ERWIN — Holding on to the football proved to be quite a task for Happy Valley on Friday night in its all-important Three Rivers Conference game with Unicoi County. The pigskin at times appeared to be “Greasier” than Danny Zuko’s hair, yet the Tribe was able to prevail in the one that they wanted.
Their 20-13 win didn’t come easy, despite 428 yards of total offense compared to 152 for the Blue Devils.
Head coach Larry Shively was happy with the win but not with the way his team took care of the football.
“We had almost 350 yards rushing, but we fumbled four or five times,” said Shively. “You’re not going to win too many times doing that. We’re trying to get three yards a pop and we changed some things up in our running game. I knew it was going to be a little rough, but there’s no excuse for us dropping the football. As coaches, we’re going to get that corrected.”
The fumbling fiasco started after Unicoi was forced to punt on its first possession. The short offering rolled across the foot of a Happy Valley player, giving the Blue Devils new life in Warrior territory.
It took them five plays from that point to march 43 yards.
Austin Hensley fired a picture perfect touchdown pass to Honeycutt that covered 18 of them. Roberto Martinez’s PAT gave Unicoi a 7-0 lead with 9:25 remaining in the quarter.
Happy Valley (1-1, 3-2) looked impressive on its second drive, but the turnover bug would bite the Warriors again.
It started at their 25 and ended with a second-and-goal fumble (at the 7) that was recovered by Zach Beard.
The Happy Valley defense once again rose to the occasion.
Landon Baker dropped Hunter Abbott for a 6-yard loss that forced another punt, giving the Tribe good field position.
Jaylen Simmons made his presence felt with a 40-yard touchdown run on the drive’s first play, with Cody Vestal added the PAT.
Neither team would score over the final 10 minutes of the second quarter, but the Tribe was knocking on the door. They got to the 15-yard line, but Honeycutt intercepting a Seth Davis pass on fourth-and-goal spoiled yet another possible scoring opportunity.
The half ended knotted 7-7.
The dropsies continued to plague the Tribe when they squandered away what appeared to be a touchdown to start the third.
Simmons broke free for 51 yards before a hustling Gabe Kimery poked the ball free before Simmons could cross the goal line. That resulted in a touchback and Unicoi’s football.
“I got a little lazy and slowed up and that allowed their player to knock the ball free,” said Simmons. It was a bad play on my part. We’re real happy to get the win against a big rival that played their hearts out but we’re not happy about the mistakes we made.”
Despite the inconsistencies by the offense, the defense kept Happy Valley in it.
Again they shut down Hensley and company only this time their efforts would be rewarded.
Zack Ball found the end zone from 11-yards out with 1:36 remaining in the third. Vestal’s PAT put them in front 14-7.
“We’ve got to keep working hard in practice to try and perfect our mistakes,” said Ball. “You can’t dwell on it but we’ve got to find a way to eliminate them.”
The Blue Devils (1-1, 2-3) continued to struggle moving the football and were forced to punt for the fifth time in the game. The Tribe got good field position but laid it down for a fourth time, with Unicoi regaining possession.
Hensley had little trouble, taking them 37 yards down the field in 11 plays. His 6-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Goddard came with 6:16 remaining in the game. Their PAT attempt was blocked by Simmons, preserving a slim 14-13 cushion for the Tribe.
The unpredictable Tribe would finally answer with another score.
Tyler Marlowe’s 43-yard kickoff return gave them great field position on Unicoi’s 45.
Happy Valley was able to move the football some with the help of Ball’s 19-yard run, but two delay-of-game penalties put the Warriors in a fourth-and-11 situation.
Next came the biggest play on the night. Davis was true with his 29-yard touchdown pass to a wide open Tyler Adkins at the 2:39 mark.
“We were looking for the corner route or something underneath,” said Davis. “Adkins stepped up and found the opening. They were keying on the run so it was open. We made a lot of mistakes so we’ve got to fix this week in practice.”
The door was left open for Unicoi due to the missed PAT by Happy Valley.
The Devils got the football near midfield, but two passes fell incomplete after facing a third-and-2/
The game would end with Davis taking a knee twice.
The Warriors amassed 340 yards of its total offense on the ground.
Simmons had his first marquee game of the season, 160 yards on 17 carries.
“Our offensive line works their tails off in practice, so I want to give them credit,” said Simmons. “I was able to get things going inside, and Zack got things moving on the outside.”
His running mate Ball added 90 yards on 12 attempts. Cody Vestal and Davis combined to hit the century mark, with each rushing for 50 yards. Vestal’s came on only five carries.
Baker and Ball provided seven tackles apiece to lead the defense. Jesse Henley was a close second with five. Colton Haun, Simmons and Vestal collected four.
Davis completed 5-of-9 passes for 88 yards. Zach Miller had a 23-yard reception after moving over from his guard position.
“With our slots not being healthy, we felt the need for a tight end — so we moved Zach Miller there and he made a key play,” said Shively. “But until we get this turnover situation taken care of, we’re nothing but an average team at best. We don’t fumble it at practice, yet for some reason we want to lay it down on Friday night. It’s totally unacceptable.”
Hensley threw of 85 yards, completing 14-of-22 attempts. Goddard provided seven catches for 37 yards. Abbott led the ground game with 40 yards on 15 carries.
“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.”
Happy Valley will travel to Abingdon next Friday night for a non-conference game with the Falcons. Kickoff is set for 7:30.