By Keeli Parkey
The Unicoi County High School football team continued its streak of strong play last week.
The Blue Devils (4-3, 3-0) defeated league opponent Chuckey-Doak, 40-27 on Friday, Sept. 29 for their third consecutive win and fourth in five games.
“I think it was a huge win for our kids and this program,” head coach Drew Rice said. “Our guys were very motivated and very focused and I think it showed. Chuckey-Doak is a good football team – with some impressive wins – and I think we made a statement Friday night.”
The Blue Devil offense was firing on all cylinders in the first half against the Black Knights, running just 9 plays for a total of 289 yards and 33 points.
“We played really well on the offensive side of the ball,” Rice said. “Our line really got some good push up front and it allowed us to execute our game plan. The biggest key is that we continued to take care of the ball.”
The first UCHS touchdown of the night came less than 2 minutes into the game when Kody Lewis took a pitch from quarterback Brock Thompson and out ran everyone for a 58-yard score. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt (PAT) and the Blue Devils had momentum and a 7-0 lead.
The UCHS defense then forced Chuckey-Doak into a fourth-and-13 and into a punt. A penalty against the Blue Devil offense led to a first-and-15. Thompson then hit Brett Strother on a 77-yard touchdown pass. The PAT was missed and UCHS took a 13-0 lead.
Chuckey-Doak got on the scoreboard for the first time on its next possession thanks to an 18-yard pass from Jacob Willett to Trevor Grubbs. The PAT by Brian Alvarez was good and the home team regained some momentum.
That, however, was short-lived when on the Blue Devils’ first play of the next possession Lewis bounced to the outside to score from 65 yards out. Despite failing to make the 2-point conversion, UCHS took back momentum and held a 19-7 lead.
The Black Knights continued to fight and began an offensive possession that really put the Blue Devil defense to the test. Because the offense had been so efficient, the UCHS defense stayed on the field most of the first half. Chuckey-Doak marched down the field on more than 15 plays and found themselves inside the 10-yard line and about to score. As Willett passed the ball toward the end zone, Blue Devil Owen Nicholson jumped in the passing lane and ran the ball back 101 yards for a touchdown. Porras converted the extra point and UCHS led 26-7.
“Our defense had to be out there a lot against a physical football team,” Rice said. “I thought they responded well. We had some guys who really laid it on the line on Friday. We made some huge stops at crucial points defensively.
“Owen’s interception return was huge;it’s fitting that he would make a play like that considering the year he is having,” Rice continued. “We believe that his 101-yard interception return for a touchdown is a school record. It was a huge play in a huge game, and that’s what big time players do.”
The Black Knights did score on their next possession to cut the lead to 12 points, 26-14.
The Blue Devils then needed only three plays to score again – this time on a 62-yard pass from Thompson to Troy Podvin. UCHS went into halftime with a 33-14 lead.
In the second half, the Blue Devils kept their focus and put the game out of reach just before the end of the third quarter when Strother hit Thompson on a trick play from 15 yards out. Porras converted another PAT and UCHS took a 40-14 lead into the fourth quarter.
“We stressed at halftime how important of a game this was, and how we had to come out and act like it was 0-0. I am very proud of how these guys responded in the second half,” Rice said.
The Black Knights added two scores in the fourth quarter, but never really threatened to get back in the game, as the Blue Devils left Afton with a win that clinched a playoff berth and kept UCHS on pace for its first winning season since the 1990s, according to school officials.
“We always want to be playing in November, which means we qualified for the playoffs,” Rice said, “but our two main goals for this year are to host a playoff game and to win a regional championship. Neither of which have been done here since 1991. So that’s a big motivator for us and now we are in a position to make that a reality. We have to keep working and getting better each week to make either of those come to fruition.”
• • •
Thompson passed for 145 yards and 2 touchdowns and completed 3-4 attempts against Chuckey-Doak. He also had a 15-yard reception for a touchdown. Since he became the starting quarterback he has completed 36-56 passes for 674 yards, 8 touchdowns and 1 interception. Strother has also thrived since the change and is making his presence known on both sides of the ball. Against Chuckey-Doak, Strother rushed 11 times for 71 yards, caught a 77-yard touchdown pass and threw a 15-yard touchdown pass. He also had 11 tackles.
Lewis rushed 14 times for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michael Smith had 2 carries for 15 yards. Podvin had 1 catch for 62 yards and a touchdown. Nicholson had 1 catch for 6 yards; he also had 14 tackles and an interception for a touchdown.
Also on the defensive side of the ball, Smith had 16 tackles, Bradley Edwards had 13 and Hunter Higgins had 8.
• • •
The Blue Devils will host Unaka (0-6, 0-3) in a non-league game at Gentry Stadium in Erwin on Friday, Oct. 6, at 7:30 p.m.
“They do some good things offensively,” Rice said of Unaka. “We are going to continue to focus on us, and not our opponent. I think these guys are really believing in what we are trying to accomplish and the product has been three wins in a row for us. We hope to keep it rolling this Friday night.”
Rice encouraged fans to attend the game and cheer on the Blue Devils.
“I would like to encourage the community to come out Friday night and watch these young men,” Rice said. “It’s fall break and the Apple Festival is going on, but it’s still game week for us. We would love to see big crowds these last two home games to support these young men and what they are trying to accomplish; they deserve all the support we can give them.”
Remaining games for the Blue Devils include hosting West Greene (4-2, 2-1) on Friday, Oct. 13, and traveling to Johnson County (6-0, 3-0) on Friday, Oct. 27. The UCHS team will have its bye week on Friday, Oct. 20. Going into the games on Oct. 6, the Blue Devils and Johnson County are tied for the top spot in the league thanks to their undefeated league records.