. Nehemiah Edwards had 7 carries for 46 yards and 1 touchdown. Lewis had 4 carries for 39 yards and 1 touchdown. Charles Hopson had 3 carries for 19 yards. Robbie O’Dell had 2 carries for 15 yards and 1 touchdown. Diego Diaz had 3 carries for 14 yards and 1 touchdown. Caleb Pelaez had 2 carries for 8 yards.

Gabe Tipton had 5 tackles and 1 sack for the UCHS defense. Roby Lemmon had 4 tackles and 1 sack. Isaiah Smith, Breedlove, Edwards, Dylan Adams and Mitchell each had 1 sack in the game.

• • •

The Blue Devils will face rival Happy Valley in non-region play on Friday, Sept. 13, at Gentry Stadium in Erwin.

“They are 3-0 and are a very good football team,” Rice said of the Warriors. “We are going to have to put together a complete football game Friday night. We have to take care of the football and play our assignments on defense.”

Getting their first non-league win is important to the team, according to the head coach.

“It would be huge,” Rice said of a win over Happy Valley. “It’s not a region game, but it is a rivalry game, and that’s the important thing this week. We have to have a great week of practice and we hope everyone comes out and supports these guys because they deserve it.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.

For more photos of the 2019 UCHS football team, visit The Erwin Record’s online photo store.

Blue Devil football team drops to 0-2 on season

Blue Devil Matthew Sellars had his eyes set for the end zone after intercepting a pass during the Unicoi County High School football team’s loss to Hampton at Gentry Stadium. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Almost 400 rushing yards drove the Hampton Bulldogs (1-1) to a 32-13 victory over the Unicoi County High School football team on Friday, Aug. 30, at Gentry Stadium.

“It was disappointing for sure,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice said of the loss. “We just couldn’t get off the field defensively. Our guys never quit though, and I am proud of them for that.”

The defeat dropped UCHS to 0-2 on the season.

“We just have to put this one behind us, and get back to work,” Rice said. “We start region play this week, so this game this week is a must-win.”

The game started off on a bright note for the Blue Devils as senior Kody Lewis raced away from the Bulldogs for a touchdown – and a 6-0 UCHS lead – on the first possession of the game.

After being kept out of the end zone and held mostly in check the previous week at South Greene, Rice and the Blue Devil offense created more opportunities for Lewis against Hampton – and he took advantage.

“We made it a priority to get him going,” Rice said of Lewis. “We still have to do a better job of getting him the ball, but yes, it was much better than the week before. He is a special talent. We are better when he is rolling; there’s no question about that.”

Hampton then tied the game on a 19-play, 65-yard drive doing what they do so well – run the football.

“That’s what they do,” Rice said. “They are a top 10 team in the state year in and year out, and to be successful you have to be able to consistently run the football. Our size on the line has really hurt us these first two games, but we have to own that and continue to improve.”

The UCHS defense forced a fourth down halfway through the drive, but could not get off the field.

“We had a play on each of their scoring drives in the first half that could have gotten us off the field,” Rice said. “When you watch the film and you see fourth and 3 and they convert it on a busted assignment, and then third and 12, and they complete a pass in double coverage for 13 yards – it’s tough to swallow.”

The Bulldogs stalled the next UCHS drive, then blocked a punt to get the ball back on the Blue Devils’ 33-yard line. On first down, junior Blue Devil defensive back intercepted a pass in the red zone and gave UCHS the ball back, but UCHS was forced to punt again.

Hampton found the end zone again on their next possession, going 70 yards on 10 plays. A successful two-point conversion put the Bulldogs up, 14-6. After forcing the Blue Devils to punt again, Hampton scored again, this time going 79 yards on 10 plays, with less than a minute to play before halftime.

In the second half, the teams traded turnovers before Hampton scored again and took a 26-6 lead early in the fourth quarter. In typical Blue Devil fashion, however, Rice’s team kept fighting to get the win.

On the ensuing kickoff, Lewis took the ball 91 yards for a touchdown that gave life to his team and the Blue Devil faithful at Gentry Stadium. The UCHS defense then held their ground against the Bulldogs and forced a punt.

“I think it says a lot about them,” Rice said of his team’s efforts late in the game. “I told them after the game I was extremely proud of how they kept fighting. It’s a compliment to them and shows how invested they are in what we are trying to do.”

The Blue Devils took possession around mid-field and put together one of their best drives of the night and marched into the red zone. Lewis found the end zone again, however, the score was called back on a substitution penalty. This stalled the drive – and any hopes of a comeback for the Blue Devils.

“It was huge,” Rice said of the penalty. “The officials never came and told us who had to come out, so we took out the player who we thought they called the timeout for, but turns out they both were supposed to come out. I’ve never seen that happen in all of my life being around football, but it’s nobody’s fault but mine. We scored there and that would have made it 20-26 with 6 minutes left and us with all the momentum, who knows what may have happened. We talk about how every single detail matters, and that’s a great example of that.”

Hampton scored on the final possession of the game for the final score of 32-13.

UCHS had 168 yards of total offense – 67 in the air and 101 on the ground. Hampton had 453 total yards – 55 passing and 398 rushing.

Lewis had 95 rushing yards and the 2 touchdowns. Quarterback Brock Thompson was 8-15 for 67 yards. Evan Huff had 12 yards on 1 carry. Tannery VanHoy had 35 yards on 2 catches. Peyton Whitson had 22 yards on 1 catch. L.J. Mitchell had 14 yards on 1 catch.

Lewis had 12 tackles to lead the UCHS defense. Lane Garland and Roby Lemmon each had 7 tackles. Mitchell had 6 and Robbie O’Dell had 4.

• • •

The Blue Devils will play their first Region 1-AAA game when they travel to North Greene to face the Huskies on Friday, Sept. 6.

“We have to be ready,” Rice said. “They are 1-1, so they have won more football games than we have so far. We have to have a great week of practice this week and get things rolling.”

A victory on Friday is needed, according to Rice.

“It’s everything right now,” he said. “We are 0-2, and we certainly aren’t happy with that. But both the teams we have lost to are either ranked in the top 10 in the state, or receiving votes for the top 10. So we have to keep in mind that it’s a long season and all of our goals are still very much right in front of us. Accomplishing those goals begins this Friday night.”

Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.

UCMS cross country teams begin season

The 2019 Unicoi County Middle School cross country team includes, pictured from left, back row, coach Lydia Hilliard, coach Kelly Whaley, Johnny Tipton, Luke Capps, Kade Lemmon, Ethan Falkenstein, Andrew Hill, Bryan Villalobos and Alex White; middle row, Brayden Phillips, Gabriel King, Adrienne Arnold, Austin Falk, Emilio Soto, Victor Luquin, Jose Lopez, Connor Tipton, Humberto Mendoza, Matthew Rogers and Keilet Rodriquez; front row, Michelle Murphy, Danielle Bryant, Autumn Cooper, Mary Pendleton, Quartnee Baker, Chloe Fletcher, Danika Hendricks, Abigail Vidrio, Mikayla Beard and Karrah Dean; not pictured, Samuel Cox and John Tolley. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

Coach Lydia Hilliard has high hopes for the 2019 Unicoi County Middle School cross country season.

“We have runners from last season that have been running on their own and are ready and eager for a successful season,” Hilliard told The Erwin Record. “We also welcome coach Kelly Whaley to our cross country teams.”

There are 20 Jr. Blue Devils and 10 Jr. Lady Devils racing for UCMS this season.

“Coach Whaley and I expect each runner to work hard all season, set goals, continue to improve, decrease running time and, of course, enjoy the experience,” Hilliard said.

Experienced runners, including Keilet Rodriguez who qualified for the TMSAA Cross Country State Championships last season, are leading the way for the Jr. Blue Devils.

“Returning runners Keilet Rodriguez, Luke Capps, Kade Lemmon and Victor Luquin have been running strong for the boys’ team and new runners Gabriel King and Brayden Phillips are showing great potential.”

Sixth grader runners Danika Hendricks and Abigail Vidrio have been lead runners for the girls’ team, according to Hilliard.

• • •

The UCMS runners competed in their first meet of the season on Aug. 24 at the Run for the Hills held in Bristol. Two-hundred runners, representing 14 teams, competed on the Run for the Hills’ 1.5-mile course.

The Jr. Lady Devils turned in a team score of 287 thanks to the following individual results: Hendriks in 29th place with a time of 11:46; Vidrio in 40th place with a time of 12:19; Mary Pendleton in 60th pace with a time of 13:35; Mikayla Beard in 76th place with a time of 14:36; and Danielle Bryant in 82nd place with a time of 15:50.

In the boys’ race, 260 runners, representing 17 teams competed in the Run for the Hills. The Jr. Blue Devils turned in a team score of 237. Individual results included: Capps in 22nd place with a time of 10:11; Rodriguez in 28th place with a time of 10:18; Lemmon in 58th place with a time of 11:14; VLuquin in 64th pace with a time of 11:25; and Phillips in 65th place with a time of 11:29.

At the Terry Hull Crawford Classic in Greeneville on Thursday, Aug. 29, the UCMS teams raced on a 2-mile course.

The Jr. Lady Devils competed in a field of 240 runners, representing 19 teams and posted a team score of 354. Individual performances for the team included: Hendricks in 42nd place with a time of 16:35; Vidrio in 53rd place with a time of 17:00; Pendleton in 72nd place in a time of 18:21; Michelle Murphy in 92nd place with a time of 20:54; and Beard in 95th place with a time of 21:17.

The Jr. Blue Devils competed in a field of 307 runners, representing 22 teams and finished with a team score of 248. Rodriguez placed 18th with a time of 13:36; Capps placed 22nd with a time of 13:49; Lemmon placed 62 with a time of 15:27; Luquin placed 66th with a time of 15:39; and King placed 80th with a time of 16:06.

The next meet for the UCMS runners is the Warriors Invitational in Kingsport on Thursday, Sept. 5.

South Greene Rebels best UCHS Blue Devils in season opener

Blue Devil senior L.J. Mitchell avoids a tackle after catching a pass during the UCHS football team’s 28-7 loss at South Greene in the first week of the 2019 season. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The start of the 2019 season didn’t go as well as the Blue Devils had hoped.

Playing in Greene County on Friday, Aug. 23, the Unicoi County High School football team (0-1) ran into a physical South Greene Rebel squad (1-0) and lost 28-7.

“It was disappointing, to say the least,” UCHS head coach Drew Rice said. “We felt like we were prepared going in, and we just got wore out up front on both sides of the ball. We have to do a better job of playing our assignments on both sides of the ball. Our guys never quit though, and I am proud of them for that.”

A physical front line on both offense and defense gave the Rebels an edge throughout the game. However, the Blue Devils didn’t back down from the fight.

“The difference in the game was definitely up front,” Rice said. “To South Greene’s credit, they are a really good football team with a really good quarterback and tremendous offensive and defensive lines. I feel like that was definitely the difference in the game. … They were definitely big and physical; it’s probably the biggest and most physical line we will see until the playoffs. With that being said, I don’t think our guys backed down from it, they fought all night. I do think the way they dominated the line of scrimmage was the difference in the game, though.

South Greene took a 6-0 lead early in the second quarter, doing what they did with dominance the entire night – run the football.

“They run a tough offense to defend, and then when you mix that with a four-year starter at quarterback, it’s just really tough to defend,” Rice said. “They are a well-coached football team, too.”

The Rebels took their 6-0 lead into halftime. On their first possession of the second half, they scored again and successfully completed a 2-point conversion for a 14-0 lead.

Things then looked even bleaker for the Blue Devils as South Greene recovered an onside kick to take possession again. But, the UCHS defense rose to the challenge, getting a needed stop and giving possession back to their offense.

The Blue Devils again couldn’t get anything going on offense and were forced to punt. A fumble on the punt, which was recovered by Blue Devil Diego Diaz, gave UCHS possession – and needed momentum – again.

As it happened throughout the game, penalties cost the Blue Devils on that possession and prevented them from putting together a scoring drive.

“The penalties are what absolutely killed us; they came at the worst possible times,” Rice said. “We would get a drive going, and then we would have one or two penalties and it would just kill any bit of momentum we could get.”

South Greene added two more touchdowns in the fourth quarter, taking a 28-0 lead and putting the game out of reach of the Blue Devils. The lone touchdown of the night by UCHS was scored by junior Jordan Bridges on a 58-yard touchdown catch from Robbie O’Dell, the junior backup quarterback.

A key factor in the game was South Greene’s efforts to contain senior Blue Devil running back Kody Lewis. The Rebels held Lewis to 61 yards on 15 carries.

“We have to get him in space and create running lanes for him,” Rice said of Lewis. “His lack of production was not on him; I have to do a better job of getting the ball to him and we have to do a better job of blocking our assignments for him.”

Including the yards gained by Lewis, the Blue Devils offense had only 200 yards, compared to the Rebels’ 370, all but 7 of which were on the ground.

Starting quarterback Brock Thompson was 6-15 for 49 yards for UCHS. O’Dell completed 1 pass for 58 yards and a touchdown. Bridges had the touchdown catch for 58 yards. Senior Peyton Whitson had 3 catches for 24 yards. Senior L.J. Mitchell had 1 catch for 18 yards. Junior Evan Huff had 1 catch for 8 yards.

Despite the disappointing loss, Rice knows his team can bounce back.

“We just have to get back to work,” the head coach said. “We know we have talented guys, and they know how to play. We just have to wash this one off, and go play the way we know we are capable of.”

Things won’t get any easier for the Blue Devils this week as the always tough Hampton Bulldogs come to Gentry Stadium.

“They are a really good football team,” Rice said of Hampton. “I have said all summer that these first two weeks of the season could be two of the best, if not the best, teams on our schedule. So we know we are going to have to be ready. We have a couple of key guys who we are going to have to monitor throughout the week to see if they are going to be able to play or not. If that’s the case, then we are going to have to have some guys step up and make a difference for us.”

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

UCHS won’t have a Region 1-AAA challenge until Friday, Sept. 6, when they travel to North Greene.

Blue Devils ready for another successful season

The Unicoi County High School football team will open the 2019 season on Friday, Aug. 23, at South Greene. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

The 2018 season was one of the most memorable in recent history for the Unicoi County High School football program. In addition to finishing with a 9-3 record, the Blue Devils also hosted and won the school’s first playoff game in decades before being eliminated from the postseason by eventual state champion Alcoa.

“I think the high point of last year was winning the home playoff game,” head coach Drew Rice recently told The Erwin Record. “We hadn’t hosted a playoff game since 1991 and hadn’t won one since 1985. So to have that sort of historical relevance, and it be at home in front of our fans was really special. Finally getting over the five win mark like we had been at for the previous three years was huge too; it was a special year for a lot of people.”

With the 2019 season upon them, the question now is, can the Blue Devils repeat – or even top – the success of last season? To do that, coaches and players will have to take the season one game at a time, according to Rice.

“It’s such a long season, and it’s such a physical and mental grind for both our guys and our coaches … ,” Rice said. “We have always talked about going 1-0 each and every week, but last year was definitely a product of that mindset. I hope our guys truly learned how to win. We had tasted success in the couple years prior, but it was never sustained success. So my hope is that our guys saw and learned what it takes to be successful throughout the course of an entire season. We had tremendous leadership last year from our seniors, so I hope this year’s seniors can model that same type of mentality and approach.”

With 56 players on the roster, including 31 upperclassmen, Rice has high expectations for the 2019 season.

“We have four goals every year – have a winning season, win the region, host a playoff game and advance in the playoffs,” Rice said. “Last year we accomplished three of those four. In order to do that, we have to go 1-0 each and every week. So ultimately we think we can be competitive for the top of our league, but we have to do a lot of proving between now and the end of the season. Last year’s accomplishments, mean absolutely nothing when we kick off the season.”

With that many upperclassmen on the team, the Blue Devils bring an experienced and athletic lineup to the field.

“I think our greatest strength is our depth,” Rice said. “We have 31 upperclassmen and it has really shown in these scrimmages when we put in our second group of guys and there’s really not much of a drop-off. So hopefully, throughout the course of the season that will prove to be a real weapon for us. I also think our team speed is exceptional for a school our size. In our summer testing in June, we had 24 guys under a 5 second 40-yard-dash.”

Aiding the Blue Devils in their quest for a region title and playoff success will be several familiar faces to UCHS fans, including senior running back Kody Lewis. Lewis carried the ball 194 times for 2,025 yards and 24 touchdowns – all without a single fumble – during the 2018 season. His efforts earned him all-state honors from the Tennessee Football Coaches Association.

“He is a preseason all-state selection this year and will be the feature back,” Rice said. “He has next-level speed and we are excited for him.”

Running the offense will be junior quarterback Brock Thompson, who threw for just over 100 yards a game and 15 touchdowns last season.

“He has been starting since the third game of his freshman year, so we have all the confidence in the world in his ability,” Rice said. “He has really grown and matured as an athlete and a quarterback.”

Junior Robbie O’Dell will be the backup quarterback this season.

“Robbie has really had a great summer,” Rice said. “He is a great athlete who can do a lot of different things for us.”

Senior Diego Diaz will also get a lot of touches this season.

“He has really had a great offseason and he runs extremely hard,” Rice said.

On the outside, wideouts Peyton Whitson, Tanner VanHoy, Evan Huff, Tracy Vanover and Jordan Bridges all bring athleticism to the field.

“They all can make plays for us,” Rice said.

L.J. Mitchell and Isaiah Smith will play H-back this season.

“Their position is absolutely critical to our offense,” Rice said.

The offensive line is anchored by the experienced senior trio of Roby Lemmon, Michael Harrington and Nick Farnor.

“All three of them have started since they were sophomores on the offensive line,” Rice said. “Dakoda Bell and Rodrigo Castellon will play our guard spots and Caleb Swinehart will be a very valuable backup for us.”

In addition to the experience, there are several youngsters who are ready to make a name for themselves on the gridiron this season.

“We have some tremendous young talent like Bryson Peterson, Lucas Slagle, Nehemiah Edwards, Esteban Mendoza and Caleb Pelaez,” Rice said. “All those guys are going to have very bright futures in our program.”

Players to watch on defense include Mitchell and senior Zhante Breedlove. Rice said they will be the defensive anchor at their defensive end positions.

“On the interior defensive line, Rodrigo Castellon, Nick Farnor, Michael Harrington and Ethan Fuller will all play meaningful snaps,” Rice said. “Our linebackers are senior heavy with Roby Lemmon and Lane Garland on the interior. Both have played a lot of football for us, and are very committed to our program. Isaiah Smith is an extremely talented sophomore who will play all three linebacker spots for us; he is going to be a name people hear a lot over the next three years.

“Preston Woodby and Diego Diaz will hold down the outside linebacker spot for us, and provide speed and athleticism for us on the edge. In our secondary, Kody Lewis, Jacob Schreck and Robbie O’Dell will all split time between the two safety spots. At corner Tanner VanHoy and Matthew Sellars will start. Tracy Vanover will provide valuable depth there for us as well.”

In addition to Rice, the 2019 Blue Devil coaching staff includes Malcolm Foreman, Jason Hensley, Brandon Adams, Jordan Cooper, Mark Peterson, Eric Tilson, Trevor Berry and Austin Hensley.

A successful 2019 campaign will depend on how well the Blue Devils do the little things, according to their head coach.

“We have to take care of the football on offense and we have to tackle well defensively,” Rice said. “If we do those two things night in and night out, we can have a tremendous season.”

The Blue Devils will once again play Region 1-AAA with Chuckey-Doak, Claiborne, Johnson County, North Greene and West Greene.

“We think we are going to be in the mix,” Rice said of the race to the region title. “We have to stay healthy, and we have to control what we can control. If we take care of business each and every week, we will have a chance at a championship come November.”

The Blue Devils open the 2019 season at South Greene in non-league play on Friday, Aug. 23. Their first home game will be Friday, Aug. 30, against Hampton. The first region game will be played on the road at North Greene on Sept. 6. Kickoff for each game is set for 7:30 p.m.

“We would just like to encourage everyone to come support these young men,” Rice said. “It’s an exciting time for football in Unicoi County. They have committed to something that is much bigger than themselves, and because of that, I hope the community will come out and support them. There are currently 110 young men in grades 6-12 who are playing football in Unicoi County right now between the high school and the middle school programs. We want to build long term success in Unicoi County.”

Season tickets and parking passes are still on sale in the main office of UCHS for $30 each.

Blue Devil football team hosts Sullivan North for scrimmage

Kody Lewis takes a hand off from quarterback Brock Thompson during the Blue Devils’ scrimmage with Sullivan North on Friday, Aug. 9, at Gentry Stadium. (Erwin Record Staff Photo by Keeli Parkey)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team’s preparations for the upcoming season continued last week with a scrimmage against Sullivan North at Gentry Stadium in Erwin.

“I thought we did some good things, but also showed some places that we have to clean up,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “Overall, I think it was a good showing for us though. Sullivan North was a big physical football team and it was a good test for us.

UCHS will open the 2019 season on Friday, Aug. 23, at South Greene. As that kickoff draws ever closer, Rice said the competition against North gave the coaching staff an idea of what the team needs to focus on in the coming days.

“I think it showed us some places that need to improve over the next two weeks,” he added. “We did a lot of good things on defense, but we have to be better tacklers. We had five or six different plays bottled up in the backfield, and we let them break out of it for positive yards. Our run game has to get cleaned up, as well. We aren’t communicating up front as well as I would like for us to be. Those two things will be the focus over the next two weeks.”

As it was in the scrimmage at Northview Academy on Aug. 2, depth was a bright spot for the Blue Devils against North, according to the head coach.

“I think our depth has been really evident on both sides of the ball in both scrimmages now,” Rice said. “Our second offense scored two touchdowns in less than eight plays, so that is something that we have a lot of confidence in moving forward. Defensively, I think our young guys fly to the ball really well. They are still learning how to play in some places, but we definitely have a lot of talent.”

With the players returning to the classroom this week, Rice said the team will continue its preparations.

“This week we will really try and get in our weekly routine,” he added. “We will try to get our legs back under us a little since we have now been pushing really hard for over a month. With that in mind, we will still make conditioning a huge focus between now and the first game. We have to tackle better on defense, and be more efficient with our blocks up front.”

The Blue Devils will face another preseason test when they host Cosby for their final preseason scrimmage on Thursday, Aug. 15, at Gentry Stadium. Rice said the scrimmage is tentatively scheduled to begin at 5:30 p.m.

• • •

After going on the road to face South Greene on Aug. 23, the Blue Devils will play their first home game on Aug. 30 against Hampton.

Season tickets are now on sale at the main office of the high school. Parking passes for Gentry Stadium are also on sale; however, a limited number of parking passes are available.

Griffith enjoying collegiate coaching career

Unicoi County native Megan Griffith served as the pitching coach for the University of California San Diego softball team during a 2019 season that saw the squad advance to the NCAA Division II Women’s College World Series. (Contributed photo)

By Keeli Parkey

An Erwin native who made a name for herself on the diamond is now having success in the dugout.

Megan Griffith concluded a successful softball career at Science Hill High School in 2011.

“I was the three-time Big 8 All-Conference Player of the Year, 2008 all-tournament team, 2009 all-tournament MVP, four-time All-Northeast Tennessee Team, 2008 MVP Fastpitch for Chicks 16-18U, two-time FCA Tennessee All-Star Team, member of the National Society for High School Scholars,” Griffith said of her time with the Lady Hilltoppers. “I earned a high school diploma and an International Baccalaureate Diploma.”

Next, Griffith moved on to Gulf Coast State University where she played for a year and a half after having back surgery and redshirting.

“There I led the team in most every offensive category including doubles, homeruns, slugging percentage (.591), RBIs (57), total bases (110) and extra base hits (23)” Griffith said.

Griffith then returned to her home state where she attended Middle Tennessee State University and played shortstop for the Lady Raiders.

“There I was an NFCA Division I All-American Scholar Athlete, made the dean’s list and was Conference USA Player of the Week multiple times,” Griffith said.

Griffith graduated from MTSU in May 2016 with a bachelor of science degree in exercise science. College was a memorable experience for the Erwin native.

“There were many amazing experiences, however, my two favorites were hitting a grand slam in Florida followed by a 3-run homerun the next at bat and a two run double the next. I broke the NJCAA record for most RBIs in a single game,” Griffith said. “The second was hitting a walk-off grand slam against MTSU’s rival Western Kentucky University in a hard-fought battle.”

Griffith said she also learned many important lessons playing softball at the collegiate level.

“College athletics helped shape me into the person I am today,” she added. “I learned so many lessons about commitment, integrity, what it means to be a true competitor and how to work relentlessly towards your goal. Being a collegiate athlete is much more difficult than some imagine. You have to be a pro at time management. I balanced 5 a.m. workouts, a full course load, study hall, practice, community service, studying, homework and various other obligations on a daily basis.”

After graduation, Griffith decided to make the move from the field to the sidelines.

“I was drawn to coaching to be able to give back to the sport that gave me so much,” she said. “Through softball I was able to travel all over the country, meet amazing people, learn a multitude of life lessons and have my education paid on scholarship.

“I coach collegiately because I feel this is where young women need the most guidance and best role models. For me college was such a growing experience. I want to help build strong, young women who will be successful on and off the field long after they have hung up their cleats. There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you’ve helped someone and been able to give back to the community that gave so much to you.”

Pursuing her coaching career took Griffith to California in September 2016.

“When I got to California, I had no jobs lined up and really no way of knowing what was going to happen,” Griffith said. “I was blessed that a former college teammate’s family let me stay with them until I could get my feet under me. I worked as a server at a restaurant and a volunteer assistant at Whittier College.”

Volunteering at Whittier College opened up doors for Griffith.

“Eventually the head coach at Whittier College helped me find a better paying job still in the realm of softball,” she said. “I worked as tournament coordinator, college coach liaison and travel ball coach for several months in order to build up my resume. I then applied for the assistant coach position at University of California San Diego.”

Griffith was offered – and accepted – a job at UCSD in September 2017.

“It took a great deal of hard work and determination,” she said. “I refused to give up on my dream after nearly a year of praying and battling and God opened the right door for me.”

In her first year at UCSD Griffith served as the hitting and field instructor.

“In the 2018 season the team hit 30 points better than the previous season and boasted the highest average in the last 10 years, finishing the season at .306, “she said. “My first year we made it to the regional tournament and fell rather quickly, which was a disappointment.”

For the 2019 season, Griffith took over pitching coach duties due to a sudden illness.

“This was an incredibly rewarding and amazing experience,” she said. “During my time overseeing the pitching staff we earned five conference pitcher awards, improved our regular season ERA down to 2.20, earned first team all-conference pitcher, first team All-West Region Pitcher, the first no-hitter in school history, and six shut-out victories. This was a huge improvement from the previous years and I could not be prouder of the work ethic and dedication of those athletes. They bought into my system and trusted me and we went the furthest the team had gone since 2012.”

UCSD finished the 2019 season with an overall record of 37-17.

“We play in a very competitive Division II conference,” Griffith said. “This year we were able to accomplish an unbelievable amount. We were conference regular season champions (first time since 2011), All-West Regional Champions (since 2012), Super Regional Champions (since 2012) and made a NCAA Division II Women’s College World Series appearance (first since 2012). Unfortunately, we weren’t able to win it all and come back with a ring. However, to be one of the last eight teams standing in the nation was such an honor. The pride and joy I feel when coaching those athletes are incomparable to anything else. I truly believe I have found my calling and am so passionate about my work.”

This summer, Griffith decided to accept a position as a hitting/assistant coach at George Mason University in Fairfax, Virginia – a Division I university in the Atlantic 10 Conference.

“I will start there in the fall of this year,” Griffith said. “I valued my time and experiences in California a great deal, but I chose to make the move to be closer to my family on the east coast.”

It is her family that Griffith credits with her success.

“I would like to thank my parents and family for always supporting me, encouraging me to chase my dreams and never give up,” she said. “They taught me to be strong, independent, honest and hard working. I wouldn’t be the woman I am today without their love and support. I am truly blessed.”

True blue: Gene Ramsey remembered for support, generosity

Gene Ramsey, pictured with his wife, Sally, was an avid supporter of local sports teams prior to his death earlier this year. He is remembered for his generosity, kindness and willingness to help others. (Contributed photo)

By Richard Rourk

Unicoi County athletics lost an important member of the Blue Devil family earlier this year when long-time supporter Gene Ramsey passed away on March 4.

In addition to being a loving husband to Sally Bradford Ramsey and a devoted father to Amy Ramsey Reed, Ramsey was a mentor and father figure to many athletes that put on the Blue Devil blue and white. He also enjoyed watching his grandsons, Raben and Boone, play sports through the years.

“He was a great supporter of the Blue Devils,” Unicoi County Mayor Garland “Bubba” Evely said. “I remember when I was younger he paid for kids on the football team to go to camp when they could not afford it. His help didn’t end there – he helped me get my first summer job when he worked at Hoover Ball in 1974.”

Former Unicoi County High School athletic director and head football coach Doug Cooper remembers Ramsey as a friend and mentor.

“He was like a second father to me,” Cooper said. “While my father was sick, (Gene) made sure I never missed a University of Tennessee game. Some of my favorite memories are going to bowl games with Gene.”

According to Cooper, he and Ramsey made it to every major bowl that Tennessee played in, including the Vols’ 1998 National Championship victory over the Florida State Seminoles at the Fiesta Bowl in Tempe, Arizona on Jan. 4, 1999.

According to Cooper, Ramsey never stopped giving to the UCHS athletic program.

“Not only did he attend every sporting event he could, he was there to help each program financially,” Cooper said. “During my tenure, he never turned down a chance to donate, oftentimes he would donate anonymously.”

Glenn Fisher, who currently serves on the Unicoi County Board of Education and was the head coach of the UCHS Lady Devil basketball program for decades, shared similar experiences with Ramsey.

“It didn’t matter what sport it was, he was always the first to support Unicoi County athletics in any way he could,” Fisher said. “I will always remember him getting chilled watermelons every summer for the football team.”

Ramsey’s giving spirit spilled over from field to field and court to court.

“He would always take care of our athletes in so many different ways, whether it was giving them bookmarkers, encouraging signs for the locker room, buying pizzas, donating money to help or just overall support,” Unicoi County Director of School and former UCHS basketball coach John English said. “You could always count on his support for not only our basketball teams, but Blue Devil sports in general.”

Ramsey offered moral support  in addition to monetary donations.

“He also sponsored the most valuable player award at the high school football banquet for years, but his biggest attribute was encouragement to all the players win or lose,” Evely said. “He was just a great person who always put others first, along with Sally.”

Ramsey provided support for the coaches as well as the athletes.

“We had many great conversations on the phone after big wins or even tough losses back when I coached,” English said. “Those really meant a lot to me then and even more now.”

While Mr. Ramsey’s heart may have bled Blue Devil Blue and white, his love was at home. According to Ramsey’s daughter, Amy Ramsey Reed, Ramsey was just as giving at home. Ramsey said some of her favorite memories with her father was riding down to Greenville to pick up watermelons for the football team.

“He has given those boys watermelons for as long as I have been alive,” Reed said. “I remember my dad carrying me on his shoulders at the Tennessee games. Since then I completed my undergraduate and graduate studies at Tennessee, I couldn’t imagine going anywhere else.”

Reed will miss her father, but Unicoi County will miss one of the most giving individuals to ever reside in the county.

“He was always so supportive of Blue Devil athletics. He absolutely loved pulling for the Big Blue,” English said. “You could always count on seeing him and Sally at games.”

Fisher agreed.

“He will be missed,” Fisher said. “Unicoi County athletics will not be the same.”

All-stars claim second place in Southeast Regional

Competing on the 8-10 year-old Unicoi County softball all-star team were Carly Baxter, Kianna Woodward, Aaliyah Engle, Annabelle Eanes, Kyndal Engle, Kinley Carver, Emma Hummer, Kaley Toney, Reagan Carroll, Chloe Conner and Noly Cooper. The team is coached by Terry Higgins, Daniel Engle and Aaron Toney. (Contributed photo)

From Staff Reports

Unicoi County’s 8-10 year-old softball all-stars battled to the very end, but fell just short of a regional title.

After winning the state championship earlier this month, these future Lady Devils traveled to Cunningham, Tennessee, to play in the region tournament with other teams from Georgia, Virginia, West Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and Dickson County, Tennessee.

Playing in pool A, Unicoi County opened the tournament with a 5-4 loss to Georgia on Saturday, July 20, according to coach Terry Higgins. The team then bounced back with an exciting 4-3 victory over Virginia later that day. Higgins said they won on a walk-off in the bottom of the sixth inning.

On Sunday, July 21, Unicoi County bested West Virginia, 2-1, to advance to the championship game. There, they ran into a tough South Carolina team and lost, 3-0.

“All the girls played their hearts out,” Higgins said. “We finished in second place for the Southeast Region in the Tournament of State Champions.”

The all-stars advanced to the Southeast Region after winning the District 5 championship in June, then winning the state tournament earlier this month in Erwin.

The team is made up of players Carly Baxter, Kianna Woodward, Aaliyah Engle, Annabelle Eanes, Kyndal Engle, Kinley Carver, Emma Hummer, Kaley Toney, Reagan Carroll, Chloe Conner and Noly Cooper.

The team is coached by Terry Higgins, Daniel Engle and Aaron Toney.

All-stars win state title, advance to region

The Unicoi County Little League 8-10 year-old softball all-star team won the state championship last week. The team, which is made up of players Kaley Toney, Noly Cooper, Kinley Carver, Kyndal Engle, Chloe Connor, Reagan Carroll, Emma Hummer, Annabelle Eanes, Carly Baxter, Carmindy Williams, Kianna Woodward and Aaliyah Engle, is pictured above with their state championship banner. The team is also coached by Terry Higgins, Aaron Toney and Daniel Engle.

From Staff Reports

Unicoi County has another state softball title.

This latest one came thanks to the efforts of the Unicoi County Little League’s 8-10 year-old softball all-star team.

The road to the state title began in the District 5 tournament, which the team won last month. That tournament win sent the team to the state tournament played at Erwin’s Kiwanis Park.

According to manager Terry Higgins, these future Lady Devils opened the state tournament on Saturday, July 6, with a 13-3 victory over Dickson County. Later that day, they defeated Smith County, 12-2. These victories set up a game with Goodlettsville on Sunday, July 7, which Unicoi County won 7-4. This victory sent the team to the championship round.

After the loss to Unicoi County, Goodlettsville battled out of the losers’ bracket to face the hometown team once again on Tuesday, July 9. This time, Goodlettsville came out victorious, defeating Unicoi County, 4-3.

This forced a winner-take-all game the following day. In that game, the now-familiar foes battled to a 0-0 tie after six innings. Then, Unicoi County’s offense came alive for what Higgins described as “an extra-inning thriller.”

“We scored six runs in the top half of the seventh inning and held Goodlettsville off in the bottom of the seventh,” Higgins added.

With a state title in hand, the all-stars now set their sights on a Southeast Regional championship. Higgins said the team is expected to open regional play on Saturday, July 20, in Cunningham, Tennessee. The opponent and time have yet to be announced.

In addition to Unicoi County, the tournament will include teams from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia, Higgins said.

Unicoi County Football League tryouts set for July 27

From Staff Reports

The Unicoi County High School football program is inviting boys in third, fourth and fifth grades to play in the Unicoi County Football League.

“It is an exciting time for Unicoi County football,” head coach Drew Rice said. “We are entering the third year of our flag football league backed by the National Football Flag Program. Every third, fourth and fifth grade male student has the opportunity to play in an official NFS jersey with classmates from across the county.”

Rice said tryouts will be held on Saturday, July 27, beginning at 11 a.m. Practice will begin on Thursday, Aug. 1, with games starting on Thursday, Aug. 15.

“Teams will play at least five games and have a playoff leading up to the Blue Devil Bowl to be played on Sept. 26,” Rice said. “All games will be played at Gentry Stadium and the entire season will be completed by the beginning of fall break.”

Rice described the new league as “a top priority for our football program as a whole.”

“We believe that for our high school team to be successful, we must begin cultivating well-rounded football players at the elementary age,” Rice said. “This league, which is fully backed by both Unicoi County schools and the National Football League, plans to be the first step in a very successful football career for these young athletes.”

The cost of the league, which includes a reversible jersey, flags and player/parent membership in USA Football, is $40. Players should register online at https://nflflag.com/register – Step 1: Create a Parent Account; Step 2: Select Unicoi County Football League; Step 3: Register your Child.

Checks should be made payable to UCFL and mailed to Unicoi County Middle School Attention: Coach Hensley, 599 S. Mohawk Dr., Erwin, TN 37650.

For more information, contact Rice at 743-1632 or ricea@unicoischools.com or contact assistant coach Jason Hensley at 735-0236 or hensleyj@unicoischools.com.