ERWIN – The heart of football is simply big guys lining up and knocking their opponents off the field.
And after trailing Unicoi County at the Homecoming half, Gatlinburg-Pittman went big after the break and the Blue Devils just couldn’t respond.
The Highlanders defeated the Blue Devils 28-9 at Gentry Field Friday night despite trailing 9-7 at the break.
After getting outgained in nearly every statistic in the first 24 minutes of play, Pittman went almost exclusively wishbone rushing and Unicoi couldn’t hold the front.
“They got in the wishbone set and just pushed us off the ball and did a good job at taking care of the football,” said Unicoi (2-4) coach Jerad Huskins, who saw his team cause three first half turnovers. “We didn’t have anything to stop their power and they powered us up and down the field.”
A pair of second half blocked punts and a playmaking quarterback getting cold sure didn’t help.
Pittman’s Justin Horner blocked two punts after the break and after a clean 9-for-16 first half performance by Devils’ quarterback Austin Hensley (11 carries, 92 yards), the senior playmaker went 0-for-6 with a pick in the second half.
“Austin got out of rhythm,” said Huskins. “They did a good job of derailing routers and we couldn’t overcome. But he fought his heart out though. He was running the ball hard and made good decisions.”
The Blue Devils took control early when Highlander quarterback Ryan Myers let one get away. The ball floated as Unicoi’s Josh McKinney picked it on Gatlinburg-Pittman’s 44.
But a little trickery blew up in Unicoi’s face on the next snap. The Blue Devils ran a hook-and-ladder but when Hunter Abbott came around for the pitch from Hunter Goddard the ball hit the turf. The ’Landers D. J. Ball jumped on the ball to cut the possession short.
McKinney got his second turnover of the half when Gatlinburg-Pittman (3-2) muffed a punt. The drop gave Unicoi a 34-yard field and the Devils used 10 plays including nine rushes to cover the distance with Abbott pounding it in from four yards out to take a 6-0 lead.
The Blue Devils defense held the ’Landers offense without a first down until halfway through the second quarter. And when a shanked punt gave the ’Landers the ball at the Devils’ 36-yard-line, McKinney again found the ball when running back Ty Smith coughed it up.
But another short punt setup Gatlinburg at midfield. A pair of slants from Myers to Brandon Merritt gave GP its first pair of first downs and from there Smith made up for his mistake.
Smith (24 carries, 167 yards) went untouched 26 yards to take a 7-6 lead with 1:31 left in the half.
Unicoi took advantage of the time left, however. Hensley found Hunter Goddard twice before finding Chase Honeycutt for a 31-yard strike to give Unicoi a first down at the Highlanders’ 20-yard-line.
On third down with 20 seconds left, Hensley scrambled 13 yards before running out of bounds at the four. Roberto Martinez nailed a 24-yard field goal to give Unicoi County a 9-7 lead at the half.
“We said all week long they have the ability to beat us if we’re flatter than a flitter after our win last week against Gibbs,” said Gatlinburg-Pittman coach Benny Hammonds. “But you’ve got to give all the credit to Unicoi. I was telling their coach they’ve made a tremendous amount of improvement in the last year.”
The Blue Devils got the ball out of the half, but on the second snap Gatlinburg defensive back Jamel Foster picked Hensley.
The Blue Devils turned them back on downs at the Devils’ 13, but on the ensuing possession Pittman came after the kick.
Horner got through the line for the deflection and Riley Trotter recovered at Unicoi’s 12-yard-line. And on fourth-and-two from Unicoi’s 3-yard-line Smith powered through for the score.
The Highlanders stayed big and used a 7-play, 64-yard ground drive on its next possession to tack on another score. From the wishbone, Myers ran a play-action for the 22-yard score to push the lead to 21-9.
And on the Devils next punt, Horner again got to the kick. This time he deflected it for teammate Hunter Meier to cover at Unicoi’s 44.
From there the Highlanders scored another touchdown when on fourth-and-16 Myers tossed one up for Blade Durbin down the right sideline. Durbin made a juggling catch at Unicoi’s 3-yard-line and Smith ran in his third touchdown.
Phillip Franklin led the Devils’ defense with six tackles and while McKinney accounted for five. The ’Landers defense was led by Ball with seven takedowns. Unicoi has a bye week before hitting the heart of its conference slate.
“People are seeing that we’re getting better,” Huskins said. “We just have to win football games.”