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Blue Devils fall in playoffs to Alcoa

Alcoa quarterback Walker Russell showed no freshman jitters in his postseason debut.
The third-string Tornado signal caller kept his poise in his second start of the season as his team defeated the Unicoi County High School Blue Devil football team 38-7 in the first round of the TSSAA Class 3A playoffs on Friday, Nov. 6, at Bill Bailey Stadium.
The Tornadoes moved to 10-1 on the season, while the Blue Devils ended their season with a 5-6 mark.
“We just played one of the finest programs in the Southeast,” UCHS head coach Glenn White said after the contest. “Coach (Gary) Rankin and I go back to 1989. He was at Smith County and I was at Gordonsville … he was the first guy I ever coached against. He’s just a great guy. Alcoa treated us well tonight.
“I’m proud of our guys for battling tonight. I’m proud of our seniors for helping us get from where we were last year to this year … we wanted to do more. I personally still have a bad taste in my mouth. I thought we could have done better, but we did enough to where we can build on for next year and challenge our young men coming to do even better.”
Alcoa took full control of the contest by taking a 28-0 lead at the end of the first quarter thanks to rushing touchdowns from TayLen Mcnear and Malik Salter. Russell (7-11, 165 yards, 2 TDs) connected with Tykee Ogle-Kellogg from 16 yards out for the final score of the first.
The Tornadoes tacked on the their final 10 points of the contest in the second quarter.
Alcoa’s defense kept the Blue Devils offense within their own 20-yard before the team was able to squeak across midfield before heading into intermission down 38-0.
UCHS saw positives midway through the third quarter when senior linebacker Leon Dover hopped on top of a loose ball. The Blue Devils milked the clock on the drive with a steady diet of Hunter Hensley, Cameron Higgins, Warren Shelton and Nick Fender on the ground. Hensley connected with junior wide receiver Michael Howell on a 16-yard pass to get the Blue Devils in the red zone heading into the fourth.
After a pair of runs, Higgins found the end zone from seven yards out for his 14th touchdown of the season. Eduardo Martinez’s point-after attempt capped off the final scoring drive with 9:05 left in the game.
“That’s about the best experience you can get,” White said about the time in the postseason. “We want to get to where we can be in that position every year. This was a positive for us … it wasn’t an 80 to nothing ball game. The guys played hard and never gave up.
“We look at what we did in the Mountain Eight Conference this year. We were picked seventh in the conference to start the season and we finished fourth. I thought we came just a hair of finishing second. We played Pigeon Forge and Johnson County tough … that still left a sour taste in my mouth but that is OK. I want it to stay there until next season.”
Senior Dayton Clark grabbed the Blue Devils second fumble recovery late in the fourth quarter, but the Tornadoes took over with time expiring and elected to take a knee to end the contest.
The Blue Devils concluded the 2015 season with the first .500 regular season since 2012 and first playoff berth since 2013. White said he was proud of the effort from his players and coaches during the team’s turnaround this season.
“I’m proud of all our guys and coaches,” he added. “Coach (Doug) Cooper came back this year and implemented the offense ran at Science Hill and helped us grow this season. After the Elizabethton game, we moved to a 3-5 defense and I appointed coach (Drew) Rice as defensive coordinator and I thought he and his staff did a great job managing defense. I’m looking forward to having the coaches back next season and get ready for another season of Blue Devil football.”
In the second round of the Class 3A playoffs, Elizabethton will host Christian Academy of Knoxville on Friday, Nov 13. The Alcoa Tornadoes will host Pigeon Forge the same evening.