UCHS football head coach Drew Rice stands with sophomore quarterback Brock Thompson during a game earlier this season. Rice will lead the Blue Devils into a game with Johnson County for the Region 1-3A title on Friday, Oct. 26. (File photo)

By Keeli Parkey

The Unicoi County High School football team (8-1, 4-0) is one win away from a Region 1-3A championship. Standing in the way of that goal are the Johnson County Longhorns (8-1, 4-0). The two rivals will battle for the region crown at Gentry Stadium in Erwin on Friday, Oct. 26.

“Our support all year home and away has been tremendous,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “We would just like to thank everyone for that and ask the community to come and support these young men as we try and win a region championship for the first time in 27 years. It’s senior night and we are also going to have a ‘Blue Out’ and encourage all of our fans to wear blue for such a big game.”

Senior night will begin at 7 p.m. with kickoff to follow at 7:30 p.m.

Both the Blue Devils and the Longhorns come into Friday’s game undefeated in region play.

“They have a lights-out defense,” Rice said of the Longhorns. “They bring a lot of pressure, so we are going to have to make ball security our top priority. They are 8-1 just like us, so it should be an exciting game.”

The Blue Devils go into Friday night having had the benefit of their bye week coming on Oct. 19. While Johnson County battled with Cloudland to a 14-8 win that night, UCHS began preparing for the region championship battle.

“We spent the bye week trying to keep our legs fresh, while still beginning preparations for Johnson County,” Rice said. “We have to have the best week of practice we have had all year this week.”

Key to defeating the Longhorns, according to the head coach, will be fundamentals of football.

“We have to take care of the ball and control the line of scrimmage,” Rice said. “Our offensive and defensive lines have come up huge for us all year – we are going to rely on them more than ever Friday night.”

The Blue Devils are ready to perform under the pressure of such a big game, Rice said.

“I think we are all anxious,” he added. “We have talked about this game for a long time, and now that it’s here, with all that’s at stake, it’s huge for all of us. We are going to lean on our preparations and all the little things we have done each week to get us to this point. I have a lot of confidence in our leadership from these juniors and seniors.”

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Win or lose to Johnson County, the Blue Devils will play in the first round of the 3A playoffs at Gentry Stadium on Nov. 2 at 7 p.m. The Longhorns will also host a playoff game regardless of the outcome of Friday’s game.

“We will play at home the first round of the playoffs, no matter what,” Rice said. “Obviously, we want to get the number one seed so we would be playing a number four seed instead of the number three seed. If we win, we will probably see Northview Academy. If we lose, we would more than likely see Gatlinburg Pittman.”

UCHS officials are reminding those who plan to attend the playoff game on Nov. 2 that season tickets and conference passes will not be accepted.  All school system employees will also have to purchase a ticket.