Chasing Pefection

RMS will look to complete an undefeated season Thursday night when they travel to Walker Valley High School to meet Ocoee. Kickoff is set for 7 P.M.

To say the Rhea Middle School football team has had a successful season might be one of the biggest understatement of the year—at least when it comes to football in Rhea County thus far this season. 

While the offense has been no push over averaging just over 32 points per contest, it has been the Eagle’s stout defense that has been the foundation for this year’s success. Rhea Middle held its opponents scoreless throughout four games.  

Through the first seven games, the Eagles are giving up less than a touchdown every time they step on the field with an impressive mark of 5.1 points per game. RMS has been the epitome of the “bend but don’t break defense” style of play. 

That aggressive, relentless approach on defense has been evident all year and most notably in the 6-0 dogfight against Maryville in the home opener. The Eagles had two goal-line stands against the Rebels and used an Aaron Swafford 65-yard “pick-six” with 2:38 remaining in the game to lift Rhea Middle to victory. 

Ironically enough, the first points given up this season came when the defense wasn’t even on the field. An 87-yard kickoff return proved to be the Eagle’s shutout streak-breaker against Cleveland Middle. However, Rhea kept the most important streak alive that night en route to a 38-16 victory.

With a thrilling last-second win over Baylor on the road and a convincing 48-6 decision over Cherokee last week, only one game stands in the way of a perfect season for the Eagles. 

“Our guys have played hard all season long and done everything we’ve asked them to do,” Rhea Middle Head Coach Jeremy Fitzgerald said. “We have a few guys that came in this year and hadn’t played much or ever before with us but came in ready to learn and get better and I couldn’t be more proud of these guys regardless of what happens at Ocoee,”

Fitzgerald has talked all year about the strength of this year’s schedule and how he wanted to challenge his team to step up and face some of the best teams in the area. From Rockwood and Maryville to Spring City and Baylor, the Eagles’ schedule has been no cakewalk. 

“Teams like this (Rhea) are few and far between and they’ve come out and beat some really great football teams this year,” he said. 

The second-year head coach and assistant coach for Mark Pemberton’s varsity squad said his staff has been committed to preparing the players not only for the next level, but also for life in general.

“We want our kids to be successful on the field but also teach them life lessons along the way. I love these kids and what they mean to us as a coaching staff,” he said. ”Hopefully, they’ve learned something from us. When life hits you in the face, sometimes you have to just get up and keep going and they’ve showed that time and time again this year and I’m very proud.” 

Rhea Middle is no longer a part of the league so there is no post-season for the Eagles. That being said, regardless of the outcome, Thursday night’s game will be the final for the 2015 season. 

But what a ride it has been. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed covering all three of the local middle school teams this fall but I feel like I’ve been a small part of this magical run towards perfection. 

Not only is it a good sign for the middle school but with a the teams already running Pemberton’s varsity system, it proves that the future of Rhea County football continues to look very bright. 

“We’re going to try and finish the job on Thursday. It’s a very special thing to be able to not lose a ball game all year,” Fitzgerald said. 

 The Eagles will put the undefeated streak and hopes for a perfect season on the line one final time Thursday night when they travel to Walker Valley High School to face Ocoee. Kickoff is slated for 7 p.m.

Christopher Hall can be contacted at christopher.hall@rheaheraldnews.com.