EVENSVILLE, Tenn. — Beyond a coaches' teaching moment, the Rhea County football players haven't forgot their lone defeat this season.
The Eagles led Walker Valley 17-0 minutes into the second quarter of a game on Sept. 13. Yet as Friday the 13ths go, strange things occurred. The potent offense that had 168 yards in the first quarter sputtered, and the Mustangs reeled off 24 consecutive points for the seven-point victory.
"We all remember that game," Rhea senior quarterback Austin Dotson said. "We felt we had a chance to go undefeated, but in the second half we were lax and not ready to play. We've used that loss because we know that we can't let up at any point of the game."
After a youthful team struggled to win only three games the previous two seasons, the Eagles (10-1) enter the second round of the Class 5A playoffs on an eight-game win streak. They've won 11 of their last 12 games -- a streak that started last year against Cleveland, their opponent tonight.
Rhea's 29-27 victory in the final week of the 2012 regular season kept the Blue Raiders out of the playoffs and gave the Eagles a positive ending. And they are riding high this season under the direction of Mark Pemberton.
The Eagles' wing-T attack has averaged 234.3 yards per contest, and the key has been the man under center. Dotson has thrown for 1,255 yards and 17 touchdowns, with no interceptions this season after being picked off 13 times last year.
"If you're going to be effective in the wing-T offense, you have to be able to throw the ball, because teams are going to want to crowd the line of scrimmage and make it tough to run," Pemberton said. "I told Austin before the season that I needed him to manage the team and not make every play, but there have been opportunities for big plays in the vertical game and he's taken advantage.
"He's been better than I'd hoped for."
There's been a sense of familiarity every time Dotson walks into the huddle. He has two cousins, Dimitrius and Noel Patterson, in there with him. The three used to play football in the back yard when they were kids, and the way they've played this season, it's almost like old times. Dimitrius, a senior, has 824 yards and 12 touchdowns rushing plus 419 receiving yards and another six scores. Noel, a sophomore, has 540 yards receiving and eight scores -- including a 49-yard touchdown pass thrown by his brother in last week's 35-24 victory over Lenoir City.
"This season has been a lot different and a lot more fun, because we know every time we're on the field we have a chance to win the game," Dotson said. "I've tried to become a leader this season as a senior and the quarterback. I think I've done a good job and hope the guys think the same.
"I'm proud of where we came from."
In addition to Dotson and the Patterson brothers, backs Jobe Berry and Jacob York have combined for 1,177 yards and 17 touchdowns, so the elder Patterson warned foes against keying on one particular player.
"It's been real exciting to win this season. This team has been a big family," he said. "We all love each other and play hard for each other, and that's the key to winning. We come to play every week and take things one game at a time. We've worked hard and it's paying off."
Contact Gene Henley at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.