By Keeli Parkey
After a disappointing performance against Sullivan East the week before, the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil football team returned to form on Friday, Sept. 2.
Facing Mountain Eight Conference foe West Greene at Gentry Stadium, the Blue Devils (2-1, 1-0 ) jumped on the Buffaloes early and often on both sides of the ball en route to a 35-13 victory.
“I thought we bounced back very well,” head coach Glenn White said. “We played well. I was very pleased with our defense. They put 14 points on the board for us. Overall, it was a good night. We have things we need to work on, but it was a win and we will take those anytime we can get them.”
The Blue Devils began the first possession of the game on their own 35-yard line. A run by Owen Nicholson and a completion from quarterback Kendrick Williams to Michael Howell moved UCHS into West Greene territory. From there, they needed only one play – a 38-yard touchdown pass by Williams to Shaddon Peavyhouse – to score the first touchdown of the game.
Christian Leon converted the extra point and the Blue Devils led, 7-0.
Neither team really threatened to score again until UCHS put together its next scoring drive beginning at the 5:45 mark of the first quarter. A 10-yard penalty against the Blue Devils forced them into a second-and-11. Williams then found Laban Peterson for a 10-yard gain. UCHS then gave the ball to Tyler Whitson for the first of many carries on this possession. Whitson carried the ball for a first down.
West Greene forced the Blue Devil offense into a third-and-two and Whitson carried the ball for another first down. Completions by Williams to Howell, Peavyhouse and Nicholson took the Blue Devils down West Greene’s 19-yard line. On first down, Whitson carried for another 5 yards before the quarter came to a close.
In the second, Whitson carried the ball down to the 10-yard line, then to the 8 for a first down. The Blue Devils gave the ball to the senior again, once for no gain and then again for a 4-yard gain. On third down, Williams found Peavyhouse in the corner of the end zone for another touchdown. Leon again converted the extra point and UCHS led 14-0.
The Buffaloes and Blue Devils held one another scoreless again for several possessions. Following a timeout by UCHS with 2:44 to play in the half, Nicholson broke on a pass from West Greene’s quarterback, intercepted the ball and raced into the end zone from 16 yards out.
Leon found the uprights again and UCHS led 21-0.
The Blue Devil defense held West Greene on the Buffaloes’ next possession. Taking over at their own 16-yard line, Williams found Howell for a 34-yard gain, taking UCHS out ot the 50-yard line. West Greene forced the Blue Devils back to the 37-yard line. On third down, Williams let the ball fly to Brett Strother for the fourth score of the game.
Leon did his job again and the Blue Devils held a commanding 28-0 lead with less than one minute to play in the half.
Blue Devil Shane Armstrong forced and recovered a fumble on the Buffaloes’ ensuing possession as the horn sounded for halftime.
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UCHS came out flat in the third quarter and penalties started to cost the Blue Devils. West Greene controlled the ball most of the quarter and scored their first touchdown of the game – a 4-yard run by Juliun Lane – with less than three minutes to play in the quarter. The Blue Devils took a 28-7 lead into the final frame.
“We had a couple big scoring drives that were stalled by penalties,” White said. It was nothing intentional. When a kid gets his dander up, makes a big play and celebrates, you get a 15-yard penalty. You want your kids excited. You don’t want them to be disrespectful or anything, but you want them to be excited.
“I am proud of how aggressive we get. We have to tame it some. Those actions there – you want that enthusiasm – but, those penalties stalled scoring drives. In a close game, that would have hurt us. We have to be smarter, but I like that enthusiasm. It’s a catch-22. Football is an aggressive sport. These kids are hitting each other as hard as they can hit and they are going to get their dander up some. They are great kids to coach. They are.”
UCHS returned to form in the fourth quarter, with Dylan Lewis grabbing his second interception of the game. The Blue Devils marched across midfield and down to the 25-yard line before a personal foul call backed them up to the 40-yard line and stalled the drive.
The Blue Devils’ final score of the game came on the legs of Lewis, who ran back his third interception of the game from 62 yards out. Leon again converted the extra point for a 35-7 UCHS lead with less than four minutes to play.
“Our secondary also played very well,” White said. “Dylan and Owen both had big interceptions for scores for us.”
The Buffaloes wouldn’t stop fighting and put together a drive that resulted in a 6-yard touchdown run by Lane. The extra point was no good for the final score of 35-13.
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Williams finished the game going 19-for-28 with 288 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Howell was Williams’ favorite target against West Greene with 5 catches for 92 yards. Peavyhouse had 4 catches for 49 yards and 2 touchdowns. Strother had 4 catches for 74 yards and 1 touchdown.
Laban Peterson had 3 catches for 12 yards and Lewis had 2 catches for 62 yards.
“Our passing attack is our strength and we want to get better at that,” White said. “We feel we have two of the best receivers in Upper East Tennessee in Michael and Shaddon. We also have Brett, Owen and Dylan who are doing a great job. That is a big threat for us and should open up things for our running backs.”
Nicholson carried the ball 13 times for 48 yards. Whitson had 8 carries for 22 yards. Scott Owens had 3 carries for 8 yards.
“We have lost our starting running backs right now,” White said. “Cameron (Higgins) is out for the season with a knee injury and Nick (Fender) has an ankle injury. Those boys brought a lot to our football team. We are looking forward to getting Nick back.
“Now, we are putting Owen and Tyler back there. They ran very hard on Friday. We are going to be OK there. We just have to keep working and we will. Our offensive line is really working hard.”
Leon was perfect on extra point attempts, going 5-5 in the game.
UCHS had 362 yards of total offense – 288 in the air and 74 on the ground – on 63 plays. The Blue Devils converted 7 of 16 third downs.
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Highlights for the Blue Devil defense were 6 forced turnovers on 4 interceptions – 3 by Lewis and 1 by Nicholson – and 2 forced fumbles by Shane Armstrong. Lewis returned one of his for a touchdown from 62 yards out, while Nicholson returned his for a 16-yard touchdown.
Armstrong led the Blue Devil defense with 7 tackles, 5 assists and 1 sack. Three Blue Devils had 6 tackles each – Bradley Edwards, Nicholson and Lewis.
Smith had five; Justin Laughren had 4, including 1 sack; Howell had 3; and Whitson, Strother and Jacob Smith had 2 tackles each.
“We were very pleased with Hunter Rice’s play at nose Friday night,” White said. “We were also pleased with Shane Armstrong, a sophomore linebacker. He led the team in tackles. We moved Justin Laughren from defensive line to middle linebacker and he played well. They all played well. Our inside linebackers are starting to play well.”
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A trip to Carter County awaits the Blue Devils on Friday, Sept. 9. UCHS will face the Happy Valley Warriors at 7:30 p.m. in non-conference action. The Warriors are 2-0 on the season and are coming off a 41-24 victory over Sullivan North on Sept. 2.
“We know what the Happy Valley game is about,” White said of the decades-old rivalry. “They are having a very good year and have a group of talented players. They will get after you, but like I told our boys today, I expect us to get after them.
“This is always a rivalry game. I expect us to go over there and play our best football. We’ll get our passing game going, then get our running game going. I expect to go over there and win.”
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The Blue Devils will be holding a car wash fundraiser on Saturday, Sept. 10, at Advance Auto in Erwin. The car wash will be held from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and the cost will be $5 per car.
White said proceeds from the event will provide funds for the team’s new white uniforms.