HAMPTON – Unicoi County’s Luke Fronckoski fumbled two of the first three times he touched the ball in Friday’s season opener at Hampton’s J.C. Campbell Stadium.
Three hours and three touchdowns later, he made an interception near the same spot where he’d fumbled to seal the Blue Devils’ wild 42-41 victory.
Fronckoski caught a middle screen pass and weaved his way 75 yards to tie the score at 41 with 1:28 remaining, and Hunter Burnett’s PAT completed an unlikely victory that ended the Blue Devils’ eight-game losing streak in the series.
Hampton quarterback Coby Jones had run 62 yards for a go-ahead touchdown with 1:52 left in the game. But Fronckoski answered with his third score. The previous two came on 35- and 25-yard runs.
The 5-foot-11, 180-pound junior carried the ball 23 times for 147 yards.
“Kids like Luke exemplify our program,” Unicoi County coach Jerad Huskins said. “They believe in the coaches and our coaches believe in the players.”
Huskins said Fronckoski was nervous after the fumbles.
“And he got upset like we’s gonna give up on him,” Huskins said. “And I said, ‘Luke, honey, you’re gonna get the ball about 25 more times, so don’t you worry.’”
Hampton recovered Fronckoski’s fumble on the opening kickoff at the Unicoi County 38-yard line. It led to Jones’ 15-yard TD pass to Dylan Ford.
Fronckoski returned the ensuing kick 32 yards to the 47, but again gave the Bulldogs the ball in Unicoi territory when he fumbled on the first-down carry.
“Coach Huskins kept telling me that I was gonna keep getting the ball no matter what,” Fronckoski said. “He had faith in me, and I really appreciate that.”
A 27-point fourth quarter capped an improbable see-saw battle that included 29 flags (three were picked up and two penalties were declined), 10 turnovers, five lead changes, an interception return for a TD and a safety.
And the shootout would’ve required overtime if holder Thomas Tipton hadn’t adeptly handled a high snap for the game-winning PAT.
Unicoi County’s Will Shelton produced the safety to make the score 7-2 by tackling Stanley Valentine in the end zone with 6:37 left in the first quarter. The Bulldogs’ free kick led to a 43-yard scoring drive, which Blue Devils quarterback Lucas Hensley capped with a 1-yard run to make it 8-7 with 4:02 left in the quarter. Unicoi scored again 25 seconds later when Cody Harris intercepted a pass that bounced off a Hampton receiver’s hands and returned it 52 yards for a TD and a 14-7 lead.
“We scored a lot of points, but we just put the defense in bad situations when we turned the ball over,” Hampton coach Mike Lunsford said. “We made a lot of mistakes. We’re a young football team.”
The Blue Devils’ Hensley passed for 159 yards and two TDs. Thomas Tipton caught a 23-yard touchdown pass that gave Unicoi a 29-21 lead with 8:25 left in the third quarter.
Jones threw a 38-yard TD pass to Valentine to get Hampton within 29-27 with 3:12 left in the third quarter.
Fronckoski opened the fourth quarter by taking a toss sweep 25 yards for a TD and a 35-27 Blue Devils lead.
On Hampton’s ensuing drive, Unicoi’s Eli Gillis returned an interception seven yards to the Blue Devils 41, sending some Hampton fans for the exit despite it being an eight-point game with 9:55 remaining.
And the Blue Devils did drive into the red zone for what would’ve been a knockout punch, but Jones intercepted Hensley and returned it some 35 yards. A personal foul against Unicoi on Jones’ return gave Hampton a first down at the Unicoi 33 with 7:07 left. Three plays later, sophomore Jerry Lunsford (13 carries, 84 yards) ran for a 3-yard TD to make it 35-33 with 5:44 to go.
Jones passed for 155 yards and four TDs, including a 10-yarder to Tristan Robinson and a 34-yarder to Lunsford which cut Unicoi’s lead to 22-21 with 5:56 left in the first half. The pass to Lunsford was a deep throw in stride that Jones launched after rolling right and selling a good pump-fake.
Jones also rushed for 149 yards and a TD and two two-point conversions. His first two-point run covered 13 yards thanks to consecutive Hampton penalties, and he had to bounce off a would-be tackler to convert the second one, which gave the Bulldogs the 41-35 lead with 1:52 remaining.
“We played hard,” Lunsford said. “Our kids showed guts and toughness.”
Of course, so did Fronckoski. Hampton moved the ball to its 43 thanks to a roughing the passer penalty with 1:11 remaining, but Fronckoski made a leaping interception at the Unicoi 22 on the next play.
Two kneel-downs later, victory was complete and the Blue Devils had snapped Hampton’s eight-game wins streak.
“That was nice to come over here and do it,” Huskins said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for what Mike Lunsford does, and he’s got a heck of a program over here. … That is a big-time, big-time win, as in coming out and having a bad start, getting in a nail-biter with a pretty tough football team, getting behind late – what was it, a minute fifty-seven left? – and then kids just not giving up and pulling out the win and Hunter Burnett coming in and kicking that extra-point.
“We had kids dropping like flies. They had kids dropping like flies. That was a great football game, man.”
Unicoi hosts David Crockett on Friday. Hampton visits Oneida.