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Devils take first place in Middle Eight

The Unicoi County Middle School football team is now in sole possession of first place in the Middle Eight Conference.
The Blue Devils (5-1) won their fifth game of the season by knocking off Church Hill Middle School on the road on Thursday, Sept. 20. The game was rescheduled due to inclement weather on Sept. 18.
Church Hill took advantage of an onside kick to open the game. Recovering the onside kick gave them a short field to work with and led to a touchdown and a two-point conversion.
“They were fired up and we were sort of flat,” coach Larry Howell said.
The Blue Devils had problems early, including a turnover, but Howell’s squad would respond.
“Our defense came alive,” Howell said. “We had a huge goal line stand in the second quarter, Nick (Fender) had a great punt late to flip the field.”
When halftime came, Howell knew the contest would depend on how his team responded in the second half.
“We didn’t panic and we just discussed their schemes with the players at halftime,” he said. “We have some really smart players and the adjustments we made were mostly because of things that they had picked up on from the field.”
Cameron Higgins kicked off for the Devils in the second half. The kickoff resulted in a touchback for Church Hill. The Blue Devils held them to a three and out on defense and took over at midfield.
The Devils only needed two plays for their first score. First, Higgins took a pitch on the left side for 25 yards. UCMS then faked a pitch on the next play and Fender took it right through the middle and into the end zone.
“Our guys blocked it beautifully,” Howell said off the play.
The two-conversion came up short, but the Devils had cut the deficit to 8-6.
Defense was the name of the game on Church’s Hill next drive. The Blue Devils stopped their opponents on fourth down in Church Hill territory.
“Kendrick Williams played great pass defense the entire night and nearly had a pick six on their drive,” Howell said. “Jacob Smith had a huge sack on that series and the momentum of the game had suddenly changed.”
The Blue Devils methodically drove the ball to Church Hill’s 10-yard line and Fender punched in the touchdown to put UCMS on top. Higgins added on the two-point conversion, which gave Howell’s team a 14-8 lead going into the fourth quarter.
With the Blue Devils putting pressure on the option-oriented Church Hill team, the squad started to throw against the UCMS defense in the fourth quarter.
Fender picked off a pass near midfield in the fourth and raced downfield following key blocks and shed a pair of tackles for a touchdown. The two-point conversion failed, but the Blue Devils took a commanding 20-8 lead.
Fender scored his fourth touchdown in the contest with a late run to seal the game. Church Hill would tack in a late touchdown, as well.
The Blue Devils won the game 26-16.
With two games left in the season, UCMS currently sits in first place in the Middle Eight Conference. Howell’s squad will be in action on Tuesday, Sept. 25, at Gentry Stadium against Colonial Heights.
The junior varsity picked up a 30-6 win over Church Hill following the varsity action.
Hunter Higgins scored two rushing touchdowns in the contest. Owen Nicholson had a lengthy touchdown run from his quarterback spot, while Fisher Abbott had an interception for a touchdown.
Clay Simpson and John Sullins tacked on two-point conversions during the win. Corey Hatcher, Dalton Griffith, Drew Keasling, Brandon Spencer and Jacob Shelton blocked well on offense, according to coach Howell. Michael Smith, Drew Williams, Trent Treadway, Noah Higgins, Shelton and Griffith all had key plays on defense.

By Curtis Carden
Sports Writer
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