By Keeli Parkey
The Unicoi County High School football team had to battle two opponents in their first game of the season – the South Greene Rebels and Mother Nature. In the first quarter, the Rebels gave the Blue Devils problems. Then in the second quarter, Mother Nature took control of the game, forcing a delay of almost two hours before play could resume.
Before the lightning and rain came, South Greene took the first possession of the game into the end zone for a 6-0 lead when Levi Myers rushed from 1 yard out. The Blue Devils then got nowhere on their first possession of the game and had to punt. The Rebels then scored again on a 2-yard run by Nick Hopson for a 12-0 lead.
Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice said first-game jitters got the best of his team early in the contest.
“I think a lot of it was first-game nerves,” he said. “There’s such a build up to that first one. We start talking about it as soon as spring practice is over, and then once it’s here, it can be almost an overwhelming feeling.”
UCHS got on the scoreboard when quarterback Brock Thompson hit Kody Lewis for a 48-yard touchdown. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt and the Blue Devils had life.
“We talk a lot about always believing we are going to be successful, and I think that game was a good example of our kids taking that to heart,” Rice said. “Even when we got down 12-0, I don’t think any of them thought we were going to lose. It says a lot about their determination and resolve.”
The Blue Devils then took the lead for good when Thompson hit Peyton Whitson from 26 yards out. Porras again converted the point-after attempt and UCHS held a 14-12 lead.
Then, Mother Nature took control of the game. Lightning was spotted and the field and bleachers were cleared just as a downpour began. Coaches, players and fans had to wait out the weather delay and a power outage before play resumed around 9:45 p.m.
“It was nerve-wracking because there were so many variables, the lightning, the rain and then the power going out,” Rice said. “Then our worry went to getting warmed back up after having to sit so long and regaining the momentum we gained right before the storm started. We just told them they had to stay ready and that when we went back out, that we would have to get it going again.”
When play resumed, UCHS added to the lead, this time on a 7-yard touchdown run by Lewis. Porras did his job again and the Blue Devils led 21-12. South Greene stayed in the game with a 48-yard touchdown run by Caleb Parkins. The team’s two-point conversion failed and UCHS went into the third quarter with a 21-18 lead.
In the third quarter, it appeared the Blue Devils had taken control of the game again when Lewis scored on a 40-yard touchdown run, followed by a successful Porras kick. But, again the Rebels responded. This time, Tristan Biddy took a kickoff return 70 yards for a touchdown. UCHS led 28-24 at the end of the quarter.
In the fourth quarter, the Blue Devils built a two-touchdown cushion thanks to Lewis’ fourth score of the game and a 2-yard run by Noah White. UCHS led 42-24 until the Rebels scored the final touchdown of the game. The Blue Devils won, 42-32.
“I thought we fought through some things, both on the field and with the delay, that showed what our kids are made of,” Rice said. “We had some guys who really laid it all on the line and the final result showed that.”
There was a lot that the head coach liked on Friday.
“The positives were that we survived all of those circumstances, and still came out with a win,” Rice said. “We took care of the football, as we had zero turnovers. We had a lot of success running the football, which is something that we want to be able to hang our hats on. The slow start would be the only big negative that I would point out. We have some small things we have to correct, but overall I am pleased with where we are heading into Week 2.”
The Blue Devils had 331 total yards of offense – 84 passing and 247 on the ground. Thompson was 4-9 for 84 yards and 2 touchdowns. Lewis had 4 touchdowns, 3 of which were rushing touchdowns. He also had 161 yards on 19 carries and 1 catch for 48 yards.
Brett Strother had 12 carries for 64 yards. Whitson had 1 catch for 26 yards and a touchdown. White had 4 carries for 19 yards and a touchdown. Porras was 6-6 on point-after attempts.
White and Strother led the Blue Devil defense with 11 and 10 tackles, respectively. Jacob Schreck and Tanner VanHoy each had 8 tackles. Roby Lemmon and Lewis each had 7. LJ. Mitchell and Danny Lowery had 6 tackles each.
The Blue Devils will travel to Sullivan East for a non-conference game on Friday, Aug. 24, at 7:30 p.m.
“They are a 4A football team that is huge up front,” Rice said of the Patriots. “They are good at what they do. We are going to have to play fast and play our assignments to counter all their size.”