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There’s no doubt it was an important win for Unicoi County’s football team, but Blue Devils’ head coach Jerad Huskins said there was more to it than meets the eye.
“It was a lot bigger win than people realize with all things considered,” said Huskins of his team’s dramatic 33-30 victory over rival Happy Valley on Friday night in Erwin. “We’ve had a horrible stretch of injuries. I think I counted 10 broken bones this season. It has been unbelievable.
“So this speaks about the kids and their resiliency. It’s a lot bigger win than it looks like on paper.”
It was certainly a big night for running back Luke Fronckoski. The 5-11, 190-pound junior darted, dashed and powered his way to what may be a school-record of 361 yards rushing. He also scored five touchdowns.
“We’ve got to go through the record book, but I’ve never heard about anybody hitting 361,” said Huskins. “As far as I know it’s a record.”
Among all of those yards, none were more impressive than the ones in the 15-play game-winning drive in the final minutes. Unicoi got the ball with 6:30 left in the game, and converted three fourth-down situations: fourth-and-1, fourth-and-3, and fourth-and-1.
The last of those conversions set up a four-yard scoring run by Fronckoski — giving the Blue Devils a three-point lead with 1:35 remaining.
Huskins put a saddle on Fronckoski for the final drive.
“Everybody in the stadium knew he would be getting it,” said Huskins. “We went to a two tight end set and kept feeding him. The offensive linemen were begging us to run it behind them. The kids were fired up and focused, and they played for each other. It was such an exciting drive.”
Fronckoski’s big night was a combination of things.
“Luke is a heck of a football player, and the offensive line did a great job,” said Huskins. “Along with that, the kids are getting good at the zone scheme. We’re moving people up front, and had different formations working for us.”
Fronckoski carried 37 times, and included in his five touchdowns were runs of 28, 22 and 41 yards. He took over the Three Rivers Conference rushing lead, moving his season total to 1,319 yards despite missing a game with a concussion.
“He’s such a tough kid,” said Huskins. “Every game he’s played, he’s had over 100 yards.
“He’s a slasher; a one-cut back. He doesn’t dance, and he’s always north and south. He’s very good at getting downhill, and he’s hard to tackle because he runs low to the ground — and people don’t realize how big he is.”
There was more to the win than Fronckoski. Huskins said quarterback Lucas Hensley also played a key role.
“He did a fantastic job managing the game, especially the last drive,” said Huskins.
Hensley converted one of the fourth-down plays with a quarterback sneak.
Even the defense had a hand in the high-scoring win. With Happy Valley trying to drive for the winning score, defensive back Thomas Tipton picked off a pass to secure the victory.
“I told the kids after the game it was a complete team win,” said Huskins. “The kids have invested a lot. For them to be here and still working, shows they believe. It was a special night for us.”
One carrot still dangling in front of the Blue Devils is a Class 4A playoff spot. Barring a giant upset of Elizabethton on Friday, Unicoi would have to hope four wins is good enough to get there.
Twenty-four Class 4A teams across the state already have five wins, leaving a maximum of only eight spots for four-win squads. However, the Blue Devils do have a solid number in the first tiebreaker position, so a Week 10 win over Sullivan Central could at least put them in the conversation.
“Unicoi hasn’t been to the playoffs in back-to-back years since 1989-90,” said Huskins, whose team reached the postseason last year. “It would be big for the program to do that again.”