Dayton City topples Rhea Middle in rivalry showdown
Two weeks ago, Dayton City (6-2) overcame a 10-point deficit with 3:25 remaining in regulation to stun Spring City (8-1) in a 28-24 thriller at Gabbert Field. On Thursday, it was a similar result with the Sweatbees rallying from a 22-16 deficit in the fourth quarter to swarm past the Eagles, 28-22.
The win gives Dayton City the unofficial Rhea County Middle School Championship for this season and ultimate bragging rights over both Spring City and Rhea Middle after winning a pair of absolute classic games this season.
Neither came easy, though and DCS again had to weather the storm early when Rhea Middle quarterback Kaleb Martin dropped back to pass and found a wide-open Briley Mayberry who raced 41 yards to the house. Coley Mayberry ran in the conversion to give the Eagles the lead, 8-0, less than two minutes into the game.
“We definitely took a hit there early but our guys played tough and got some turnovers at very key moments in the game. Rhea Middle played hard, as I knew they would. Very proud of all these guys and both coaching staffs tonight for just a great rivalry ball game,” DCS head coach Jeff Hill said.
Dayton City’s opening drive stalled out on fourth down when quarterback Bryce Dupre was forced to just fall on a low snap to avoid further damage. Shortly thereafter, the ball was back in his hand as he picked off Martin’s pass at his own 45 and nearly took it the distance before being tackled at the Eagles’ 11.
Rex Pendegrass eventually sealed the deal for the Sweatbees on a big four-yard rush as he dived his way into the corner of the end zone at the pylon. However, the two-point conversion failed allowing the Eagles to cling to the 8-6 advantage with 2:53 left in the opening canto.
On the next possession, Rhea Middle’s Coley Mayberry put the ball on the turf and Dupre was there to pounce on it at his own 25 thwarting a promising Eagle drive. DCS went back on the attack and Ethan Davis busted through the Rhea secondary for a 15-yard gain. However, he coughed it up and Maurice Shirley was the beneficiary to give the ball back to the Eagles.
This time around, Rhea was able to capitalize on Dayton City’s mistake and Martin capped the 40-yard march with a quarterback sneak down near the goal line to extend the lead, 14-6.
Dupre’s favorable return set up the Sweatbees close to midfield and Ace Robinson’s counter sliced through the Eagles for a 35-yard sprint. Ethan Davis posted another incredible score running around the right edge before flipping the field and cutting back left towards his own sideline on a 20-yard touchdown. Dupre waltzed into the end zone on a well-executed bootleg to tie the game 14-14 with 1:57 left in the opening half.
In the third quarter, neither team was able to get much going until late in the frame when Coley Mayberry snagged Durpe’s pass at the 50 and returned it down to the Sweatbee 36. Dalcen Davis’ chain-moving gain set up the Eagles at first and goal at the six and Briley Mayberry’s go-ahead score and two-point conversion put Rhea Middle ahead, 22-14, on the first play of the fourth quarter.
On the ensuing Sweatbee drive, it was Pendergrass’ 47-yard trot to the Eagles 10 that set up Bryce Dupre’s fourth and goal toss to Ethan Davis. The eighth grader eluded defenders en route to the end zone. After the successful conversion, the game was once again tied, 22-22, with 5:52 left.
After converting on fourth and three from the DCS 48, the turnover bug struck Rhea Middle once more and the Sweatbees got the ball at their own 43 with a fumble recovery.
A crucial personal foul following Davis’ chain-moving run set up the visiting Bees with a new set of downs at the Rhea Middle 26. Davis cashed in the gift running right up the middle 26-yards for what proved to the be the game-winner with 1:26 on the clock.
Rhea Middle didn’t go quietly but Martin’s prayer was intercepted by Dupre at the DCS 25 and returned up to the 45. From there, it was victory formation time as the Sweatbees ran out the clock.
“Proud of how our guys fought through some adversity and battled to the end, but we just had some turnovers at bad times that killed us tonight. They stuck together as a family but we just put ourselves in a few tough situations and that will get you into trouble when you’re playing good teams like Dayton City,” head coach Joe Campbell said.
Hill was gracious in his comments about the opposing sideline, which included players he has coached and known personally from their earliest days of Dayton Little Eagles.
“Just so proud of everyone tonight on both teams. Our guys have been a little banged up this year but they’ve continued to fight through it all. We have tremendous leaders on this team and I can’t say enough about everyone and their hard work. And like I said after the game…yeah it’s a county rivalry and that’s all fun but we’re all on going to be on the same team at the high school. I think the future is very bright for Rhea County football,” Hill said.
Dayton City wraps up the regular season and will enjoy time off in the opening round of the playoffs before preparing to host the second round at Gabbert Field on Oct. 24. Rhea Middle closes the book on the 2019 campaign and bids farewell to another talented 8th grade class, which was recognized with cheerleaders and the band prior to kickoff.