By Trey Williams
Brock Thompson was no worse for wear after returning from a nagging injury to his non-throwing shoulder on Friday, Oct. 16, at West Greene.
The senior quarterback passed for 300-plus yards and two touchdowns and rushed for a 1-yard TD in the Blue Devils’ 42-21 victory in Mosheim. Thompson connected with Jordan Bridges on a 55-yard TD and threw a 44-yard scoring strike to Evan Huff.
The Blue Devils weren’t limited to air travel. Nehemiah Edwards rushed for in excess of 100 yards and a TD and Caleb Pelaez ran for a TD and returned an interception 47 yards for another as the Blue Devils improved to 2-1 in Region 1-3A and 4-3 overall.
“I think it’s about as well as our offense has clicked as far as both running and throwing it,” Unicoi County coach Drew Rice said. “Brock played really well. I thought it was probably the best game we’ve had all year up front. I thought our guys really did a good job at the line of scrimmage. Our pass protection was solid and we spread the ball around and had some success with it.”
West Greene entered having won two of its last three. The Buffaloes (1-3, 2-6), under first-year head coach Scotty Verran, also took Verran’s previous team, undefeated South Greene, to the wire in a 28-21 loss.
“Coach Verran is somebody I’ve got a lot of respect for,” Rice said. “The last two years when he was at South Greene, I guess they won 20 games or whatever. So he knows how to win. And we’ve got a lot of respect for West Greene. They’ve got some tough kids. And going down there – I thought it was a good (road) win for us.”
The Blue Devils defense was solid against West Greene, especially when considering that safety Gavyn Sawyer was out due to injury. Sawyer’s expected to return on Friday, Oct. 23, when Unicoi County hosts Chuckey-Doak (2-1, 4-4).
“He’s good to go this week and he probably truly could’ve gone last week,” Rice said. “But I thought the defense played well. Isaiah (Smith) is always in the mix. I thought our defensive line did a good job of getting pressure and kind of being disruptive, rushing some throws and things like that. We had a couple of chances, honestly, to kind of put it away before we did.
“But a lot of the night we had two freshmen out there defensively at the same time, Nolan Bennett and Chris Chavez, who are both gonna be very, very, very good. But anytime you’re playing freshmen on varsity there’s a learning curve there.”
The Blue Devils will need all the experience they can field against Chuckey-Doak quarterback Matthew Palazzo. He threw for 400 yards and four TDs in the Black Knights’ 36-34 defeat of Unicoi County last year.
Granted, he no longer has slot receiver Hayden Rush. But Palazzo tends to make others around him better, and fellow senior Evan Murvin gives the Black Knights balance as a ball-carrier.
“The big thing is we’ve gotta contain the quarterback,” Rice said. “The best thing that he does is extending the play. He gets out of the pocket and the longer the coverage is in play, obviously, it’s eventually gonna break down.
“Down there last year we would get pressure on him and have it covered pretty well, and he would get out of the pocket and then the coverage breaks down. And whether it was running it or throwing it, he’s just great at extending plays. … And they’ve got a good running back in the Murvin kid.”
Unicoi County is one of four teams in Region 1-3A with one loss. Claiborne, Johnson County and Chuckey-Doak are the others. Claiborne’s win last week against C-D decidedly decreased Unicoi’s chances at a No. 1 seed for the playoffs, but the Blue Devils are assured of hosting in the first round of the playoffs if they win out against Chuckey-Doak this week and Johnson County on Friday, Oct. 30. Each of the Blue Devils’ final two games is at home.
“No matter what, if we win the next two weeks we’re at home for the playoffs,” Rice said. “We have to beat Johnson County as well. With Claiborne beating Chuckey-Doak, that makes us winning the region a little less likely. But if we win two in a row we’ll host in the first round of the playoffs for the third year in a row, and that’s really important to us.”