Chatter around Knoxville last week made its way to Evensville and word on the street was that Rhea County’s Golden Eagles (5-0) were not on upset alert Friday night against the Knoxville-Gibb’s Eagles (3-3), but rather the underdogs in the non-district tilt.
When the final horn blew and the clock read triple zeros on Friday night, it was pretty clear which team was better as Rhea County silenced Knox-Gibbs, 42-14.
Dalton Hampton rushed for 127 yards and one touchdown and Bradley Goodwin took over for an injured Jackson Langley in the second half for 97 yards and two big rushing touchdowns.
“Coming into tonight as an underdog on the road just really pushed us even harder this week. We’ve had a great season so far and wanted to come out and keep that going,” Hampton said.
Rhea County head football coach Mark Pemberton said his guys definitely took it to heart that they weren’t “expected” to beat Gibbs despite being undefeated and the hosting Eagles being 3-2 entering the game.
“Yeah, I think that underdog talk was a little extra motivation tonight and helped us in preparation this week getting ready to play,”
His Eagles are off to the best start since 2014, which saw Rhea win its first 13 games before falling to Knox-West in the TSSAA State semifinals.
The locals got down to business right from the start of the game marching right down the field on an 11-play, 65-yard drive led by Rhea County’s talented backfield of Jackson Langley, Dalton Hampton and Ryan Young. Senior signal caller Kyle Carr pushed his way into the end zone at the goal line to put the Eagles ahead.
From there, the two teams exchanged punts before Rhea County’s defense forced a turnover on downs on fourth down and five from its own 34 when senior linebacker Bradley Goodwin sacked Knox-Gibbs quarterback Troy Davis.
On Rhea’s next offensive possession the Eagles again pounded the ball on the ground with chain-moving runs from Langley and Hampton. On third and goal from the Gibb’s 10, it was Carr finding a wide open Eli Johnson on the well-executed throwback screen as the junior walked into the end zone untouched.
Knox-Gibbs laced together a solid drive on the ensuing possession keyed by Justin Arman’s 26-yard spurt on the second play of the drive. But on fourth and eight from the Golden Eagle 36, Clytavious Barnes dropped a routine pitch and catch in the end zone after slipping past the Golden Eagle secondary.
The devastating drop—which could have cut the lead to 14-7 with about eight minutes left in the half—instead turned into another Golden Eagle score. Rhea chewed up game clock en route to Langley’s 25-yard house call which saw the senior bust threw a gaping hole in the Gibb’s defense and go untouched to pay dirt for the 21-0 lead with 1:38 left.
The home team finally got on the board in the third frame on a quick, two-play drive when Davis kept on a designed run and sprinted 71-yards to the house with 7:10 showing on the scoreboard.
“I’ll tell ya, that quarterback in dangerous. He has great speed and if he gets on open field, you’re going to have a tough time bringing him down. To hold them to just 14 points, I thought we did a good job to contain them,” Pemberton said.
However, any slither of momentum was immediately shifted back to the visiting sideline as Gibb’s onside kick was recovered by Avery Alday at his own 48 and four plays later, Bradley Goodwin gashed the defense for a 43-yard touchdown sprint.
Sophomore defensive back Gavin Roddy recorded his third interception of the season on the Gibbs Eagles’ next offensive possession. Once again, Rhea County turned the error into points. Goodwin carved up the Eagles for another 46 yards and tallied a 9-yard march for his second touchdown of the night with 11:21 to strengthen the grip hold to 35-7.
A costly pass interference flag on second down extended the next drive for Knox-Gibbs and after a 28-yard burst deep into the Rhea County end zone, Davis sealed the deal with a four-yard rushing score with 9:44 left to cut slim the deficit, 35-14.
Dillon Reed’s third aerial takeaway in as many games thwarted any chances for a late rally and Nathaniel Ferry’s 44-yard run down inside the Gibbs’ 10 set up Hampton’s two-yard plow in the game’s final minute.
Of his secondary’s fourth straight game with at least on interception and turnover on downs Pemberton said: “When they get opportunities back there, they are making play and we’ve been able to get stops on fourth down as well. Proud of that and we hope to just keep improving as we move forward,” he said.
“We came out hard, but got a little sluggish there to start the second half. It’s great to be 5-0 but we just have to keep working and keep pounding,” said sophomore linebacker Drew Fisher who finished with eight tackles on the night. Alday and Goodwin pitched in seven each.
Rhea County now prepares to visit Ooltewah on Friday, Oct. 4th at the Owl’s Nest. Ooltewah (2-3) enters this week with a bit of momentum as well following Friday night’s 42-28 thumping of Soddy-Daisy (2-3). Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Christopher Hall can be reached at email@example.com