By Keeli Parkey
The Unicoi County High School football team (3-3, 2-1) returned to Gentry Stadium in style last week.
Facing region opponent Chuckey-Doak (2-4) on homecoming night, Friday, Sept. 30, the Blue Devils wasted no time in asserting themselves as the better team, earning Drew Rice his first win as head coach with a 42-10 victory.
“I thought we played well,” Rice said. “We had the bye week prior to it and we really focused on details and doing our individual jobs and as a team taking it one game at a time. We talked about finding a way to be 1-0 that week. I think our guys bought into that. I thought their focus was great and they had a great effort. We talked about laying it all on the line. I thought the guys did that and I was very proud of them.”
Rice said getting his first win as a head coach at Gentry Stadium on homecoming night was unforgettable.
“It’s hard to explain,” Rice said of his feelings about the win. “Obviously, it was great. Not only that, the way our guys played and the way we won made it even more special. It is something I will always remember. It was special.”
The Blue Devil offense needed only 39 seconds to reach the end zone for the first time against the Black Knights when quarterback Kendrick Williams found Nick Fender on a screen pass. Christian Leon converted his first of six successful extra point attempts and UCHS took a 7-0 lead in front of the large home crowd.
“It’s always good to come out hot like that and get things rolling,” Rice said of his team’s fast start. “Not only is it good for us, it makes things tough for the other team; it gets them started on a bad note and for the rest of the game they are trying to catch up. If we keep having fast starts like that I think we’ll be in good shape.”
Taking over on their own 37-yard-line, Chuckey-Doak found themselves with fourth-and-one on their first possession. Blue Devil Jacob Smith brought this drive to an end with a tackle in the backfield.
A pass interference call against the Black Knights helped the Blue Devils march down field for Fender’s second touchdown of the game – this time on the ground. Leon again converted the extra point and the Devils led 14-0 with just over eight minutes to play in the opening quarter of Fender’s first game back from injury.
“Nick is rock solid,” Rice said. “He helps our offense stay balanced. We have had some success throwing the ball, but he helps with our run game. I thought he played well. We are glad he is back and healthy.”
Dylon Burgess, another Blue Devil returning from injury, put an end to Chuckey-Doak’s next drive with a fumble recovery. Burgess led the UCHS defense with 12 tackles on Friday night.
“It was really nice to have Dylon back,” Rice said. “We have really missed him.”
On the next UCHS possession, an incomplete pass and a block-in-the-back penalty forced the Blue Devils into a second-and-22. Williams then threw the second of his four touchdowns of the game, this one a 79-yard completion to Shaddon Peavyhouse for a 21-0 lead.
The Blue Devils forced the Black Knights into a fourth-and-25. The ensuing punt sailed into the end zone and UCHS took over at their own 20-yard-line. On the second first down of this drive, Williams completed a 56-yard pass to Dylan Lewis for another touchdown and a commanding 28-0 Blue Devil lead with about one minute to play in the first quarter.
On the Black Knights’ next possession, it was Blue Devil Brett Lemmon making a tackle in the backfield on third-and-2 that stalled Chuckey-Doak’s drive.
Taking over possession with 9:50 to play in the half, Williams and the Blue Devil offense needed only one play to score their final touchdown of the first half. This time, Williams found Michael Howell on a 57-yard pass for the score and a 35-0 lead.
Chuckey-Doak got on the scoreboard on their next possession, needing only four plays before quarterback Logan Silvers found Randolph Dowell on a 58-yard pass and a touchdown. Brian Alvarez completed the point-after attempt and the Black Knights found some life trailing 35-7 with seven minutes to play in the half.
Chuckey-Doak threatened to score again just before halftime, but the Blue Devil defense stood firm near the goal line and kept the Black Knights out of the end zone thanks to Brett Strother stripping the ball and causing a fumble which was picked up by Shane Armstrong.
“Every week we work on stripping the ball and coming up with it,” Rice said. “It was really good to see that show up in a game at such an important time. I thought that was a big play going into halftime because it kept the lead at a comfortable margin and we went into halftime on a good note.”
Neither team would score again until, Fender rushed for a touchdown during the third quarter. The Black Knights scored again, this time off the foot of Alvarez on a 32-yard field goal.
Chuckey-Doak also found themselves almost in the end zone during the fourth quarter, but Blue Devil Michael Smith came away with a fumble recovery in the end zone to keep the Black Knights from scoring again.
“We gave up more yards than we wanted to, but we would get down there and bow our backs and keep them out,” Rice said. “We bent but we didn’t break. We had a bunch of guys who made some big plays on defense.”
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Williams went 11-15 for 316 yards and four touchdowns against the Black Knights. Peavyhouse had 3 catches for 124 yards and 1 touchdown. Dylan Lewis had 2 catches for 76 yards and 1 touchdown. Michael Howell had 2 catches for 66 yards and 1 touchdown. Fender had 1 catch for 24 yards and 1 touchdown. Brett Strother had 2 catches for 19 yards. Laban Peterson had 1 catch for 7 yards.
Fender rushed the ball 12 times for 76 yards and 2 touchdowns. Strother had 1 carry for 21 yards. Kody Lewis had 5 carries for 17 yards.
The Blue Devils had 316 passing yards and 103 rushing yards for a total of 419 yards on 41 plays.
Dylan Lewis had 10 tackles. Jacob Smith had 7 tackles and a sack. Bradley Edwards had 7 tackles. Michael Smith had 5 tackles and fumble recovery in the end zone. Kody Lewis and Tyler Whitson had 4 tackles each. Owen Nicholson had 3. Shane Armstrong had 2 tackles and a fumble recovery. Diego Diaz, Roby Lemmon and Michael Howell had 2 tackles each.
Chuckey-Doak had 308 yards of total offense – 68 passing and 240 on the ground.
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The Blue Devils will be on the road this week. They will face Pigeon Forge on the road on Friday, Oct. 7, at 7:30 p.m. The Tigers are 1-5 this season. They lost to Elizabethton, 47-7, on Sept. 30. Their only win of the year was a 35-0 victory over West Greene on Sept. 16.
“They have a really good football program,” Rice said of Pigeon Forge. “I know their season hasn’t gone as well as they would have hoped, but we are not overlooking them by any means. We are going to have to go down there and play well to win. They are very well-coached and they have good football players. We have our work cut out for us.”