By Keeli Parkey
The Unicoi County High School football team (3-3, 2-0) was firing on all cylinders against Sullivan Central in non-league play on Friday, Sept. 22. The Blue Devils ran away with a 48-14 victory, their third in four games, and again showed they are starting to come together and play up to the expectations of head coach Drew Rice.
“I was very pleased with how we played,” Rice said of the win over the Cougars. “I think it’s the most complete game we have played up to this point. These guys are starting to figure it out. We knew we would have some growing pains along the way, whether it be from youth or just guys who haven’t played a lot of football up to this point. Regardless, I think we are starting to see us growing into the team we know we can be.”
The early minutes of Friday’s game were highlighted by a 64-yard touchdown run by Sullivan Central to take a 6-0 lead. The Blue Devils then fumbled the ball on their ensuing possession to give the Cougars possession on the Blue Devils’ 35-yard line.
The UCHS defense forced Central into a fourth-and-3; then several Blue Devils got to Central’s quarterback for a sack and UCHS took over possession.
“I think us not letting the rough start bog us down was huge,” Strother said. “They had the big play on the second play of the game and then we turn around and give the ball right back to them. I was very proud of how we didn’t let that define how we were going to play. Overcoming obstacles like that are why I feel like we are heading in the right direction.”
Kody Lewis carried the ball twice, then raced 51 yards for a touchdown. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt (PAT) and the Blue Devils took a 7-6 lead. They would lead the rest of the way.
After forcing Central to punt, the Blue Devils scored again – this time on a 70-yard touchdown pass from Brock Thompson to Brett Strother for the first of three touchdown passes by Thompson and four touchdowns scored by Strother in the game.
“Brett is just doing what we knew he could do since the summer; it’s just from a different position now,” Rice said. “I think he really puts pressure on the other team’s secondary when he is at wideout, because they almost have to put double coverage over top of him.
“Brock has just been unbelievable. His maturity in which he is handling all this is very impressive. He was 12-13 Friday night for 267 yards and 3 touchdowns. To say we are excited about his future, would be a huge understatement.”
Strother rushed from 10 yards out late in the first quarter. With Porras’ successful PAT, UCHS took a dominant 21-6 lead.
Strother continued to give Central problems in the second quarter, scoring on a 24-yard pass from Thompson and on a 6-yard carry. The Blue Devils led 34-6 at halftime.
In the third quarter, Bradley Edwards rushed for a 4-yard touchdown and Troy Podvin caught an 11-yard touchdown pass from Thompson for the Blue Devils. Porras converted both PATs for a 48-6 UCHS lead.
Sullivan Central scored their last touchdown on a 1-yard rush by Austin Fleenor during the third quarter. The Cougars went for, and converted, the 2-point conversion for the final score of 48-14.
There were several bright spots for the Blue Devils in the game, according to Rice.
“Our offensive line really pushed people around,” he said. “I think that’s truly the biggest difference in how we are playing right now compared to early in the year. Matthew Hatcher and Owen Nicholson both played very well on defense, as did Shane Armstrong.”
The victory showed how the Blue Devils have improved since the beginning of the season, Rice said.
“We are taking care of the football,” he added. “That always has to be priority number one. The other thing is I think we are focusing more on our individual assignments and trying to win those one-on-one battles every play. Especially up front, I think our greatest improvement has been on the offensive line. I also can see how our commitment to the weight room is showing up more and more the deeper we get into the season. We have continued to lift three days a week in season, as well as run three days a week. I think we are starting to see that show up more and more on Friday nights.”
The Blue Devils had 406 total yards of offense – 269 in the air and 137 on the ground. Central had 203 total yards – 179 on the ground and 24 in the air.
Thompson competed 12-13 passes for 269 yards and 3 touchdowns. Strother had 4 catches for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns; he also had 5 carries for 35 yards and 2 touchdowns. Owen Nicholson had 4 catches for 48 yards. Podvin had 3 catches for 30 yards and 1 touchdown. Lewis had 8 carries for 77 yards and a touchdown. Michael Smith had 2 carries for 17 yards. Edwards had 1 carry for 4 yards and a touchdown.
Matthew Hatcher had 8 tackles. Nicholson and Noah White had 6. Armstrong had 5 tackles. Edwards had 4.
The Blue Devils hope to keep up their strong play when they face league opponent Chuckey-Doak (4-2, 1-1) in Afton on Friday, Sept. 29, at 7:30 p.m.
“We expect this to be a great test for us,” Rice said of the game against Chuckey-Doak. “They are 4-2 and are playing some really good football. It’s a huge region game for us, and we have to approach it as such.”