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Devils finish 4th after loss to Longhorns

Missed opportunities on the road gave the Blue Devils a spook before Halloween.
After holding the Johnson County Longhorns scoreless in the first half, the Unicoi County High School football team couldn’t hang on and fell 20-12 at Harold Arnold Field in Mountain City on Friday, Oct. 30.
The loss moved the Blue Devils to 5-5 overall and 4-3 in the Mountain Eight Conference. The win for the Longhorns tied Blue Nation’s record, but gave the squad the third seed for the upcoming TSSAA Class 3A playoffs.
UCHS slipped to the fourth seed and have a trip set to the AP number one state-ranked Alcoa Tornadoes on Friday, Nov. 6.
There were positives in Friday’s loss for the Blue Devils. The contest marked the first time since 2012 that the team finished the regular season with a 5-5 record and this year marked the first time since 2013 the team qualified for the postseason.
Pressure of obtaining the program’s first winning season since 1996 also affected the players during game, according to UCHS head coach Glenn White.
“It was the motivational factor, but it was pressure for the kids, too” White said after the contest. “But let me tell you something, if someone would have told me in August this bunch would be 5-5 and a playoff team after going 0-10 last year, I would have said you’re crazy. The boys played hard, but it was just a comedy of errors on our part.”
Trailing the Blue Devils, 12-0, in the third quarter, the Longhorns struck as Gage Hampton busted up the middle to the end zone from 16 yards out. The score and extra point cut the lead to five, 12-7, with a little more than nine minutes left in the quarter.
Johnson County took the lead later in the quarter when quarterback Nathan Arnold connected with Dakota Wright on a 6-yard touchdown pass on fourth down to move into the fourth with the 14-12 advantage.
The Longhorns tacked on their final score with 2:03 to go in the fourth on a 4-yard run by Wright. The extra point was shanked to give the Blue Devils one last attempt on their two-minute drive.
Junior Nick Fender moved the ball past midfield on the ensuing kickoff, but a penalty backed the Blue Devils up. Quarterback Hunter Hensley completed back-to-back passes to Eli Gillis to move the Blue Devils near the red zone, but a failed fourth down attempt wrapped up the game for the squad.
With 12 flags on the Blue Devils, White said he liked the fight of his team.
“I think that’s where a young football team wanting to have a winning season comes into play and I put too much pressure on them for that,” White said. “But I tell you what, I’m glad we were in that position. I was glad we were there and had a chance at the end to put ourselves in a position to get back into the game. Like I told those underclassmen, they have another chance next year. It hurts us all right now, but we’ll live to fight another day.”
Defense was the calling card for both squads in the first half until the Blue Devils struck first with a 2-yard plunge from Cameron Higgins in the second quarter.
Hensley orchestrated the Blue Devils’ second score after breaking loose for a 57-yard run. This drive ended with an 8-yard rush to the end zone.
The Longhorns marched down the field looking to put a score on the board with time expiring in the second quarter, but Brandon Caldwell came up with an interception to give the Blue Devils momentum heading into the half.
Hensley finished the contest with a team-high 103 yards on 17 carries. He also wrapped up the contest with 42 yards through the air, surpassing the 1,000-yard for passing mark on the season.
Fender was another Blue Devil to finish with more than 100 yards of offense on the night. He had 102 yards on 22 carries.
Dylon Burgess led the team with six total tackles. Warren Shelton added 5.5 tackles and a fumble recovery.
Defensive end Jacob Smith added a handful of quarterback pressures and tacked on three tackles for losses for the defensive line.
Arnold led the Longhorns through the air going 20-31 passing for 202 yards.
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The Blue Devils gear up for a trip to the Knoxville area this week to take on Alcoa in the first round of the playoffs. Kickoff for Friday’s contest is set for 7 p.m.
“We’re there,” White said. “We’re going to break down the film and put our kids in the best position to compete and try to go out there to make things happen.”
The Tornadoes wrapped up the regular season with a 9-1 record overall and a perfect 5-0 mark in their league. Alcoa posted a 33-7 victory over Christian Academy of Knoxville (CAK) on Thursday, Oct. 29, for the Region 2 championship.
Alcoa’s lone blemish on their record came in a 20-14 loss against Class 6A top-ranked Maryville on Sept. 11.
The Tornadoes currently have third-string quarterback Walker Russell as the starter. Second string quarterback Jaylen Meyers was helped off the field during the first half against CAK.
Alcoa’s other quarterback, Mitchell McClurg, went down the previous week.
Head coach Gary Rankin’s team had no problems knocking off CAK with three key turnovers in the contest.
With a mountain of a task ahead for UCHS, Blue Nation is not backing down, White said.
“We have to go back to our motto,” he said. “What we talked about all year … about being a Blue Devil. We are Blue Devils and we never give up. We fight to the finish and we have some good football players. It’ll be a big task, but we’ve been there before. We’ll be as sound as we can and get after it.”
Other playoff contests scheduled for Friday include Elizabethton hosting Scott County, Pigeon Forge hosting Kingston Academy and Johnson County at CAK.