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Win over Clairborne first at Gentry since 2013

Two years of waiting made Friday night even more special for the senior class of Blue Devils.
The Unicoi County High School football team struck early and often, rattling off eight touchdowns en route to a 52-16 Mountain Eight Conference victory over Claiborne during Senior Night festivities and the Blue Devils’ regular season home finale on Friday, Oct. 16. The win snapped a losing streak by the Blue Devils at Gentry Stadium with their previous home win coming back on Oct. 18, 2013, against Happy Valley.
“Senior night just about signifies the end of a season,” Blue Devil senior quarterback Hunter Hensley said. ‘This is the last time you get to play on your home field, have your team on your back, have everybody in the stands looking back at you … that really is a big deal. I didn’t understand it myself until this week.
“I thought it wouldn’t bother me that bad, until seeing everyone and knowing we’ll go our separate paths after high school. I’m going to miss these guys a lot. We’ve all been through so much together. With all the blood, sweat and tears with the teammates … we all wanted this tonight.”
The Blue Devils (4-4, 3-2) needed just four plays on their opening drive to reach the end zone. Hensley (6-10, 146 yards, 2 TDs) connected with senior wideout Eli Gillis on a 64-yard fake punt pass to move ahead 6-0 with 10:33 off the clock following the missed point-after attempt.
Gillis led the receiving core with the two catches for 70 yards and said Friday night would be a memorable moment in his life after being sidelined last season with a collarbone injury.
“I missed all of last year,” Gillis said. “Missing football really affects me. This game was emotional … catching that first touchdown pass, it couldn’t have been better. It was a sweet ending for our last home game this year.”
Gillis sung the praises of the Blue Devil receiving corps which saw freshman Brett Strother come up with two receptions for 45 yards and a 16-yard grab midway through the second quarter by the team’s leading receiver Michael Howell. Shaddon Peavyhouse added a reception for 17 yards.
Senior Eddie Martinez showed his boot throughout the contest, going 4-6 on point-after attempts and serving as the placekicker for the Blue Devils.
UCHS carried a 39-0 lead into halftime. The first half included four touchdown runs, two from Nick Fender and one apiece by Cameron Higgins (three carries, 25 yards) and Hensley.
The offense being able to gel, along with a defensive shutout, was aided by the senior night activities and by focusing on staying in the Class 3A playoff hunt, according to head coach Glenn White.
“We told the kids that we are still in control of our own destiny,” White said. “We knew that we had to win two out of our last three games to make it in the playoffs. We’ve got one down, so our goal is to get the next two and I believe we can. We played hard against a very good Pigeon Forge team last week. It just rode well for us early into tonight’s game … this was a big win for the program. It was the first win here in two years.
“We needed this win tonight and I want to thank the people of Unicoi County. The stands were full and the boys recognized it. Our goal is to bring back a winning tradition here at Gentry Stadium. I remember being a young coach and head coach Louis Thompson would tell me ‘look outside Glenn and tell me how many people are there’ … and I’d look out the old fieldhouse and tell the coach it was a mass of people. That’s what we want for our program and our kids.”
The packed house was able to see much of the same in the second half with Fender (nine carries, 124 yards, 3 TDs) eclipsing the 100-yard plateau for the game midway in the third quarter with a 17-yard touchdown and an 11-yard run by Warren Shelton (four carries, 64 yards).
Claiborne was able to chip away with an 80-yard drive in the quarter capped off by quarterback Blake Cupp going in from 2 yards out. Ty Stone added a late scoring reception in the fourth to give the Bulldogs their final total.
Blue Nation’s defense was able to wreak havoc up front, netting 13 tackles for a loss of yardage. Defensive adjustments were credited for the success, according to junior defensive end Jacob Smith (seven tackles, three assists, two sacks).
“We went into a three-front instead of a four-front,” Smith said. “We kind of hid it away at the beginning of the game and made sure they didn’t see it when we warmed up. I think they were kind of prepared for the four-front and when we came out, they didn’t know what to do. We were sending linebackers, blitzing all the time; it was just too many people for them to guard.
“I’ve been with these seniors for three years now. I’m just glad I was part of this game with them.”
Colt Brewer added six stops with two sacks and was followed up by four tackles by linebacker Randall Blangin. Multiple seniors got into the tackle total and it was only fitting, according to linebacker Leon Dover (three tackles).
“It was a great experience to come out and win the last home game at Gentry,” Dover said. “Being with the guys, we worked our butts off all summer. It was a great win.”
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The Blue Devils’ sights turn to Northview Academy this week, White said. Northview is coming off a 41-21 loss to Johnson County in Mountain City. The Cougars, which are based out of the Sevier County area, are 5-3 overall with a 3-2 mark in the league. A road win by the Blue Devils will seal up one of the four playoff spots available in the league.
“I don’t know much about Northview Academy right now,” White said Friday night. “They’re a young school, but have had success this year. But I definitely don’t feel like we’re an underdog either. We’ll put on our white-on-white Friday night, go down there and get after it.”
Kickoff in Kodak is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.