By Keeli Parkey
The Unicoi County High School Blue Devil football team jumped on the South Greene Rebels from the first possession of the season opener and never looked back en route to a 35-0 victory at Gentry Stadium on Friday, Aug. 19.
“When you open up the way we did and score 35 points in the first game, you have to feel good about it,” Blue Devil head coach Glenn White said. “You also have to feel good about the shutout; it was the first at Gentry Stadium in probably four years. We were pleased with the overall team performance and we are looking forward to next week.”
The Rebels received the kickoff Friday night, but didn’t keep possession for long as the Blue Devil defense forced a fumble and took over with good field possession.
The Blue Devils didn’t keep the ball for long either, as quarterback Kendrick Williams (14-18, 299 yards and 3 TDs, according to stats provided by the Blue Devil coaching staff) connected with fellow senior Michael Howell (5 catches for 73 yards and 2 TDs) on the first play of the possession with a 28-yard touchdown pass.
“Kendrick threw the ball very well,” White said. “We were very pleased with him.”
Senior kicker Christian Leon (5-5 on PATs) came in and converted the extra point, the first of five he would kick for the game, to give the Blue Devils a 7-0 lead.
“Christian is a soccer player,” White said. “We had been trying to find a kicker. Coach (Brandon) Adams got Christian to come out to play. He did a great job Friday. He is an offensive weapon. He missed a 37-yard field goal by just inches. We are blessed to have him. It’s a joy to see Unicoi County kicking field goals.”
The Rebels kept the ball for a bit longer on their next possession, but were forced to punt following a 3-and-out. UCHS took over near their own 20-yard line and orchestrated a march down the field for their second score of the game on the legs of senior Nick Fender (13 carries for 88 yards and 1 TD), who returned to play following a preseason injury. The scoring drive concluded with Fender carrying the ball into the end zone. Leon’s extra point was good and the Devils took a 14-0 lead.
“Nick ran hard,” White said. “He wants to run the ball hard. He is eager.”
White said fans should continue to watch Fender and other UCHS rushers for big plays as the season goes along, thanks to an improving offensive line.
“We have been rebuilding our offensive line after last season,” White added. “I am pleased with how we played up front on Friday. There were several times where we were just one block away from a big play. We are working to fix that and we can.”
Penalties resulted in lost yardage for UCHS on their next offensive possession. The Blue Devils had a solid drive going down the field before two unsportsmanlike penalties forced them into a second and 43.
“We had 12 penalties and that is too many,” White said. “That is typical for the first game of the season. Our boys are competitors and when they get their dander up it is sometimes hard to pull them back. We are teaching, and we have always taught them, that they have to contain that. That doesn’t resemble our young men, our team or our school. We have addressed that and I don’t think we’ll have that problem again.”
Following the penalties, Williams let the ball fly to senior Shaddon Peavyhouse (2 catches for 85 yards) for an almost 30-yard gain. Fender carried for almost 10 yards before Williams found Howell in the end zone again. Leon stayed perfect with his third point-after kick and UCHS held a commanding 21-0 in the first quarter.
Both teams were held scoreless in the second quarter and the Blue Devils took the 21-0 lead into the locker room.
UCHS received the ball at the start of the third and saw sophomore Brett Strother return the kickoff for 15 yards to the 30-yard line. On first down, Williams hit Strother (2 catches for 39 yards) for a 20-yard gain and another first down. A holding penalty backed up the Blue Devils. Then, Williams handed off to Fender who carried the ball past midfield.
Williams again let the ball fly, this time to senior Dylan Lewis (1 catch for 43 yards and 1 TD), for another touchdown. Leon found the uprights again and the Blue Devils led 28-0.
The Rebels put together one of their best offensive drives of the night. However, Blue Devil junior Michael Smith (9 tackles, including 4 for losses, 1 fumble recovery) recovered a Rebel fumble and raced to the end zone for the final UCHS touchdown of the game. Leon then converted his fifth extra point on the game and the Blue Devils led 35-0.
Both teams were held scoreless in the fourth and the Blue Devils left the field with a 35-0 victory.
“I was very pleased with the effort of our players and coaches,” White said of the victory. “I believe there are a lot of positive things ahead for our team.”
Lewis led the Blue Devil defense with 10 tackles, according to the stats provided by the coaching staff. Tyler Whitson had 7 tackles; Jacob Smith and Strother had 5 each; Brett Lemmon, Owen Nicholson and Justin Laughren each had 4. Whitson and Lewis also had a fumble recovery each.
Kody Lewis had two carries for 18 yards for the UCHS offense.
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A cloud over Friday’s victory was injuries to seniors Dylon Burgess and Laban Peterson. Burgess suffered a sprain to ligaments in his elbow, according to White, who said he hopes Burgess can return to the field when the Blue Devils face Chuckey-Doak on Sept. 30. Peterson suffered a leg injury and is expected to miss a few weeks.
The Blue Devils are still awaiting the return of senior Cameron Higgins, who is nursing a knee injury. He will be reevaluated this week.
“Those are three important players for us on offense and defense,” White said. “We want to get them well and get them back on the field.”
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The Blue Devils will look to avenge a loss from last season when they travel to Bluff City to face the Sullivan East Patriots on Friday, Aug. 26, at 7:30 p.m. The Patriots defeated the Blue Devils, 35-0, in Erwin during the second week of the 2015 season.
White said he believes his team has what it takes to get a victory over East.
“Sullivan East has a good group of kids,” White said. “I believe they have won 15 games in the last two years. I have watched the film from last year’s game and I do not feel they have better skill players than what we have. They have around 10 starters back and they resemble our group. We match up well.
“I believe it is going to be a very tough game against East and a great game to watch,” he continued. “I believe without a doubt we have the potential to go over there and win on Friday night.”
East defeated Johnson County, 34-7, in the first game of the 2016 season.
White said he hopes the Blue Devil faithful will make the trip to Sullivan East this week.
“We appreciate the fan base coming out to watch us against South Greene,” he added. “We ask everyone to come to Bluff City to support us. We definitely feel we have a good opportunity to come out of there with our second win of the season.”