The Rhea County High School Eagles might not have the perfect record they had this time last season, but Coach Mark Pemberton’s “Birds of Prey” are picking up some serious momentum at the best time possible.
After back-to-back loses to Ooltewah and Cathedral High School (Ind.) followed by a bye-week, Rhea County is back on track and looking like the typical Rhea County football team.
The Eagles (5-3, 3-1) now take the driver’s seat for a second place finish in region 4-5A behind Ooltewah (7-1, 4-0). Rhea County will take to the road for the final two games of the regular season with trips to Walker Valley (4-4, 2-2) and McMinn County (3-4, 2-2). If they win out, they’ll get at least a first round playoff game at home.
Speaking to his team and the media following Friday night’s win over cross-town rival Soddy-Daisy, Pemberton was pleased how his team continues to make strides since the minor set backs in late September to two quality teams.
Since then, the Eagles have only given up 14 points in the past two contests. Outside of a touchdown in the final moments of the Cleveland game and an 85-yard kickoff return in the first quarter against the Trojans, the Eagles have been quite a stingy crew.
“I feel like we have played great defense all year and our defensive staff has done a great job. (Soddy-Daisy) is a good football team with a good offense that we beat tonight,” Pemberton said last Friday.
“We’re back to playing our type of football. That is two weeks in a row we’ve played an outstanding game but lets keep it going and keep it rolling into next week,” Pemberton told his squad in a brief post-game meeting.
“We’ve improved from last week to this week and it’s a great time to be playing at a high level as we head into the playoffs.”
When I first accepted the job with The Herald-News back in early February, one of my first questions was about the football program here in Rhea County.
I learned quickly just how special football is here and how great of a program this community gets to enjoy. While defense wins championships and I love seeing all the big hits and forced turnovers, I also love an explosive offense.
The Eagles Wing-T offense can be extremely thorny to defend. Anytime you have three backs go over the 100-yard mark in a game, it speaks volume to both the backs and the offensive line and downfield blockers.
And just when you think you have Pemberton figured on offense and about to close in on the run, he calls a pass play and catches you out of position for a big play or score. It has been a delight watching the Eagles play at a high level and get after it on both sides of the football.
I come from a small town in upstate South Carolina where football is also a pretty big deal on Friday night. We too have a history of being a solid team and actually clinched a region crown last Friday night and should contend for a state title--the school's first ever--this year.
Working with our sports correspondent Terry Goins this year to provide great coverage of the Eagles has been pleasurable and I’m looking forward to following Rhea County wherever it plays from here on out.
I heard of the historic playoff run last season and I had high expectations this summer as kickoff crawled closer. So far, I haven’t been let down. From the effort on the field to the support in the stands, Rhea County does football right.
Coach Mark Pemberton and his staff do a great job at varsity level all the way down to the Spring City and Rhea Middle Schools. Not only are they putting together a solid program that has plenty to look forward to, they are creating great young men of character--which is often overlooked in high school coaching.
Since I’m usually on the sidelines every game for photography, I get the chance to interact with the players more than normal and Rhea County not only has a great group of players, but some standout individuals off the field as well. I’m looking forward to covering what is hopefully another deep playoff run for the Eagles over the next few weeks.