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Victory clinches playoff berth

After a year of searching for a win, the Blue Devils are postseason bound.
The Unicoi County High School football team tallied more than 400 yards of offense, with Hunter Hensley accounting for five touchdowns, and the defense caused three turnovers to clinch their first playoff bid since 2013 with a 42-28 Mountain Eight Conference victory over Northview Academy on Friday, Oct. 23, in Kodak.
The win, which extended the Blue Devils’ road win streak to four games, was just one of the first items to be checked off a list created by the team at the beginning of the season, according to head coach Glenn White.
“That was one of the goals that we had for our team at the beginning of the year – to be a playoff team,” White said Friday night. “Our second goal was to have a winning season. We’ve got to get Johnson County next week to end the regular season in third place.”
White and the Blue Devils (5-4, 4-2) can finish the regular season no worse than a 5-5 record, which was last obtained in 2012. A win on Friday, Oct. 30, in Mountain City allows UCHS to finish with a winning record for the regular season, which was last accomplished back in 1996.
With different scenarios ahead, it was all about living in the moment for the Blue Devils after earning one of the final spots in the Class 3A playoffs. After missing the playoffs in 2014, UCHS used an offensive showcase in the first half to put away the Cougars, White said.
“In the first half, we put 42 points on the board,” he added. “We had three touchdowns called back in the second half by making silly mistakes … blocks in the back, holding, things like that. Those are things we need to correct and we will, but I’m proud of the boys and the way they fought.”
The Blue Devils and Cougars (5-4, 3-3) traded blows in the first. Cameron Higgins capped off the opening drive from a yard out to give UCHS an early 8-0 advantage following the two-point conversion.
Hensley (5-8 passing, 160 yards, TD; 21 carries, 85 yards, 4 TDs) and Cougar signal caller Justin Howard (23-32, 240 yards, 3 TDs, 2 INTs) matched points through the remainder of the quarter. Hensley reached pay dirt twice, being set up on two drives – one a 56-yard reception by Michael Howell (two catches, 81 yards), the other tailback Nick Fender gashing the defense for 40 yards.
Northview scored with Howard connecting with Zeb Petty for a 17-yard score and later rushed for a touchdown to cut the Blue Devil lead to a one possession game, 22-14, at the end of the quarter.
UCHS showed their defensive backbone in the second quarter to get things rolling. Blue Devil defensive end Colt Brewer (eight tackles, four tackles for loss, three sacks) came up with a sack on Howard during a Cougar possession on fourth down to give the Blue Devils the ball near midfield.
Hensley then needed just one play, escaping pressure to hit freshman Brett Strother on a 47-yard touchdown pass with 9:51 left in the half.
“The defensive effort in the first half was great,” Brewer said postgame. “You couldn’t ask for anything better. They scored 14 in the first half, but we buckled down and shut them down.”
Blue Devil Dylan Lewis helped stall a potential Northview scoring drive by scooping up a fumble recovery.
Hensley added scoring runs from 15 and 28 yards to move his team ahead, 42-14, at halftime.
UCHS had every potential of putting the game away with Fender (19 carries, 148 yards) rattling off back-breaking runs that were called back on penalties.
Howard also kept his flow in the passing game, finding Haiden McGee for two scores in the second half to make things interesting.
“Our defense and offense couldn’t keep it together,” Brewer said. “Like our quarterback said (after the game), that was a terrific first half, but we need to tighten things up in the second half and get ready for next week.”
While the Blue Devils had some trouble reaching the end zone, the secondary was a thorn in the side of Howard. The sophomore quarterback tossed two picks in the second half, including one potential pick-six to Lewis that was called back and another to safety Brandon Caldwell with under a minute to go in the fourth.
“I think we did very well overall,” Lewis said. “We did what we were suppose to do … did our jobs and put forth the effort. We came up here with the mindset that we needed to beat them. Our offense gets our defense going and then our defense does the same. It was a great win.”
Defensive adjustments by coach Drew Rice, White said, allowed the Blue Devils to wreak havoc on the line.
Jacob Smith led the defense with 10 tackles for UCHS, including three sacks and three tackles for losses. Dawson Hensley tacked on 5.5 tackles with a sack, while Whitson (4.5 tackles) and Randall Blangin were also able to make some noise on the defensive front.
Strother finished as the team’s second leading receiver with two catches for 52 yards and junior Shaddon Peavyhouse added a 37-yard reception.
Higgins added four rushes for 22 yards and Warren Shelton added a carry for 8 yards.
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The Blue Devils aim for the third seed in the upcoming Class 3A playoffs against the Longhorns in Mountain City on Friday, Oct. 30. Johnson County is coming off the heels of a potential upset bid, falling short on Oct. 23 against Pigeon Forge, who wrapped up the second spot in the league.
UCHS last defeated the ‘Horns in varsity action in 2011.