ERWIN — A season is usually measured in wins but a team’s resiliency can only be measured in heart.
Happy Valley defeated Unicoi County 20-13 Friday night at Gentry Field in a game that either the Warriors were trying to give away or the Blue Devils refused to give up on.
Behind 336 rushing yard by the one-two punch of Jaylen Simmons (17 carries, 160 yards) and Zack Ball (14-88), Happy Valley got its first Three Rivers Conference win of the season despite five turnovers and a Blue Devil defense that just didn’t know when to stop.
“There’s an old coaching saying that there is no such thing as an ugly win, but that was ugly,” said Warriors (1-1, 3-2) coach Larry Shively. “Erwin has improved tremendously. We are just happy to get out of here with a win.”
Happy Valley stopped Unicoi’s initial drive when quarterback Austin Hensley got taken down in the backfield by Landon Baker on third-and-seven. But the ensuing punt was muffed and the Blue Devils (1-1, 2-3) got possession back on Happy Valleys’ 34-yard-line when Chase Honeycutt jumped on the ball.
On the next third down Hensley (14-of-22) pump faked on the hitch and connected on the go with a strike to Honeycutt in the left side of the end zone. The toss gave Unicoi a 7-0 lead with 7:25 left in the first.
Happy Valley countered with a 67-yard, 12-play drive that ended on a botched snap at the Devils’ 7-yard-line.
But after forcing a three-and-out, Simmons made his presence felt with a powerful 40-yard carry on the Warriors’ next play to tie up the score at 7-7 with 10:30 left in the half.
After holding Unicoi to another punt, the Tribe drove down the field again. Quarterback Seth Davis (5-for-9) connected with Zack Miller on a 23-yard bomb and Simmons on a 14-yard gain, but a delay of game penalty made it 4th-and-13 from Unicoi’s 26.
Honeycutt picked the ball inside the 10-yard-line to snuff out the Warrior drive and keep the score tied at 7-7 at the break.
Happy Valley got the ball to start the second half and drove down the field again. But again, Unicoi had a trick up its sleeve when it looked like a Warrior score was imminent.
Simmons burst through the line at midfield and looked like he was going to outrun the defense. But Unicoi’s Gabe Kimery caught Simmons at the last second and punched the ball out from behind.
Honeycutt once again had a nose for the ball and fell on it for a touchback to keep score tied.
“I’m proud of the effort,” said Unicoi first-year coach Jared Huskins. “Like I said, we have resilient kids. You can see how much better we’re getting. They have fun playing the game and we have fun coaching.”
The Warriors stuck to the ground on its next possession and covered 65-yards on 10 plays for the go-ahead score. Simmons was a force on the drive with runs of 12, 12, and 11 yards and Zack Ball had carries of 12 and 11 yards as well.
“I’m pretty much the guy that runs it inside and he’s the guy that runs it outside,” said Simmons, a junior who has done nothing to dispel the notion that he can play D-1. “I just want to give credit to the offensive line, because they did a really good job. They worked their tails off tonight.”
The duo finished it off with Simmons getting a crushing block on the right side allowing Ball to run in for the 11-yard score.
Unicoi went three-and-out again, but on the Tribe’s first play from scrimmage Happy Valley’s fourth fumble occurred.
The next drive was all Hensley and senior wide-out Hunter Goddard.
Hensley found the shifty senior five times while moving the ball 65 yards down the field, culminating in a dramatic fourth-and-goal from the 7-yard line. Hensley rolled out right and found Goddard (7 catches, 35 yards) in the end zone to cut the lead to a single point.
But Simmons made a momentum-saving play by blocking the extra point to maintain a 14-13 score.
After a 43-yard kickoff return by Cody Brown and a touchdown-saving tackle by Roberto Martinez, two straight delay-of-game penalties turned a fourth-and-four into a fourth-and-14 from Unicoi’s 29.
But Davis found Tyler Adkins all alone in the back of the end zone on a busted coverage and Unicoi’s equalizing drive puttered out at midfield.
Unicoi was led on the ground by Hunter Abbott (15 carries, 40 yards). Jordan Berry and Josh McKinney had five tackles apiece while Matt Lingerfelt, Kimery, and Willy Edwards each tallied four.
The Warriors were led by Ball with six takedowns and Clint Maxwell and Jesse Henley each had a tackle-for-loss.