By Keeli Parkey
An early deficit proved to be too much for the Blue Devil football team as they hosted Volunteer on a very rainy evening at Gentry Stadium in Erwin.
“I thought we came out extremely flat to start the game, and it ended up costing us,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice said of the Oct. 25 contest. “We can’t dig ourselves into a hole like that, especially against a 5A football team.”
After forcing the Blue Devils to punt on the first possession of the game, Volunteer (3-6) needed only four plays to march down the field and into the end zone. The Falcons’ first touchdown was a 12-yard run by Peyton Derrick. Dawson Dykes converted the extra point and the visitors held a 7-0 lead with six minutes to play in the first quarter.
The Falcons added two touchdowns in the second quarter as the rain began to come down even harder. They took a 14-0 lead when quarterback Garrison Barrett hit Derrick on a 13-yard touchdown pass. Volunteer then took a 20-0 lead when Derrick broke loose for a 64-yard touchdown run with less than one minute to play in the first half.
The Blue Devils started their ensuing possession at Volunteer’s 40-yard line thanks to a 42-yard kickoff return by Evan Huff. On first down, Kody Lewis broke free and scored the Blue Devils’ first touchdown of the game. Miquel Vasquez converted the extra point and UCHS went into halftime trailing 20-7.
The rain put a damper on the UCHS passing game, particularly in the first half.
“Brock was limited from where he hurt his leg in the West Greene game,” Rice said. “He’s a competitor, and really toughed it out for us though. The rain was pretty consistent the entire game, so when it’s constantly soaking the ball, it makes it really difficult to throw the ball downfield.”
After a Blue Devil fumble, Volunteer reclaimed a 20-point lead in the third quarter when Cameron Johnson rushed from three yards out. The Falcons led 27-7 with around eight minutes to play in the third quarter.
The Blue Devils fumbled again on their next possession, but took the ball back when Bryson Peterson snagged an interception and returned the ball to midfield. After a penalty backed the Blue Devils up, Lewis broke free for a 39-yard gain. A few plays later, he found the end zone again. Vasquez’s extra point brought UCHS within striking distance, 27-14, with around three minutes to play in the third quarter.
However, Volunteer quickly responded. This time scoring on a 54-yard pass from Barrett to Derrick. The Falcons led 34-14 going into the fourth quarter.
Throughout the game, the physical play and speed of Volunteer impacted the game.
“That’s why we scheduled them,” Rice said. “5A football is a physical brand of football that isn’t always played in our league. We made this schedule the way it is to help us win playoff games. Hopefully playing against a bigger team like that will help us down the final stretch here.”
The Blue Devils got within striking distance again, 34-21, in the fourth quarter when Lewis scored from 26 yards out. But, once again Volunteer responded – this time on a 2-yard carry by Johnson. The Falcons led 40-21 with seven minutes to play in the game. Although UCHS would score again – on a seven-yard carry by Lewis – the lead proved to be too much. The Falcons won the game, 40-28.
“We got within striking distance a couple of times, but that 20-0 start was just too much to overcome,” Rice said.
Playing from behind also proved difficult in the poor conditions.
“We were still in the ball game in the fourth quarter, but the weather conditions certainly weren’t ideal to score a lot of points in a short amount of time,” Rice said. “I did think we fought until the end though. Our guys woke up after we got down like that and we started playing like we were capable of. I was proud of the relentlessness we showed.”
The rain was a factor in the game, according to Rice.
“It certainly hampered our offense,” Rice said of the wet conditions. “We certainly had some uncharacteristic turnovers. They had to play in the weather too, so I don’t think we can use that as an excuse.”
The Blue Devils had four turnovers in the loss.
“We just have to take care of the ball,” Rice said. “We know the weather made it tough to do, but that’s the difference in winning and losing a football game like that. … Our turnovers came at awful times. We put our defense in some bad spots with field position because of them. ”
Penalties also hurt the Blue Devils against the Falcons. UCHS was called for nine penalties, while Volunteer was called for four.
“We were sloppy at times for sure,” Rice said of his team’s play. “We just weren’t ready to play for whatever reason. I know this week (Johnson County) is something our guys have been waiting on all year, but we cannot overlook anyone.”
Rice said he was pleased with how his team kept trying to get back in the game.
“I thought all our guys fought,” he added “Sloppy play aside, nobody quit, and that would be an easy game to mail it in early on. We have grown up a lot in those situations compared to years past.”
Thompson was 7-13 for 65 yards and 2 interceptions in the loss. Lewis had 26 carries for 197 yards and 4 touchdowns. Diego Diaz had 11 carries for 29 yards. Tanner VanHoy had 1 carry for 6 yards and 2 catches for 5 yards. Peyton Whitson had 2 catches for 39 yards. Huff had 2 catches for 13 yards. Tracy Vanover had 1 catch for 10 yards.
LJ Mitchell had 9 tackles and 1 sack for the UCHS defense. Zhante Breedlove had 4 tackles and 1 sack. Lewis had 4 tackles. Peyton Woodby, Lane Garland (1 sack), Isaiah Smith, Rodrigo Castellon, Peterson and Robbie O’Dell had 3 tackles each.
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There will be a lot on the line when the Blue Devils travel to Mountain City to face Johnson County (4-5, 3-1) on Friday, Nov. 1.
“They are a tough football team like they always are,” Rice said of the Longhorns. “We are going to have to have a great week of preparation and be ready to go play in a hostile environment.”
Friday’s contest is the last of the regular season for both teams and has important playoff implications.
“It’s really simple, if we win we will be the number two seed (in Region 1-AAA) and will host the first round of the playoffs at Gentry Stadium,” Rice said. “If we lose, we will be the number three seed and will have to travel.”
Possible playoff opponents for the Blue Devils from Region 2-AAA are Alcoa (8-1, 6-0), Austin-East (6-3, 4-1), Gatlinburg-Pittman (7-2, 3-2) and Kingston (6-3, 3-2).
Several factors will be key for the Blue Devils to get a win at Johnson County.
“We have to take care of the football on offense and play our techniques and responsibilities on defense,” Rice said.
The Blue Devils will go into Friday’s game with a squad at almost full strength, according to the head coach.
“For this late in the season, I would say we have been pretty blessed with health,” Rice said. “That’s a credit to coach (Mark) Peterson, our strength and conditioning coordinator, and to the work these guys continue to put in the weight room each week.”
Kickoff against the Longhorns is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.
(Editor’s note: The print version of this article incorrectly stated that the final score was 41-28. The final score was 40-28. The Erwin Record apologizes for the error.)