An early-season shining moment for Unicoi County could have been a harbinger of bad things to come for Chuckey-Doak.
Instead it was a learning point, and the Black Knights have been spot-on ever since. Included in the mix was Friday night’s 47-35 win over North Greene that put them at 6-1 on the season.
And the record is not something to simply brush aside. This is a program that posted the following marks from 2002-2009: 1-9, 2-8, 3-7, 2-8, 2-8, 3-7, 2-8 and 2-8.
Chuckey-Doak broke through with a 7-3 campaign last year before losing to Elizabethton in the first round of the Class 3A playoffs.
So after opening this season with a rout of Unaka, the 28-10 loss to Unicoi County was shocking enough to make some people wonder if Doak was headed back to the two-win days. However, an overhaul was not necessary.
“I told the boys it was my fault,” said head coach Ben Murphy. “Unicoi won and I give them all the credit. But we weren’t in very good condition. I told the boys it would not be a problem again.”
A week off was timely, and the Black Knights followed with wins over Claiborne, Grainger, Cosby and Cumberland Gap. None of those teams will strike fear in the hearts of area fans, but it’s a very similar schedule to the ones the Black Knights played in the years they struggled for wins.
And Murphy said he knows things change dramatically this week. Doak will travel to play defending Class 4A state champion Greeneville.
“I told the kids after the (North Greene) game it was a great win and we’re 6-1, but it’s over and the season just got a new start,” said Murphy. “What’s done is done. We play the defending state champion and then county rivals.”
Greeneville (6-1) is obviously a big challenge. But while the Greene Devils deserve plenty of respect, Murphy said he doesn’t want his players thinking they have no chance to win.
“We’re playing Greeneville High School, not the Pittsburgh Steelers,” said Murphy. “We’re playing the defending state champs, not the defending Super Bowl champions.
“They are very good and very well-coached. They are deeper and have more speed. But it’s still 16-, 17- and 18-year-old kids going against kids of the same age. And they are kids our kids have played against all through the years, in peewee football and growing up.”
As expected coming into the season, running back Julius Montgomery has been the main man for the Black Knights. But his story has been written on both sides of the football.
Yes, he’s closing in on 1,000 yards and has scored 17 touchdowns. But his play at defensive end has been a difference-maker, too. Montgomery has eight sacks on the season and has reached double digits in tackles for loss.
“He and I had a discussion after the Unicoi game, and he has been lights out since,” said Murphy. “He has really stepped up on the defensive side of the ball.”
Montgomery’s rushing totals have been aided by backfield help from Bryce Malone (149 yards against North Greene) and an offensive line that has been stout all year. Anchoring the fort are center Scott Crawford and guards Joe McNabb and Tyler Neverline. The tackles are Roger Jennings and Daokta Fillers, who replaced the injured Brandon Martinez.
Overall, Murphy said his players have just bought into the system and talent has increased.
“The first year we started the wing-T we were 2-8, but we got better as the year went on,” said Murphy. “Those sophomores are seniors now, and they are talented. I’m still the same coach. I haven’t changed from six years ago to today.”