By Keeli Parkey
With a winless record, the Unicoi County High School football team really needed a win.
Thankfully for the Blue Devils (1-2, 1-0), they got a big one on Thursday, Aug. 31, at North Greene.
“I was very pleased with how we came out and took care of business,” head coach Drew Rice said. “This was our first region game and it was one we really needed to get rolling. I thought our guys played very focused and executed very well.”
The Blue Devils left little doubt who was the better team from the start of Thursday’s game as they dominated all aspects of the game – their first in Region 1-AAA – from the kickoff to the final whistle.
“We had a great week of preparation,” Rice said. “Our guys were determined to get this one taken care of and it showed.”
After the UCHS defense forced North Greene into third-and-long on the first possession of the game, the Blue Devil offense, being led by freshman quarterback Brock Thompson, needed only two plays before junior Brett Strother carried the ball twice from his position at running back and found himself in the end zone. Martin Porras converted the first of his five extra point attempts in the game to give UCHS a 7-0 lead with 10 minutes to play in the first quarter.
North Greene fumbled the ensuing kickoff and the Blue Devils took possession at their own 18-yard line. Thompson then hit senior Owen Nicholson for a touchdown.
The Blue Devil defense then held the Huskies to four downs and forced a punt. Nicholson then returned the punt 70 yards for another touchdown. Porras hit the extra point and UCHS was in total control of the game with just over 7 minutes to play in the first quarter.
The Blue Devils added more points in the first quarter – 2 on a safety by Matthew Hatcher and another passing touchdown from Thompson to Nicholson to lead 30-0 going into the second quarter.
Controlling the line of scrimmage was what allowed his team to be successful last week, Rice said.
“That’s where football games are won and lost,” he added. “Everyone loves to see great throws, nice catches and big hits, but the reality is success is created up front from those guys with their hands on the ground. We moved some guys around and were able to get some things going in our run game. Our defensive line started playing with their hands and it allowed our linebackers to run free.”
Strother scored his second rushing touchdown of the game in the second quarter. Junior Shane Armstrong added the final touchdown for UCHS in the third quarter. UCHS won the game 43-0.
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The Blue Devils showed a new offensive lineup against North Greene with Thompson serving as the playcaller and Strother being moved to other places on the field in order to take greater advantage of his athleticism, according to Rice.
“We just felt like we had to shake some things up offensively,” Rice said. “Brock had 7 touchdowns in his first two JV games, which showed us that he was probably ready to take some varsity reps. His poise for a freshman was really impressive and we believe he is going to be special.
“More than anything though, it allows us to really use Brett in a lot of different ways,” Rice continued. “Brett is a special athlete – the type of athlete that doesn’t come around very often – and this allows us to use him in a number of ways. Brett carried the ball 6 times and had over 100 yards, which shows how explosive he is. We feel pretty good about the move right now, and hopefully we will continue to evolve as an offense.”
UCHS had 234 total yards of offense against the Huskies. Thompson threw for 40 yards and 2 touchdowns. Strother had 1 catch for 10 yards, as well as 6 carries for 103 yards and 2 touchdowns. Armstrong had 3 carries for 49 yards and a touchdown. Easton Edwards had 4 carries for 20 yards.
Nicholson had another all-around performance for UCHS against North Greene. He had 2 catches for 30 yards and 2 touchdowns, as well as a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown.
“I need to acknowledge how well Owen is playing right now,” Rice said. “His leadership and tenacity through these first three games has been incredible. He has 40 tackles and 6 touchdowns through 3 games, and has had 2 other touchdowns called back. We are really excited about the year he is having so far.”
The Blue Devil defense held North Greene to just 48 offensive yards – 15 in the air and 33 on the ground.
“The defensive line controlled the line of scrimmage and that allowed our linebackers and defensive backs to make plays,” Rice said.
Scott Owens and Roby Lemmon had 3 tackles each. Kody Lewis, Michael Harrington and Austin O’Dell had 2 tackles each. O’Dell also had 2 sacks.
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Rice said he hopes last week’s victory will give his team a lift moving forward.
“This win was huge,” he added. “I think our guys understood that going in, and that’s why we were so focused. We, hopefully, will build off this momentum.”
The Blue Devils will host the 2-0 Happy Valley Warriors at Gentry Stadium on Friday, Sept. 8, at 7:30 p.m.
“They are probably the best team on our schedule,” Rice said of the Warriors. “They won 11 games last year and that doesn’t happen just by chance. They are extremely well coached and we know we are going to get a great effort from them. We are going to go to work this week and continue to improve. Our guys will be fired up to play this one.”