Pictured, is RCHS Golden Eagle, Jadden Pankey (2), running the ball during a kickoff return during the Eagles’ 23-0 second round playoff loss to the Oak Ridge Wildcats on Friday, Nov. 13, at Eagle Stadium/Bill Horton Field.

(Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020 edition)

The Rhea County High School Golden Eagle football team’s 2020 season came to a halt Friday night at Eagle Stadium/Bill Horton Field, as the visiting Oak Ridge High School Wildcats claimed a 23-0 victory in the second round of the TSSAA playoffs.

With the loss, the Eagles finished the season with a stellar 10-2 record, as they gave the Eagle Nation plenty to cheer about throughout the season, especially with the memorable comeback wins over Walker Valley and Ooltewah earlier in the season.

The Wildcats’ defense held the Eagle offense in check all night, as Rhea’s first six drives in the first half ended in a fumble, four punts and a missed field goal. The Eagles’ defense also stepped up to the challenge, as they held the highly touted Division I junior prospect, Kendall Jackson, to only 18 yards first half rushing yards and one touchdown, as the Wildcats led 6-0 at the half.

Oak Ridge’s first possession of the second half ended with an interception by Eagle free safety, Amari Roddy. However, the Wildcat defense forced another Rhea punt after three plays. Oak Ridge seized the opportunity, starting at its own 41-yard line. The Wildcats set up their 2-play scoring drive with a 41-yard pass play. From there, Jackson raced to the end zone for an 18-yard TD run. With 9:46 left in the third quarter, Oak Ridge took a 13-0 lead.

The Wildcats kicked a 23-yard field goal with 10:22 remaining in the fourth quarter to go up 16-0. Jackson scored his third and final TD of the night with a 22-yard run to give the Wildcats a 23-0 lead with 6:55 left in the game.

Despite the loss, Eagle head coach, Mark Pemberton, lauded his team’s effort, as he reflected on the night and the season.

“Defensively, we played well enough to win the ballgame. I thought our defense played outstanding,” said Pemberton. “We just could not muster anything, offensively, with turnovers and penalties and things of that nature. For some reason, the last three games, we got out of rhythm and never did get back in, and I’ll take that on my part, that’s my deal. Our kids kept battling kept trying to find a way to win.

“We’ve had a good year. We had some nail biters over the course of the year that we pulled out and won at the end of the ballgame, and I’m sure as a fan, it was a good year to watch,” continued Pemberton. “We had a lot of young kids making a lot of plays. I’m pleased with [the season]. It’s obviously not where we wanted it to go, but there’s only one team that goes away happy at the end of the year, and that’s the team that wins the whole thing.

“I’m proud of our guys, the work they put in to get to this point in an unusual year, with all the stuff going on, so I think our kids kept their nose to the grindstone, kept working and didn’t pay attention to a whole lot of that,” added Pemberton. “If we did have somebody out, the next man jumped in there and did a good job for us, so I’m pleased with the year. Again, not where we want to be at the end of the year, but it’s tough to get to that final one.”

By the numbers — Dalton Hampton led the Eagles with 70 yards rushing on eight carries, including a 48-yard run. Ryan Young had eight yards on two carries, while Ethan Davis finished with five yards on six totes. Kaleb Martin had minus 12 yards on five carries, which included two sacks. There were three team rushes for minus five yards. The Eagles netted 66 yards rushing on 24 carries.

Martin went 14-33-1 in passing for 105 yards. He connected with four receivers. Jayden Goodwin had six receptions for 60 yards, followed by Jadden Pankey with six catches for 45 yards. Hampton had one catch for four yards, as Ethan Davis had one grab for minus four yards.

The total offensive yardage for the Eagles was 171 yards on 57 plays. In kicking duties, Luke Miller punted six times for a 37.3-yard average. Pankey had 40 return yards on five returns, while Gavin Roddy had 41 yards on three returns.

The Eagles were penalized 13 times, totaling 95 yards. Rhea County fumbled three times and lost one, while Oak Ridge fumbled once and zero. The Wildcats had 11 penalties for 120 yards.

The Wildcats rushed 30 times for 123 yards, with Jackson getting 110 of those yards. Oak Ridge had 18 passing attempts, 10 completions for 220 yards, with one interception. Oak Ridge netted 343 total offensive yards on 48 plays.

Some Eagle defensive highlights include linebacker, Drew Fisher, who recorded 12 tackles, including one tackle for loss (TFL). Sir Alloway had 10 tackles, including one TFL (-9).

Austin Brackett totaled nine tackles, including two TFLs, as Jadden Pankey had five tackles, including one TFL and a pass breakup. Alijah Davis and Rex Pendergrass tallied five tackles apiece. Davis had one TFL. Eli Johnson totaled four tackles, including three TFLs. Amari Roddy had four tackles, an INT and a forced fumble. Caden Wicks had three tackles and Gavin Roddy totaled two tackles.

Please be sure to visit our website at Rheaheraldnews.com and our Facebook page to view Coach’s Corner, sponsored by First Bank, which is a new edition to The Herald-News’ sports’ department. It is a video that includes a sit down interview with coach Pemberton, highlighting Friday night’s action, with remarks on the game, so be sure to check it out.