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Drive for five

The second half of the season is here for the Unicoi County High School Blue Devils and the team finds itself in an interesting situation.
The Blue Devils, who are 3-3 overall this season and 1-1 in the Three Rivers Conference, will be back in action on Friday, Oct. 5, at Gentry Stadium when they will face the Elizabethton Cyclones (5-2, 2-0). The game kicks off the second half of the schedule for the Blue Nation.
With four games left in the season, postseason expectations are running high throughout Unicoi County. Five wins is the magic number for a potential playoff berth and the Blue Devils are equipped to make run in the postseason.
Head coach Jerad Huskins said getting players healthy was a priority during the team’s bye week.
“That was our biggest thing,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of our key players healed and rested up. We’ve just been having a fun time during our practices, hitting the weights and doing other things.”
The Devils entered the bye week coming off a 34-7 loss from Gatlinburg Pittman and offensive game planning was also been a major focus of the squad during its bye week.
“We’ve added wrinkles to our offensive scheme during this week,” Huskins said. “The passing game and our offensive line blocking has been a main priority. We’ve got to get something go on the offensive side of things.”
The Blue Devils have been averaging close to a touchdown per contest since their week three defeat at the hands of the Johnson County Longhorns (3-3, 2-1).
“Our offense has stalled for the past few games and that’s something you really can’t have when you go against the caliber of opponent like Gatlinburg-Pittman or Hampton,” Huskins said. “Our defense has been really doing their part.”
The defense has been led by Phillip Franklin, who has tallied over 60 tackles on the season, and Cody Harris, who follows close behind with 49 tackles this season.
A bright spot for the Blue Devil offense in the contest against Elizabethton will be the return of senior tailback Hunter Abbott, who will return to the starting lineup after missing two weeks due to a leg injury.
Abbott is currently sitting in fourth place in the conference standings in rushing, averaging 6.4 yards a carry (74 carries, 474 yards.)
An added element behind Abbott has been the emergence of Franklin, who scored the Blue Devils’ game-winning touchdown against Happy Valley.
Cody Jack Rogers will have another week of practice under his belt. The sophomore signal caller has had a breakout year behind center, holding the title of the conference’s second passing yardage with 490 yards, going 39-83 through the air this season.
“Being placed in the situation he’s in, Cody Jack has really responded well and we’re proud of what he has done,” Huskins said. “He went from a position of possibly not seeing much varsity time at all, to leading our team to a .500 record during the first half of the schedule.”
Rogers has had his share of targets on the corners during the season, including junior Keith Arrowood and sophomore Thomas Tipton.
“This has probably been the most athletic group of kids we’ve had since I’ve been here,” Huskins said about his team. “We’ve been able to implement new things into our offensive system with guys like Thomas and Keith and it’s really paid off.”
Another bright side for the coach is that 15 of the current starters for UCHS will be returning for a 2013 campaign.
“That always helps, too,” Huskins said with a laugh.
With the work being put in during the bye week, the Devils will be looking to keep pace with Elizabethton’s three-headed monster in the backfield, which includes Three Rivers Conference leading rusher, Ethan Thomas, who clocked in over the 1,000-yard mark after the Cyclones handed Watuaga, N.C.a 40-8 loss last Friday.
“They’re a great football team,” said Huskins. “They have one of the best rushing attacks around … Our guys will be ready and are excited for the challenge this Friday.”
Following the Elizabethton game, the Blue Devils’ next two opponents will be Sullivan East and Unaka. East will come to Gentry Stadium on Oct. 12; Unaka will come the following week, on Oct. 19.
The Blue Devils will end the regular season with a road contest against Sullivan North on Oct. 26.
UCHS is looking to secure two wins in order to punch their ticket for a potential playoff berth. While the postseason could include UCHS, Huskins and his team are not looking ahead.
“It’s definitely in the back of our minds, but we’re just taking it a week at a time,” he added. “It’s an exciting time to be a Blue Devil.”
Unicoi County will face off against Elizabethton High School at Gentry Stadium with a 7:30 p.m. start time on Friday, Oct. 5.
The junior varsity will be in action on Monday, Oct. 8, against Elizabethton. The freshmen Blue Devils will also get a crack against the Cycylones, on Thursday, Oct. 11. Kickoff for both of the underclassmen games are set for 5:30 p.m.
While Unicoi had their open date, the rest of the conference teams had their hands full Friday night.
Sullivan North (6-1, 2-1) nearly had the upset-minded Longhorns (3-3, 2-1) put the brakes on their homecoming night festivities, but the Golden Raiders came through late to pull away with a 36-28 win in Kingsport.
Happy Valley (2-5, 1-2) got in the win column with a 42-6 win over Sullivan East (0-6, 0-3) in Bluff City.
The Three Rivers Conference race saw a switch up prior to The Erwin Record’s press deadline. Elizabethton is at the top of the conference; Sullivan North holds second place; Johnson County and Unicoi County are tied in the conference win-loss column at 3-3, but the tiebreaker currently has the Longhorns third and the Blue Devils fourth. Happy Valley is at fifth place while Sullivan East is at the bottom of the conference.

By Curtis Carden
Sports Writer
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