EVENSVILLE, Tenn. - Austin Dotson has a fuzzy memory of Rhea County beating Cleveland in a big football game when he was about 5 years old.
"I remember that I wanted to be out there winning a big game," said the Rhea County senior quarterback. "I remember it was a lot of fun."
It's everything he imagined.
The Eagles defeated East Hamilton 27-24 on Friday night. The Eagles kept the Hurricanes' defense off balance, slowed star quarterback Hunter Moore by dropping eight defenders into coverage and blocked two punts to win the special-teams battle between two previously one-loss teams.
"It was a big win for us and helps catapult the program," said first-year coach Mark Pemberton, who is taking the Eagles to the playoffs for the first time since his seniors have been in high school. "East Hamilton is a great football team. I guess we made one more play than them."
Rhea County freshman Cody Bice had a roller-coaster of a night. He fumbled at the 3-yard line to end the Eagles' first possession of the game. Then he watched the Hurricanes take the lead four plays later on a halfback pass from Tre Herndon to Tony Francois that further deflated an engaged home crowd on senior night.
Bice atoned for his fumble when he ended the Hurricanes' second possession by blocking a punt and giving the Eagles the ball 56 yards from the end zone. Nine plays later, freshman Mason Stephenson -- filling in for injured fullback Jacob York -- scored on a 1-yard dive to tie the game midway through the second quarter.
The bands took the field with East Hamilton leading 10-7.
Rhea County wingback Dimitrius Patterson gave Rhea County its first lead of the night on a 9-yard run. It was a lead the hosts never relinquished. Bice further atoned for his early-game mistake by shedding a tackler and scoring on a 17-yard screen pass from Dotson, giving the Eagles a 21-10 lead.
"He more than made up for his mistake," Dotson said.
The Hurricanes (7-2) weren't going down easily. Francois scored on a 19-yard pass from Moore late in the third quarter. The Eagles (8-1) responded with a 5-yard touchdown run by Joby Berry. A botched extra point left them with a 27-17 lead. Moore led a touchdown drive that he capped with a sneak, pulling the Hurricanes within three points.
The Hurricanes had the chance to tie or take the lead when they got the ball with 3:35 to play with no timeouts and 84 yards to go for a touchdown. But the drive stalled at the Rhea 43-yard line, setting of a celebration in the stands.
Moore completed 18 of 25 passes with one touchdown and one interception and was sacked five times, including three by C.J. Shelton. Rhea County's Patterson rushed 16 times for 84 yards.
"We knew they were going to throw, so we had to get a rush, and we did," Shelton said. "It feels a whole lot different than last year."
Rhea County's Patterson ran 16 times for 84 yards and a touchdown.
"To me, it wasn't an upset," he said. "We have a saying: One team, one dream."
They're living what Dotson dreamed of years ago.
Contact David Uchiyama at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6484. Follow him at twitter.com/uchiyamaCTFP.