By Keeli Parkey
It took only 19 seconds for the Unicoi County High School football team (5-3, 3-0) to assert its dominance over Unaka on Friday, Oct. 6, at Erwin’s Gentry Stadium as the team cruised to a 64-30 victory.
“I thought we played well and executed our game plan,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record.
An 82-yard return on the opening kickoff by Kody Lewis setup a 4-yard touchdown run by Brett Strother. Martin Porras converted the point-after attempt (PAT) and UCHS held a 7-0 less than 30 seconds into the game.
The Blue Devil offense played efficiently the entire first half.
“We executed the game plan and took care of the ball,” Rice said. “That’s what we ask of our guys and that’s what they did. We have multiple guys who are weapons on our offense, we just have to continue to get the ball in their hands.”
The Blue Devil defense showed it had control of the game during Unaka’s first possession, forcing the Rangers to punt. Despite a few long passes the Rangers converted during the game, the UCHS defense kept Unaka in check, especially during the first half.
“I thought our first team defense played really well,” Rice said. “They didn’t give up a score while they were in there. We had a couple plays get behind us in the first half, but we got it fixed at half time.”
The defense played so well during the first half that they kept the Rangers off the scoreboard. While the UCHS defense did its job, the Blue Devil offense continued to roll, scoring four more touchdowns in the first two quarters. The scoring plays came on a 7-yard run by Strother, a 46-yard pass from quarterback Brock Thompson to Troy Podvin, a 9-yard run by Lewis and 10-yard pass from Thompson to Austin O’Dell.
“Brock is still throwing extremely well, while continuing to take care of the ball has been huge for our offense and our team,” Rice said. “Our offensive line continues to move people.”
The final UCHS touchdown of the first half came thanks to Bradley Edwards’ fumble recovery and 29-yard run into the end zone.
“I don’t know if any one play stood out more than another, but I do think that the way we consistently moved the ball on offense and got stops on defense was good to see,” Rice said. “Anytime you’re up 42-0 at the half, chances are you’ve executed pretty well.”
Thanks to his team’s significant lead, Rice was able to utilize players who typically don’t see varsity minutes during the second half against Unaka.
“It was good to get some young guys some playing time,” Rice said. “I thought our young guys played extremely well. All the second half scores were from sophomores. It’s great to see guys like Tanner VanHoy and Diego Diaz have success. We know they are going to be a big part of our program in the next two-and-a-half years and seeing them play like they did Friday only reaffirms that.”
The Blue Devils and Rangers both scored multiple touchdowns in the second half, but this game was essentially over at halftime. UCHS won the non-conference contest, 64-30.
Thompson completed 9-13 passes for 180 yards and 2 touchdowns in the win. Owen Nicholson caught 3 passes for 76 yards. Podvin caught 2 passes for 61 yards and 1 touchdown. Strother caught 2 passes for 22 yards. Edwards had 1 catch for 11 yards. O’Dell had 1 catch for 10 yards and 1 touchdown.
Lewis had 8 carries for 87 yards and 2 touchdowns. Diaz had 1 carry for 64 yards and 1 touchdown. Strother had 4 carries for 47 yards and 2 touchdowns. Michael Smith had 3 carries for 27 yards. Vanhoy had 5 carries for 20 yards and 1 touchdown. Easton Edwards had 3 carries for 14 yards.
Smith led the Blue Devil defense against Unaka.
“Michael was all over the field defensively and he was a force in the middle,” Rice said. “He had 10 tackles and 4 of them were for a loss. He played fantastic.”
Noah White also had 8 tackles in the win.
• • •
A very significant game – with a lot on the line – awaits the Blue Devils this week.
UCHS will host region opponent West Greene on Friday, Oct. 13, at 7:30 p.m. at Gentry Stadium. With a win, the Blue Devils will secure a home playoff game; however, a loss could send UCHS on the road in the first round of the postseason depending on the results of the final weeks of play. The Blue Devils secured a playoff berth with their win at Chuckey-Doak on Sept. 29.
“West Greene is a really good football team,” Rice said. “They probably have the best player in the region on their team. For us to be successful, we have to keep him and their offense contained. They are big up front, so our offensive and defensive lines are going to have to bring great intensity and effort for us to continue to be successful.”
Rice asked that fans come out and support his team this week.
“We just want to stress the significance of this game,” he said. “We had three goals to begin the season: win six or more games; host a playoff game; and win the region. Winning this Friday would check off two of those three goals.
“These guys have made that their mission and I think it’s motivated them every week. We would love to see a huge crowd for this game Friday night. It’s senior night, with a whole lot on the line. These young men deserve all the support we can give them.”
Senior night recognition will begin around 7 p.m. on Friday.