ELIZABETHTON — With the odds stacked against it, the Unicoi County football team overcame numerous obstacles to beat rival Happy Valley 14-7 on Friday night on Warrior Hill.
Down 7-0 just four minutes into the game, the Blue Devils tied the game on a key turnover. Then, with their leading offensive player going out of the game with an injury right before halftime, the Blue Devils kept their composure until tailback Phillip Franklin broke free on a 46-yard touchdown run with 2:56 left in the game.
“The kids did a great job of not panicking,” Unicoi County head coach Jerad Huskins said. “It got wild there, but the kids settled down and we played our game. They came back and played a heck of a football game.”
With the game tied 7-7 with three minutes left in the ballgame, Franklin streaked down the left sideline and knocked a couple of would-be tacklers out of the way on a 46-yard gallop for the winning score.
“The offensive line maintained their blocks,” Franklin said. “I had to break a couple of tackles. Then, it was just downhill and vertical.”
The win was the first for the Unicoi County program in five years against the Warriors, and Huskins’ first win in the rivalry. It improved the Blue Devils to 1-1 in the Three Rivers Conference and 3-2 overall.
Happy Valley fell to 0-2, 1-4 after failing to get any points on two trips to the red zone, including a chance to go up by two scores in the first quarter and a chance for a go-ahead score to start the fourth quarter.
The Warriors dominated the game statistically through three quarters with 11 first downs to only three for the Blue Devils. However, a fourth-quarter surge meant Unicoi County ended with 226 yards of total offense to 215 for the Warriors.
“We’ve got to be able to finish drives,” Happy Valley head coach Larry Shively said. “When we get to the red zone, it seems like it’s the Great Wall of China all of a sudden. Good teams find ways to finish drivers. We’re just young and are taking some things on the chin.”
The Warriors had all the momentum early as they scored on just their second offensive play. Tyler Marlowe hauled in a short pass from Colton Haun and raced 63 yards down the right sideline. Drew Holtsclaw blocked his defender all the way down the field on the long pass play as Marlowe went into the end zone.
Unicoi County tied the game on the final play of the first quarter. Keith Arrowood stepped in front of Marlowe and picked off Haun’s pass to go 37 yards on an interception return for the touchdown.
“Coach told us if the quarterback rolls out to the side, I stay in the flat,” Arrowood said. “I saw the tight end run the out-route and I just jumped it.
“We, as a team, felt some kind of pressure, but our coaches teach us to “soldier up” and always stay in the game.”
The Blue Devils did that despite catching an unfortunate break at the end of the first half. Hunter Abbott caught a two-yard pass on fourth-down, but injured his left leg on the play. He had been Unicoi’s most productive offensive player up to that point with 11 carries for 80 yards.
With their star running back out, it opened the door for others to lead the Blue Devils to the victory.
Franklin ended up as Unicoi’s leading rusher with 87 yards on 11 carries, as he, Luke Franckoski and Jacob Sawyer took over the rushing duties.
Haun led Happy Valley’s offense, completing 12 of 22 passes for 144 yards, and Phillip Garland was the Warriors’ leading rusher with 14 carries for 69 yards.
Unicoi County will go out of conference at Gatlinburg-Pittman next Friday. Happy Valley will look for a second win of the season when it hosts Abingdon, Va. for its Homecoming game.