(Wednesday, Sept. 2, 2020 edition)

DANDRIDGE, Tenn. — For the first time in 17 years, the Rhea County High School Golden Eagle football team made the trek on Friday, Aug. 28, to Jefferson County High School to challenge the hosting Patriots, as a last-minute scheduling change paved the way for the opportunity for the pair of teams.

The Eagles took full advantage of doing what they love to do, which is run the football, and run it well, as four Rhea players rushed for a combined 381 yards on 35 carries, with six touchdowns to defeat the Patriots 49-24.

The Patriots took the opening kickoff and moved quickly down the field 65 yards in seven plays to take the early 7-0 with 9:44 left in the first quarter.

Jadden Pankey took the ensuing kickoff at the Rhea County 11-yard line, chose a lane, made some people miss, broke a tackle or two and raced down the Patriots’ sideline for an 89-yard TD for the Eagles, with 9:30 showing on the clock. And just like that, it was game on, and the Rhea County crowd loved it. Pankey had a stellar night, as he totaled five returns for 164 yards and a touchdown. Defensively, Pankey was credited with three tackles, a pass breakup and a blocked extra point.

The Patriots answered the Rhea score by putting together an 11-play, 47-yard drive, capped off with a 28-yard field goal by Dylan O’Neal. With 5:09 remaining in the first, the Eagles trailed 10-7.

The Eagles, guided by freshman quarterback, Kaleb Martin, marched 66 yards to pay dirt, ending with a 26-yard rushing TD by Dalton Hampton, with 1:18 left in the first. After the good extra point kick from sophomore, Cole Ruehling, the Eagles led 14-10. Ruehling was 7-for-7 on made PATs on the night.

The Pats’ next drive ended with a missed field goal attempt at the 9:32 mark in the second quarter. Rhea set up shop at its own 20-yard line. Martin helped keep the drive alive when the Eagles faced a third down and 11 situation, when he found senior wide receiver, Jayden Goodwin, for a 25-yard pass play and a crucial first down at the Jefferson County 45-yard line. The very next play, freshman running back, Ethan Davis, bursts through the middle of the Pats’ defense and outruns everyone to the end zone for his first of two TDS of the night. With 8:34 left in the second, the Eagles were on top 21-10.

Behind the dangerous elusiveness, quickness and speed of Pats’ running back, Ayden Houston, who finished the night with 117 yards on 29 carries and two TDs, Jefferson County put together a quick scoring drive. Pankey blocked the PAT attempt and the Eagles led 21-16 with 5:56 left before the half. Houston gained 270 yards on the ground in the previous week against Sevier County.

On the next two drives, both teams exchanged punts, before the Eagles put more points on the board with an 11-yard TD run by Hampton. Rhea led 28-16 at halftime.

Jefferson County kept things interesting in the third quarter by tacking on another touchdown and a 2-point conversion, as the Pats only trailed 28-24 with 8:22 left in the third.

From that point on, the Eagle offense and defense ended all hopes for the Patriots, as Rhea held them in check, and added 21 unanswered points to end the game.

Closing out the Eagles scoring was senior fullback, Ryan Young, who powered 34 yards for his TD. Davis followed with a speedy 73-yard TD run in which he got outside, rounded the corner, and outran the entire Pats’ defense up the Rhea sideline for the score. Hampton scored his third TD of the night with a 15-yard run into the end zone.

At the 8:13 mark in the third quarter, Rhea QB, Martin, took a helmet to helmet hit at the sideline, which caused him to sit out the rest of the series, until he was checked out by medical staff and cleared to play on the next series. Meanwhile, enter Eagles’ sophomore quarterback, Kole Smith, who guided the rest of the scoring drive on Young’s 34-yard TD.

Eagles’ head coach, Mark Pemberton was glad to get another road win, albeit, he wasn’t pleased with Thursday’s pregame practice session headed into Friday’s matchup.

“We didn’t have a real good practice on Thursday, there was a lot of hollering and screaming by the coaches, particularly me, so I think they responded tonight,” said Pemberton. “I think our guys came out, played hard and did a lot of good things.

“[Jefferson County] is not bad, offensively, that running back of theirs is really good. He caused us some problems, but I thought, offensively, we moved the ball really well, other than a turnover or two,” continued Pemberton. “I’m really proud of the way they responded after that Thursday practice, cause it was ugly.”

Pemberton credited the Eagle defense for containing the elusive Patriots’ running back, Houston, the best they could, as they held him to 117 yards and two TDs, which was significantly lower from the previous week.

“I don’t know what he rushed for this week, but he rushed for 270 yards last week, and we knew coming in that was their offense. We knew if we could stop him at running the football, we’ve got a good chance,” said Pemberton of the Pats’ running back. “I don’t know if we stopped him completely, but I think we hindered him a little bit.”

With a crop of young talent on this year’s Eagle squad, Pemberton isn’t shy about using them wherever necessary.

“I’m really proud of our young kids, our freshman running back, Ethan Davis, and Kaleb Martin, at quarterback,” said Pemberton. “I think those guys did a great job, along with our offensive line. Our offensive line sort of took over in the second half and I think we wore [the Patriots] down. That’s sort of the way we try to operate and we were able to do it, so I’m proud of those guys up front.

“When Kaleb went out for a series or two, Kole Smith came in and did a great job,” continued Pemberton. “Kole plugged right in there, we didn’t miss a beat and I think we might have scored, if I’m not mistaken. He came in and did a super job. He gets just as many reps in practice as Kaleb does. He works with the 2s, but the 1s and 2s get the same amount of reps. So, he looked comfortable when he went in there, and I’ve got a lot of confidence in him.

“I think Jayden Goodwin had a good catch or two,” added Pemberton. “We did a lot of really good things, but we’ve still got to get a whole lot better if we’re going to get to where we want to go.”

By the numbers — Hampton led all rushers with 148 yards on 15 carries, with three rushing TDs. Davis had 142 yards on 10 totes and two TDs, Young had 83 yards on nine carries, with one TD. Martin had one carry for eight yards. The Eagles had 35 rushes, totaling 381 yards. Martin went 1-3-0 in passing for 25 yards. Goodwin had one reception for 25 yards. The Eagles’ tallied 406 offensive yards.

The Eagles fumbled two times and lost one. Rhea was penalized three times for 20 yards. The Patriots were flagged five times for 39 yards on the night.  Rhea’s Luke Miller punted three times for a 28-yard average.

The Patriots rushed 48 times for 235 yards, fumbling twice and losing one. Jefferson County had 23 passing attempts, 12 completions for 175 yards, with zero interceptions. Total offensive yards for the Pats was 410 yards. Jefferson County punted three times, with a 31.3 average.

Leading the Eagles’ defense was Drew Fisher, who had 11 tackles, a forced fumble and a pass breakup. Amari Roddy recorded 10 tackles, as Austin Brackett tallied nine takedowns, including a tackle for loss and a pass breakup. Eli Johnson had seven tackles, three for losses, while Gavin Roddy recorded five. Garrett Ramsey had four tackles, including a sack with two tackles for losses. Isaiah Sales totaled four tackles, two for losses, as Sir Alloway had four, including one for loss and a forced fumble. Rex Pendergrass recorded four tackles and had a pass breakup, while Pankey finished with three tackles, a pass breakup and a blocked extra point.

Other Eagle defenders recording tackles were Nathanial Ferry (3), Justin Woody (3), Joe Lemons (2), Christian Morgan (2), Braden Edwards (1) and Bryce Dupre (1). The Eagle defense held Houston to zero or minus yardage on 10 of the Patriots’ running back’s runs.

The Eagles are 2-0 on the season and will play home this Friday, Sept. 4, at Eagle Stadium/Bill Horton Field. The Eagles will host Region 4-5A foe, Walker Valley High School Mustangs, with kickoff scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Like last week’s game, tickets will be limited. Please contact Rhea County High School for ticket information at 423-285-6833. Also, please follow The Herald-News Facebook and Twitter pages for more information.

Eagle fans, please be sure to visit our website at Rheaheraldnews.com and our Facebook page to view Coach’s Corner, a new edition to The Herald-News’ sports’ department, which is a video that includes a sit down interview with Coach Pemberton, highlighting Friday night’s action and a look ahead preview of the upcoming game. The Coach’s Corner video will be posted every Monday evening, or Tuesday morning, so be sure to check it out.