By Trey Williams
Unicoi County quarterback Bryson Peterson’s first start won’t be his last.
Filling in for senior four-year starter Brock Thompson, Peterson was 9 of 11 passing for 120 yards and touchdown as the Blue Devils (1-0, 1-2) opened Region 1-3A play with a 42-0 win against North Greene.
Thompson could return from an injury to his non-throwing shoulder against Happy Valley on Friday, Sept. 11. He’s a game-time decision after missing the past seven-plus quarters. But Peterson solidified his status as the heir apparent.
“I was just super-proud of Bryson,” head coach Drew Rice said. “We know what kind of talent he has, of course. He took care of the ball for the most part. Not looking ahead, but he’s certainly gonna be our guy next year. We already knew that, but it was good to have that affirmation.”
Peterson seems to have gotten better every snap for the past seven quarters.
“Playing quarterback the past two weeks has been a little bit of a learning process for me and trying to read the defense better and all of that,” Peterson said. “But coach Rice and all the coaches have kept things simple for me with all the plays we’ve been running. So that helped me out a lot Friday night.”
Sophomore Caleb Pelaez helped considerably as well. He caught Peterson’s first pass of the game for a 60-yard touchdown.
Pelaez stretched the Blue Devils’ lead to 14-0 with a 40-yard punt return and then ran for a 38-yard TD to stretch the lead to 35-0 in the third period.
“Caleb has a very bright future here and he showed everyone why Friday night,” Peterson said. “First play of the game the kid took it 60 yards for a touchdown off a screen pass. The kid has a lot of talent and is special and can hurt a defense.”
Pelaez returned a kickoff for a TD in Week Two against Hampton. He may not be Brett Strother or Kody Lewis, but at this rate, he might be talked about in the same breath as the former Blue Devils greats.
“Caleb rushed for a touchdown, caught a touchdown pass and had a punt return for a touchdown,” Rice said. “We’ve played three games and he’s scored four different ways. He’s a really talented kid.
“He reminds me of Dylan Street that played at Happy Valley. And him just being a sophomore, he’s gonna be a good one.”
Rice said he thought North Greene was improved from last year, and he was especially pleased to win via shutout when considering his starting safeties – Thompson and Peterson – didn’t play in the secondary.
“With Brock not playing, we didn’t wanna risk losing Bryson, so we pulled him (from defense),” Rice said. “So we pitched a shutout without our two starting safeties. I thought our defense really played tough.
“Nehemiah Edwards was in the backfield all night. Isaiah Smith at linebacker was tough too, and Lucas Slagle played really good at defensive end. He had two or three tackles for losses. And that’s two sophomores and a junior. Just seeing those guys have success and getting after it like that, it was fun to watch.”
Edwards also ran for a 10-yard TD.
“Nehemiah Edwards is our downhill running back right now,” Rice said. “Every time he walks in here I feel like he’s grown. We’ve got a lot of young kids, but they’re talented. There’ll be some growing pains moving forward, but I think the future is very bright for us.”
Unicoi was also without two linemen, Rodrigo Castellon and Dawson Hampton, against North Greene. Castellon is also a “game-time decision” to return against Happy Valley. Hampton probably won’t return before the Chuckey-Doak game.
The offensive line gave Peterson a comfort zone against North Greene.
“I thought our offensive line did a really good job Friday night,” Peterson said. “I don’t think they gave up a sack.”
Getting Thompson and Castellon back against Happy Valley would obviously be invaluable. The Warriors are the Blue Devils’ fiercest non-conference rival.
“I think our guys circle that one every year,” Rice said. “A lot of the kids that live in Unicoi can get to Happy Valley quicker than they can get to the high school. They know a lot of these kids.”
Unicoi County won 35-0 last year to snap a five-game losing streak to the Warriors.
“Coach (Jason) Jarrett and I know each other really well,” Rice said. “I always feel like they are, if not the best-coached team we play, then certainly one of the best-coached teams we play. They do a really good job over there getting their kids ready. They’re well-coached and play aggressive on defense. I feel like (defensive coordinator) Greg Hyder does a heck of a job.
“We’ll have our hands full. Hopefully we can kind of springboard off of Friday night and get on a roll like we did last year.”
Peterson is eager to see his teammates practice after the first win of the season.
“Getting the win in the regional opener was huge for us,” Peterson said, “and has given us confidence going into the Happy Valley game, which is gonna be a big game for us. We gotta prepare for them this week in practice because they are a really good football team.”
Smith leads Unicoi County with 35 tackles and two sacks. Edwards is second with 22 tackles and has recovered two fumbles.
The Blue Devils’ other scores against North Greene were a 46-yard fumble return by Gavyn Sawyer and a nine-yard run by Nolan Bennett.
According to school officials, only 175 tickets will be available to UCHS fans who wish to attend the Happy Valley game. Families of players and cheerleaders will receive first priority for tickets. Others should contact the school on Thursday for availability.