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Blue Devils bounce back from loss

A year of firsts continued for the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil football team last week.
After erasing a year-long winless streak with a victory during the first week of the season, the Blue Devils earned their first league victory in over a year by knocking off West Greene 26-10 on Thursday, Sept. 3, at Jim Sauceman Field in Mosheim.
UCHS moved to 2-1 on the season following their Mountain 8 Conference opener, while the Buffaloes slipped to 1-2.
“This is the first step for our two goals,” Blue Devil head coach Glenn White said after the win. “Having a winning season and hosting a home playoff game. We’re right on track with that.”
Junior tailback Cameron Higgins (18 carries, 84 yards) was the focus point on the trips into the red zone for the Blue Devils. Higgins accounted for all four Blue Devil touchdowns during the game. He now has seven touchdowns through the first three games of this season.
Higgins was part of a well-oiled offensive machine that totaled more than 380 yards, with 270 coming on the ground attack from the trio of Higgins, quarterback Hunter Hensley (nine carries, 107 yards) and junior rusher Nick Fender (16 carries, 79 yards).
“We cannot do it without the other person,” Higgins said about the run-by-committee approach by UCHS. “We all have to come out at some point, and someone else comes in. All our runners do a great job and it starts up front with our linemen opening up the holes for us.”
The Blue Devils took control after the kickoff and marched downfield on an 8-play, 80-yard drive that took 3:25 off the clock. Sophomore wide receiver Owen Nicholson made a pair of defenders miss to put UCHS on the doorstep of the Buffs goal line with a 35-yard reception. Higgins plunged in from 1-yard out on the next play to give UCHS the 7-0 advantage, following the successful point-after attempt (PAT) by Eddie Martinez. Martinez kicked two PATs in the contest.
UCHS continued the production on their second possession of the game; this time marching in 11 plays with Higgins hitting pay dirt from two yards out for the 14-0 lead with time 2:16 left in the first.
West Greene responded on their next drive, which spilled over into the second quarter, with Ryan Smith going in from two yards out to cut the lead to one score, 14-7, with 9:29 left in the first half.
Blue Nation stalled out on their next possession, but were given one last shot for a score before halftime after West Greene kicker Brock Shelton’s 39-yard field goal sailed off target. Hensley was able to move the squad from their own 22-yard-line down inside the Buffs red zone, but a touchdown saving tackle on Shaddon Peavyhouse by West Greene kept the score within striking distance to open the third.
With West Greene sophomore quarterback Juliun Lane, in his second start of the year, presenting problems for UCHS, White said the team looked to change up the defensive presence for the remainder of the game.
“We made some adjustments there in the second half,” White said. “We moved guys around up front and I thought Dayton (Clark) and Randall (Blangin) stepped up from their outside linebacker spot to shut them down.”
West Greene opened the third quarter near their own 20-yard-line, but started going backwards with Blangin and Clark making back-to-back plays to stop Lane for losses. The Buffs stalled with a punt and Fender returned the kick toward midfield for ideal starting territory for the drive. The Blue Devils needed just three plays to get back on the board with Higgins reaching the end zone again from 2 yards out.
Blangin (5-1/2 tackles, 1-1/2 sack) said the Blue Devils’ focus was quick to change heading into Thursday’s game coming off their home-opening loss the week before.
“We just looked at the next game,” Blangin said. “We just wanted this win more than they did.”
And those defensive stops did nothing but fuel the offense, according to Higgins.
“We knew if we could get the stops, defensively, it would give our offense the push it needed to score,” the running back said. “There’s always that momentum going from one game into another. We’re very happy and thankful for the win tonight and we’re going to push that on into our next game and throughout the rest of the season.”
Hensley added another 100-yard performance through the air, hitting five of eight targets for 114 yards.
Michael Howell led all receivers with two grabs for 51 yards. Along with Nicholson’s lone reception, Peavyhouse rounded out the group with a pair of receptions for 28 yards.
“I was very pleased with our offensive effort,” White said. “West Greene is always a traditionally tough team and they are well-coached. I thought we threw the ball well, but, wow, that power package we had when we fed the ball to Cameron Higgins … he’s a tough runner, but he has those five in front of him and that worked well for us. Hunter (Hensley) played a great game. I also want to commend the entire coaching staff on a well-called game. This is just a win we can be proud of and it just feels great to get back into the win column.”
Senior lineman Colt Brewer and Brandon Caldwell paced the UCHS defense with eight tackles each.
Warren Shelton, Tyler Whitson, Dawson and Logan Lance floated near the 4-to-5 tackle total with the dogpiles at the line of scrimmage.
Blue Devil Eli Gillis added a pair of stops and generated his second turnover of the year – an interception he returned for 23 yards in the fourth quarter.
“They just outplayed us tonight,” West Greene assistant coach Mark Greenlee said. “We played content … We weren’t very physical up front or on the backside. (Unicoi County) came ready to play. They’re coming off a winless season from last year … they just wanted it more than us tonight.”
UCHS prepares for homecoming night on Friday, Sept. 11, by welcoming Happy Valley to Gentry Stadium.
The Warriors enter the contest with winless record of 0-2, coming off a near come-from-behind victory against Sullivan North. Happy Valley fell after a 14-point fourth quarter rally against the Golden Raiders, 27-21.
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The Blue Devil junior varsity football team was out of action this week with West Greene having to cancel their previously scheduled game.
UCHS is scheduled to host the Happy Valley junior varsity on Monday, Sept. 14, at 6 p.m. at Gentry Stadium.