Elizabethton visits Science Hill on Friday, but there’ll be another border bash involving fan bases brimming with as much excitement as the Nolichucky River that runs between them.
Unicoi County will host David Crockett for its home opener in a matchup of programs on apparent upswings.
Jerad Huskins guided the Blue Devils to their first playoff berth since 2006 last year, and they are improved at quarterback this season with Lucas Hensley healthy. Unicoi County snapped an eight-game losing streak to Hampton on Friday night with a 42-41 road win at J.C. Campbell Stadium, and road wins against Mike Lunsford don’t grow on trees for any program.
Crockett christened the Jeremy Bosken era Thursday night with a 27-6 victory against Sullivan East, a triumph necessary to satisfy the carnival atmosphere in Jonesborough. Overflow parking, inflatables for children, and fireworks — Bosken’s father-in-law, Greer Craig, enthusiastically singing about the rockets’ red glare among them — set the surreal scene.
Craig is an accomplished Elvis impersonator, and he and the Crockett fans turned out to tell Bosken “thank you very much” for the energy he’s invested in the program. The capacity crowd was all the more impressive when considering that there were more than 65,000 people across Washington County watching Florida Georgia Line perform at the Appalachian Fair.
A respectable showing against rival Daniel Boone in last week’s Big Seven Conference jamboree surely aided attendance, as has the culture-changing mission that included bringing in former Science Hill assistant John Good as the basketball coach. But Bosken’s been building support one drop of sweat at a time since last winter.
“He’s an amazing coach,” said Crockett’s Toby Rupert. “He gets more excited than we do, honestly. He wants us to win as bad as we do.”
Huskins’ love for his Blue Devils couldn’t have been more obvious Friday.
The Blue Devils’ victory at J.C. Campbell Stadium had more twists and turns than the Highway 81 route that connects Jonesborough and Erwin, and Unicoi County’s Luke Fronckoski probably felt carsick after fumbling two of the first three times he touched the ball to give Hampton possession in Blue Devils territory. Eight months of offseason dedication was eclipsed by 104 seconds.
But Fronckoski flourished when many would’ve wilted, rising up to score three touchdowns and leaping for a victory-sealing interception in the final minute.
Silenced by emotion immediately afterward, Huskins needed nine seconds to find his voice when asked about Fronckoski’s shots of redemption.
“He could’ve pouted and said, ‘Well, I’ve done cost us,’” Huskins said. “His coaches could’ve been like, ‘Get him out.’ But we believe in each other and we believe in the system, and he kept plugging away.”
Fronckoski took a screen pass 75 yards for the winning touchdown with 1:28 remaining — 24 seconds after Coby Jones’ 62-yard run had given Hampton the lead.
“That was a great call by coach (Paul) Shelton,” Huskins said. “We didn’t panic. We do two-minute drill every day. We’ve got some weapons. We’ve got some disciplined kids. …
“And sure enough, Luke got in space, linemen got downfield, receivers did an excellent job blocking on the perimeter and that little junior made something happen and got in the end zone and scored, baby. I was so proud of him … so proud of our kids.”
The shifty Fronckoski was quick to credit teammates, and it wasn’t the garden-variety shout-out.
“Oh my gosh, I can’t even explain how crazy it was,” he said. “There’s nothing better than seeing your whole team downfield for you, leading you to the end zone. Just having to dodge a couple of players and they lead you to the end zone — there’s not a feeling like it. …
“We’re a family as a football team. We all did it together. We’ve been really working hard and we’ve been preparing for that game since January, watching film every day and getting ready for it.”
Bosken, a former Science Hill assistant who spent last season at York (S.C.) High School, stresses family, too. In fact, he’s taken in children to live with him.
Certainly, everyone’s all smiles in the aftermath of era-opening victories, but Bosken’s Pioneers appear to have bonded. Quarterback Ryan Burger passed for 217 yards, but was praising defenders such as Colt Jenkins and Chevy Miller.
“Colt’s a senior and Chevy’s a junior, and they’re always here working hard,” Burger said. “They’re part of the leadership council. They’re great guys to be around, and whenever you need to rely on a big stop, they’re there.”
Stops could be scarce for Unicoi on Friday. Hampton consistently moved the ball, and Crockett’s spread attack loosens defenses up for running backs Dalton Brown and TK Hill, who each rushed for more than 100 yards and a TD in the opener.
Actually, Bosken was somewhat disappointed with the offense, or at least some of his play-calls that led to three turnovers in the red zone.
“I’m screwing it up more than anything,” he said. “We left 21 points out there. But it’s kind of a good thing, because it’s gonna motivate our boys to keep working and not be satisfied.”
Longtime Pioneers fans such as Mark Chambers and David Pollock are satisfied with what they’re seeing. The Crockett faithful know Jonesborough wasn’t built in a day, much less Rome, but they’ll be eager to drive along the river Friday night for the next phase of construction.