The Blue Devils will host Gatlinburg-Pittman in the first round of the TSSAA Class 3A football playoffs Friday night at Gentry Stadium.
Unicoi enters with a record of 6-4 while the Highlanders, ranked No. 9 in the state, are 8-2.
Blue Devils head coach Drew Rice said Pittman is strong across the board.
“They are an extremely well-coached football team. Everything they do is sharp, and they execute at a very high level. They have a very balanced attack and their offensive line is huge.”
Running back Bryce Akey (5-9, 185) rushed for 223 yards and scored two touchdowns in last week’s 37-21 win over Kingston.
Unicoi has a standout running back of its own in Kody Lewis, who has rushed for 1,429 yards and scored a school-record 26 touchdowns on the season. In last Friday’s win over Johnson County, Lewis scored career touchdown No. 60.
“We will have to put together the most complete effort we have had all year,” said Rice. “We will have to take care of the ball offensively and be very disciplined on defense.”
Here’s a look at other smaller-school contests:
Johnson County (4-6) at Austin-East (7-3)
Finding the end zone has been a challenge for the Longhorns lately as they look for their first points since Week 9.
Johnson County should remember running back Isaiah Ligon, who made the move from receiver to the backfield during the 2017 postseason when the Roadrunners ended the Longhorns’ undefeated season in the second round. The 5-9, 190-pound senior totaled 149 yards of offense in Friday’s win over Northview Academy.
Sullivan North (5-5) at Oneida (6-4)
Oneida is led by running back Kolby Morgan, quarterback Elijah West and defensive end Colby Boyatt, who is one of East Tennessee’s sack leaders.
Defense is what caught the eye of Raiders coach Preston Patrick.
“They are very strong and fundamentally sound on defense,” said Patrick. “Offensively, they want to run the football.”
Sullivan North counters with a three-pronged running attack of Yancy Dolen (829 yards), Dale Potter (779 yards) and Austin Hartsock (603 yards).
Cumberland Gap (4-6) at Hampton (8-2)
Bulldogs head coach Michael Lunsford said the Panthers bring some things to the table.
“Offensively they throw they ball well and get the ball to their skill guys in space,” Lunsford said. “The quarterback (Caden Brunsma) is a good athlete, and he has two good receivers. Defensively they bring a lot of pressure and have a lot at the line of scrimmage.”
Lunsford said his defense needs to get pressure on Brunsma.
Hampton is led by Conor Jones (1,494 total yards and 27 total touchdowns) along with Caleb Oaks (602 total yards, 10 touchdowns), Matt Hughes, Macon Barden, Isiah Greenwell and Gage Chambers. Defensive standouts include Jonah Jones and Max Cash.
Happy Valley (7-3) at Meigs County (9-1)
Underdog is definitely the role for the Warriors in this matchup.
Meigs boasts Mr. Football winner Aaron Swafford, a 6-0, 194-pound quarterback who totaled close to 3,000 yards of offense in 2018.
“It all starts with him,” said Happy Valley coach Jason Jarrett. “He is just as good from his safety position as well. Their fronts are extremely physical and athletic. They have explosive playmakers all over the field in all three phases of the game.”
Harriman (3-7) at Cloudland (5-5)
It could be a chore for the Highlanders.
Greenback coach Greg Ryan said a couple of weeks ago that Harriman was “the best-looking 2-6 team I think I’ve ever seen.”
Cloudland coach Scott Potter said the Blue Devils are balanced.
“They pass and run,” he said. “They have a lot of speed and played in a tough conference. They are better than their record.”
Unaka (2-8) at Greenback (8-2)
The Rangers will have to contend with quarterback Braden Carnes, who has thrown for 2,672 yards and 36 touchdowns this season.
Carnes passed for 356 yards and eight touchdowns in the 66-0 Week 11 win over Oakdale.
Holden Willis is his main target with 46 catches for 1,151 yards and 20 touchdowns.