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Blue Devils defeat Doak

Unicoi County High School used a ‘Fender’ bender to their advantage to stay alive in the Class 3A playoff picture.
Blue Devil Nick Fender rushed for 176 yards on 20 carries, including a touchdown, and added an 80-yard kickoff return for a score in the team’s 44-33 Mountain Eight Conference triumph over Chuckey-Doak during the Black Knights’ homecoming night in Afton on Friday, Oct. 2.
After being used as a setup man all season for UCHS (3-3, 2-1), it was only a matter a time before the junior would reach pay dirt, according to head coach Glenn White.
“Nick did a great job and we were glad he got some touchdowns,” White said. “During the season, he’d take the ball all the way down before we’d go to our power package, but boy, I’m glad to see him have those runs and that kickoff return, too.”
The win over Chuckey-Doak (4-2, 2-1) snapped a two-game losing streak for UCHS and keeps the team in the hunt for one of the four playoff spots open in the league.
“This was a big win,” Fender said. “It brings our hopes up and I think we’ll carry it over into next week.”
Blue Devil Cameron Higgins (nine carries, 47 yards, 3 TDs) added his part to the run game with a trio of scores inside the red zone to move his rushing touchdown total to 10 on the season.
With all of the UCHS scoring coming off the ground, Fender credited his offensive line for opening up the holes all night and was seconded by comments from his head coach.
“Nick had a good game and Cameron ran well,” White said, “but it comes down to those boys up front.”
The offensive line for the Blue Devils helped the team march down the field on an 80-yard drive apped off by a 1-yard keeper by quarterback Hunter Hensley. The two-point rush by Higgins gave UCHS the 8-0 advantage with under five minutes to go in the first quarter.
Hensley (16 carries, 46 yards) helped carry the load as the Blue Devils marched back down the field in the opening minutes of the second quarter. UCHS scored again – this time on a 4-yard rush from Higgins. However, a failed two-point attempt at the 10:26 mark kept the score at 14-0.
Chuckey-Doak was able to make things interesting in the remaining minutes of the first half.
Tanner Barkley pushed his way into the end zone on a quarterback sneak for the Black Knights’ first score. Running back Corey Starkweather later added a 1-yard plunge on a 44-yard drive after a failed fourth down conversion by UCHS to knot things up 14-14 at halftime.
Higgins reached the end zone twice in the third quarter, from 7 yards and 14 yards out, and Fender added a 10-yard score to pad the lead at 36-14 heading into the fourth.
Chuckey-Doak was able to cut the deficit within nine points, 36-27, with back-to-back scores from Starkweather and Brandon Marshall, but Fender was able to put the final stamp on the contest with the 80-yard dash on special teams to make it a two-score lead, 44-27, with under five minutes left in the game.
The Black Knights were able to out gain the Blue Devils on offense 334 to 328 with the brunt coming during the throwaway minutes of the game where Barkley connected with Devin Jennings for a 10-yard pass with time expiring.
Defensive adjustments allowed the Blue Devils to stop the run-oriented Black Knights, White said. After coming off a 188-yard performance in an overtime win against Sullivan North the week before, Starkweather was limited to 112 yards on the ground on 20 carries.
“We went from a 40 to a 50,” White added. “The Wing-T that Chuckey-Doak runs is a complicated offense as far as the misdirection. I thought we did a real good job there and I credit coach (Drew) Rice, coach (Malcolm) Foreman, coach (Jason) Hensley, coach (Jordan) Cooper and coach (Brandon) Adams for doing that.”
Blue Devil senior lineman Justin Nelson rejoined the team after recuperating from a leg injury on the defensive front to help pace the team.
Linebacker Dylon Burgess led the way with six total tackles, while Jacob Smith added five. Colt Brewer, Dawson Hensley, Dylan Lewis and Higgins, who added a fumble recovery, also helped lead the defense with four total tackles scattered around.
The Blue Devils had nine stops netting negative yardage for the Black Knights, something to be expected according to senior safety Brandon Caldwell.
“We just played as hard as we have all season,” Caldwell, who served as a ball hawk with a pair of pass deflections, said. “We focused all week … We knew they were good at what they did, so we just focused at practice and were able to get the job done tonight.”
Freshman Brett Strother led the Blue Devil receiving core with a pair of receptions for 36 yards. Michael Howell added a grab for 15 yards and Fender caught a first down worth 13 yards.
“We’ve got our head above water now,” White said. “We’re up toward the top of the conference now at 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the league. We’ve got Pigeon Forge coming into Gentry Stadium next week and that’s good. It is a whole lot easier to go back to work after you win one.
“I’m real pleased with this football team getting a win against a good ball club like Chuckey-Doak. We’re just going to go back to work and prepare for Pigeon Forge.”
The Blue Devils welcome Pigeon Forge in a battle of 2-1 teams in the conference on Friday, Oct. 9, at 7:30 p.m. in Erwin.
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UCHS junior varsity players were able to earn a victory along with the varsity team last week, defeating North Greene on Monday, Sept. 28, by a 42-22 score in Erwin.
The squad was scheduled to face Chuckey-Doak on Monday, Oct. 5, after The Erwin Record’s press deadline.
The Blue Devils will be back in action on Monday, Oct. 12, with a trip to Washington County to face the David Crockett underclassmen with kickoff set for 6 p.m.