A pair of miscues by the Unicoi County High School football squads special teams unit spearheaded Sullivan Norths victory in the first round of the class 3A playoffs in quadrant one.
Kairi Thompson ran 90 yards on the opening kickoff to set the tone and pave the way for the Golden Raiders 34-0 win over the Blue Devils (5-6) during their postseason contest in Kingsport on Friday.
We played them very evenly offensively and defensively, Blue Devil head coach Jerad Huskins said. It was probably the best game weve had a chance to give North that I can remember and the coaches really did a good job of implementing a game plan to put us in a position to compete.
We did a good job of containing Kairi (Thompson) on offense, but they really jumped just ahead once they got the kickoff return for a touchdown.
The Devil offense was flowing on their first drive of the contest, until Bon Salyers intercepted a pass by Devil quarterback Lucas Hensley. The interception gave the Raiders ideal field position.
The Blue Devil defense made its presence felt early by stopping the Golden Raiders traditional Wing-T offense on a fourth-and-12.
Before halftime, the Devils matched the Golden Raiders high octane offense by also totaling close to 100 yards.
The Raiders led the Devils 6-0 going into the second quarter of play.
Defensively, I thought our guys played lights outs, Huskins said. We really had them contained defensively and we didnt allow the big play during the night. We really have to credit our kids for giving a great effort during the night.
An offsides penalty against the Devils on fourth-and-one during their first drive of the second quarter forced the Devils to punt. North took advantage of a high snap to Blue Devil punter Keith Arrowood and blocked the kick. Nick Jennings recovered the ball and carried it into the end zone for the second Golden Raider touchdown of the game with 11:52 to play in the first half.
Will Henshaws successful extra point attempt gave North a 13-0 lead.
The Golden Raiders scored again with 2:46 to play in the first half on Brett Peters five-yard scamper. North led 20-0 at halftime.
On their first drive of the second half, the Blue Devils marched 70 yards down the field, but a fumble at the goal line kept UCHS out of the end zone and gave North a touchback.
When we looked back at the film, we had our opportunities, Huskins said. Phillip (Franklin) ran hard during the night and it looked like he may have been down, but the call was made. The 32-yard touchdown pass from Lucas (Hensley) was negated on a holding penalty away from the play.
You cant give stuff like that to North. Theyre 10-1 now for a reason.
The Devils rushing attack amassed over 100 yards on the ground and was led by Franklin, who rushed for 53 yards on five carries. Right behind him was sophomore Luke Fronckoski, who had 15 carries for 52 yards. Senior tailback Hunter Abbott, who was limited due to injury, had 11 carries for 31 yards. Arrowood also chipped in a carry of 20 yards.
Hensley was 5-15 through the air for UCHS for 50 yards. Arrowood was the popular target with four catches for 46 yards. Thomas Tipton had a four-yard reception.
Franklin led the Blue Devil defense with 11 tackles. Jordan Berry, Hunter Burnett and Matthew Johnson all had eight tackles. Freshman Colt Meyers, along with Hensley, each had fumble recoveries.
After the game, we looked at film and saw the missed opportunities we had, Huskins said. But right after the game, we already had kids asking about getting into the weightroom to get better for next year. The kids got the taste of the postseason and want to make another trip next year.
While the season is over, the future is bright for the UCHS football program, according to Huskins.
It was a great season for our guys, he added. We won the games we needed to, pulled out some close games, and got to the five-win mark, something that these kids took great pride in.
Were getting back 35 of our 42 man roster next year who now have playoff experience. That, on top of a potential big crop coming from the eighth grade class from the middle school has the program in a great position.
While the season will continue next year for some of the players, the seven seniors who will be graduating were a big part of what the program has accomplished, Huskins said.
Its going to be a big change of pace not being able to pencil in these guys on our next years roster, he added. Theyre good football players, but just great guys overall and we hope to see them around over the years supporting the team and still being part of the program.
The 2013 season is still clouded by a little uncertainty. The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association is currently in the process of setting up the new districts for the upcoming seasons.
Were excited about what the future has in store for our program, Huskins said. Theres a possibility of staying the Three Rivers Conference with Sullivan South, Sullivan Central may drop down, and theres even a chance that we may head to the Blue Ridge Conference.
Its still up in the air until the TSSAA decides everything during the middle of this month, he added. Were going to have the playmakers at each level, coming from the upcoming seniors to the eighth graders coming in, it will be a great position for our football program.
In the quadrant one playoffs Sullivan North will face West Greene in Kingsport on Friday. The Buffaloes pulled the upset of Cumberland Gap in the bottom half of the bracket last week.
In the top part of the bracket, Elizabethton handled their business against Johnson County in a blowout victory. Elizabethton will meet Gatlinburg-Pittman in the second round, who also had a huge game offensively, blowing out Chuckey-Doak in Sevier County on Friday.
By Curtis Carden