By Keeli Parkey
The Unicoi County High School football team wrapped up the 2017 season with a 5-6 overall record and a 3-2 record in Region 1-AAA.
League wins for the team included victories over North Greene, Claiborne and Chuckey-Doak. League losses for the Blue Devils came at the hands of West Greene and Johnson County.
Outside of league play, the Blue Devils defeated Sullivan Central and Unaka. Non-league losses came at the hands of South Greene, Sullivan East and Happy Valley.
Not taking care of the football proved costly for the Blue Devils this season.
“The other thing that we can’t ignore is what happens when we take care of the football versus when we don’t,” head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “In our five regular season losses we had 22 turnovers. In our five wins we had two turnovers. Some of those losses were by a touchdown or less too, so who knows what our record might have ended up if we cut those turnovers in half. Regardless, we just have to continue to get better in all that we do.”
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With the season having come to an end, the coaches of Region 1-AAA have awarded league players for their performances on the field this year.
Junior Brett Strother was chosen as the league’s Offensive Player of the Year. Strother compiled more than 1,100 yards of total offense and scored 16 touchdowns.
Strother wasn’t the only Blue Devil to receive acknowledgement for their performances. Named to the Region 1-AAA First Team were: senior Owen Nicholson, senior Michael Smith, senior Matthew Hatcher, sophomore Kody Lewis, sophomore Roby Lemmon and senior Shane Armstrong.
Named to the Region 1-AAA Second Team were: senior Bradley Edwards, senior Troy Podvin, sophomore Brock Thompson, senior Hunter Higgins and junior Noah White.
Junior Drew Williams was chosen for the Academic All-Region team thanks to his 4.0 grade point average
Chosen as the league’s Co-Players of the Year were West Greene’s Juliun Lane and Johnson County’s Nathan Arnold.
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Putting a balanced offensive attack on the field was a goal for Rice, his staff and his players. And, they met that goal.
The Blue Devils have gained 2,849 total yards during the season – 1,424 in the air and 1,425 on the ground. The team has averaged 129.45 passing yards per game and 129.55 yards rushing for a very balanced offensive attack.
The Blue Devils had 15 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns.
“We did get our offense balanced which was one of our goals because in 2016 we had a really hard time running the football,” Rice told The Erwin Record. “We ended up throwing for over 1,400 yards and rushing for 1,400 yards which is about as balanced as you can get. With all that being said though, I think a great foundation has been laid for where we are trying to get this program.”
Here’s a look at individual stats from the 2017 season.
Brock Thompson completed 81-139 passes. He passed for a total of 1,203 yards and 12 touchdowns.
Strother completed 21-39 passes and threw for 3 touchdowns.
Strother caught 27 passes for 521 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Nicholson caught 36 passes for 449 yards and 4 touchdowns.
Troy Podvin had 19 catches for 302 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Kody Lewis had 80 carries for 584 yards and 5 touchdowns.
Strother had 65 carries for 367 yards and 9 touchdowns.
Shane Armstrong had 31 carries for 113 yards and 1 touchdown.
Michael Smith had 23 carries for 130 yards.
Tanner Vanhoy, Bradley Edwards and Brock Thompson all rushed for touchdowns this season.
Nicholson had 151 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 fumble recoveries.
Smith had 1133 tackles, 3 sacks and 1 interception.
Hatcher had 107 tackles, 6 sacks and 1 safety.
Lewis had 88 tackles and 1 interception.
White had 69 tackles.
Edwards had 68 tackles, 4 interceptions and 1 fumble recovery.
Higgins had 61 tackles and 1 fumble recovery.
Armstrong had 54 tackles and 1 fumble recovery.
Lemmon had 39 tackles and 2 fumble recoveries.
Williams had 38 tackles.
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Rice said the upcoming offseason will be important for the success of the 2018 Blue Devil football team.
“We are going to emphasize the offseason because so much of the game is won from January to July,” Rice said. “We still aren’t even a full calendar year into our strength and conditioning program, so that’s an area we anticipate to see some huge gains as we get two and three years into the offseason program.
“I have to compliment coach Mark Peterson for his work there; it’s been phenomenal having a full-time strength and conditioning coach,” Rice continued. “Our injuries were a fraction of what they have been in year’s past and I fully believe that’s because of the commitment we have made to improving our strength, conditioning and flexibility.”