It had been 10 years since Unicoi County defeated Johnson County on the football field.
So Friday night’s win was just more evidence the Blue Devils are turning the corner toward respectability.
Overcoming a 1 hour and 45 minute lightning delay that could have zapped its momentum, Unicoi kept right on rolling. The Blue Devils hammered the Longhorns 33-14 and moved into a tie for first place in the Three Rivers Conference.
It was the second straight win for the Blue Devils after a 35-0 season-opening home loss to South Greene. Since then, Unicoi has gone on the road to beat Chuckey-Doak by a score of 28-10 and Johnson County, which had won nine straight games against the Blue Devils.
“It had been a long time,” said Blue Devils’ head coach Jerad Huskins. “It’s always tough going into Mountain City and winning.
“But we had so much going for us. We were feeling good after our big win last week, and we’re starting to discover our identity.”
Unicoi looked like it would have to settle for a 14-7 halftime lead, taking over at its own 15-yard line late in the second quarter. But quarterback Austin Hensley had different ideas.
“It was probably the finest two-minute drill I’ve seen in high school,” said Huskins.
On the final play of the half from the Longhorns’ 24, Hensley drilled a strike to receiver Josh McKinney — who dove into the end zone as time expired. The extra-point attempt was no good, but the Blue Devils had all of the momentum.
“Right when the buzzer went off, the sky absolutely fell,” said Huskins. “It was the most awful lightning I’ve ever seen.”
The second half didn’t begin until 10:30 p.m., leaving Huskins and his coaching staff to wonder if the momentum would swing to the Longhorns.
“It definitely crossed my mind,” said Huskins. “We made good halftime adjustments, but Johnson County had time to rest, regroup and come out fresh.
“It was a whole new game and we were playing on a wet field, which worried me.”
However, Hensley hit Abbott on a screen pass for a score, and Abbott’s two-yard touchdown run late in the third quarter sealed the deal.
Huskins said Hensley is starting to find a groove throwing the ball.
“He’s throwing as accurate as I’ve ever seen him throw,” said Huskins. “He’s throwing BBs. He’s doing a good job reading the defense, and the offensive line is giving him time to throw. And we’ve got a good group of receivers.”
It was a good defensive effort, too, with senior Willy Edwards having a standout game at defensive end while Huskins said Anthony Harris played well at nose guard.
Huskins said the linebackers were solid while McKinney, Gabe Simerly and Chase Honeycutt all performed well in the secondary.
Being tied for first place with Elizabethton and Sullivan North doesn’t prove the Blue Devils are a legitimate title contender, but it surely is a major step forward.
“The kids get confidence and believe they can win,” said Huskins. “Nothing helps players more than winning. Now they can get back to work and get better every week.”