This past week while Rhea County’s Eagles were preparing for a lengthy sojourn a bit north of the Mason-Dixon Line, I thought I’d grapple with a few midseason statistics as Mark Pemberton’s club attempted to regain their bearings following the 16-0 Region 4-5A setback at Ooltewah on Sept. 18.
A season ago at this juncture, Rhea County was the talk of District 6-AAA with an unblemished 5-0 overall record. Prior to the Sept. 25 intrastate battle with five-time Indiana state prep champ Indianapolis Cathedral, the Eagles stood 3-2 albeit against far superior opposition than the 2014 club faced.
As September began to fade a year past, Pemberton’s “Birds of Prey” had tallied 226 points while limiting the opposition to 27. Yep, those Eagles were posting an average of 45.2 ppg. And they were also lining up against district foes that fancied basketball championships rather than success on the gridiron.
Before suffering their first shutout in nearly four years against Ooltewah, the Eagles were scoring at a 50-point clip per game with victories over McMinn Central (62-20), White County (49-6), Clinton (62-10) and a narrow 35-27 setback to state private power Baylor in the season opener. Defensively, the locals had given up 87 points (18.4 per contest) before teeing it up against Cathedral.
Need I say more about the likes of White County, Cumberland County, Stone Memorial and Warren County.
Actually, last winter White County had the misfortune of being shifted to the recently formed Region 4-5A that includes Rhea County, Ooltewah, Cleveland, Soddy-Daisy, McMinn County and Walker Valley.
Sparta’s Warriors will be hard-pressed to pick up a region victory before closing their season on Oct. 30 at home versus Cleveland. Rhea County and Soddy-Daisy have already made short work against White County.
I had a football parent ask me a couple of weeks ago why Rhea County had failed to place a running back among the area leaders in yards rushing.
Simply put, the Eagles have three “mercy rule’ victories to their credit to date which means a continuous running clock throughout the second half. Thus, far fewer rushes have been attempted by Rhea County front-liners.
All told, 13 different Rhea County players have carried the ball from scrimmage this season. Junior Cody Bice had 299 rushing yards on 44 carries and scored four touchdowns through five games. Senior wingback Dylan Smith followed with 36 attempts resulting in 284 yards and six TDs. Junior fullback Mason Stephenson has 28 carries covering 170 yards and a pair of scores.
The Eagles have also done quite a bit of damage through the air led by QB Daniel Dotson’s 38-of-61 passing for 725 yards and seven touchdowns.
Leading scorer Noel Patterson (48 points) has hauled in 28 Dotson aerials for 623 yards and all seven receiving tallies.
Additionally, Patterson had a 98-yard kickoff return for a TD at McMinn Central. He is averaging 22.3 yards per reception and 30.2 yards per carry on five kick returns.
Producing points the remainder of the regular season will not be as difficult as was witnessed at Ooltewah a week ago. Mac Bryan’s Owls possess a tenacious defense that could carry them deep into the post season.
Rhea County will be tested with a quartet of region foes as the season winds down but none are as stout-hearted defensively as Ooltewah.
It’s doubtful the Owls will slip up as the campaign progresses, but their Oct. 2 skirmish at Soddy-Daisy already has the Trojan faithful clamoring for an upset.
As I mentioned following the Ooltewah loss, the Eagles are in total control of their own playoff destiny. Four straight Ws beginning Oct. 9 would lock up a Rhea County region runnerup finish that would guarantee a first round home game with the third place finisher from Region 3-5A.
And a Clinton Dragon team that the Eagles humiliated on Sept. 11 could be making a return trip to Evensville should the playoff pairings unfold for such a scenario.
At the conclusion of the Rhea County-Ooltewah tilt, Coach Pemberton reminded his team that their preseason goal of reaching the playoffs again was certainly viable.
It might not be nearly as easy as has been the case for the past two years, but bringing down the 2015 regular season curtain with a quartet of region battles could produce a thrill ride for the Eagles and their partisans alike.
Terry Goins can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org