By Keeli Parkey
Chuckey-Doak snatched an important victory away from the Unicoi County High School football team on Friday, Oct. 4 in Afton.
“We are definitely disappointed in the end result, but I am very proud of how hard our guys played for four quarters,” UCHS head coach Drew Rice told The Erwin Record. “I think we emptied the tank; it just wasn’t the outcome we hoped for.”
It was a battle between Region 1-AAA unbeaten teams that saw both squads fall behind, then reclaim the lead. In the end, it was the Black Knights (4-3, 3-0) who put together a game-winning scoring drive with less than two minutes to play to defeat the Blue Devils (4-3, 2-1).
“I hope we learned that it’s never over until there are four zeros on the clock,” Rice said. “I think we relaxed a little there in the fourth when we got up late; we cannot do that against good football teams.”
Chuckey-Doak drew first blood on Friday, scoring on the first possession of the game to take a 6-0 lead. UCHS responded on their next possession, scoring a touchdown on a 14-yard run by Kody Lewis. Miquel Vasquez then converted the extra point and UCHS took a 7-6 lead.
The Black Knights then went on to control most of the first half and held an 18-7 as time ticked away in the second quarter. UCHS began to retake momentum with less than 3 minutes to play in the quarter when the Blue Devil defense stopped Chuckey-Doak on fourth down, which gave UCHS quarterback Brock Thompson and the Blue Devil offense the ball with enough time for a scoring drive.
The drive, which began with a 34-yard pass from Thompson to Peyton Whitson, concluded with a touchdown pass to L.J. Mitchell from 8 yards out. Vasquez was good on the extra point and the Blue Devils went into the break down 18-14 with momentum on their side.
“I really felt good about the game after that drive,” Rice said. “Brock took us down the field and made some great throws. L.J. made a tremendous catch on the goal line to cap off the drive.”
In the third quarter, Tanner VanHoy took the opening kickoff 47 yards, giving the Blue Devils excellent field position – and Rice’s team took advantage. After runs by Lewis and Thompson, Thompson then hit Whitson in the corner of the end zone for a touchdown and a 21-18 UCHS lead.
“We made a few adjustments and I thought we settled down and played much better,” Rice said of his team’s efforts after halftime. “We adjusted some things on each side of the ball to try and put ourselves in a better place to be successful.”
The next scoring drive by UCHS began with less than 3 minutes to play in the third quarter and culminated in a 4-yard touchdown run by Lewis. Vasquez again converted the extra point and UCHS held a 28-18 lead with 10:34 to play in the game.
“We knew it was far from over, even with that kind of lead,” Rice said of his team’s mindset in the fourth quarter. “We knew we would need to score again, and keep them from scoring.”
It took four minutes off the clock, but the Black Knights scored and completed a 2-point conversion for a 28-26 score with 6:31 to play in the game.
The Blue Devils were quick to respond. On first down, Lewis raced away from everyone at midfield for another touchdown and a 34-26 UCHS lead. While a plus for the Blue Devils, the quick score put their defense back on the field without much downtime.
“You never want to turn away points, but yes scoring that quickly may not have been the best thing in that situation,” Rice said. “It definitely makes you wonder, but you also can drive yourself crazy saying what if this and what if that.”
On Chuckey-Doak’s next drive, the Blue Devils sacked quarterback Matthew Palazzo twice and forced fourth down and 18. Palazzo then made one of the plays of the game, hitting Evan Murvin for a 23-yard touchdown. The 2-point conversion failed and UCHS now held a 34-32 lead with around 4 minutes to play.
“We have to be able to get off the field in those situations,” Rice said. “I don’t know if there’s anything more frustrating than getting a team backed up on late downs and then they find a way to convert, especially late in the game like that. Credit to them, they made some huge plays down the stretch.”
After recovering an onside kick, the Blue Devils took possession around midfield. Thanks to runs by Lewis, UCHS gained a first down, but were then forced into a fourth and 1. The ball again went to Lewis, but he was stopped in the backfield by the Chuckey-Doak defense.
“We just wanted to keep the ball away from them and get a couple first downs,” Rice said. “We did pretty well until that fourth down, and that was probably on me, I should have made a better play call there.”
The Black Knights took over on downs near midfield with 1:25 to play. With 24 seconds to go Palazzo threw the game-winning TD. Chuckey-Doak won the game 38-34 and took over first place in Region 1-AAA at 3-0.
The loss drops the Blue Devils to 2-1 in the league and in a tie for second place with Johnson County and West Greene.
“It definitely hurts our shot at a region title,” Rice said. “Playoff wise we can still host the first round, we control our own destiny concerning that, which is huge.”
Rice also said he was pleased with how hard his team fought to get the win.
“I thought all of our guys battled,” he added. “I think we really fought for four quarters and I am very proud of that.”
The UCHS offense had 318 yards in the loss. Thompson was 7-13 for 148 yards and 2 touchdowns. Lewis had 22 carries for 141 yards and 3 touchdowns. Whitson had 3 catches for 72 yards and 1 touchdown. Diego Diaz had 6 carries for 31 yards. Evan Huff had 1 catch for 43 yards. Mitchell had 1 catch for a TD. Roby Lemmon had 7 tackles. Mitchell had 6.
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The Blue Devils have a bye week this Friday. They will return to action when they host region foe West Greene (4-2, 2-1) at Gentry Stadium on Friday, Oct. 18.
“We are going to try and heal up and get rid of some of the nagging injuries we have,” Rice said. “We will continue to lift and get a jump start on West Greene.”
For more photos of the UCHS game at Chuckey-Doak, visit The Erwin Record’s online photo store.