Passes set up Rhea County's running game in victory at Marion County

Passes set up Rhea County's running game in victory at Marion County

October 7th, 2017 by Kelley Smiddie in Sports - Preps

JASPER, Tenn. — For those who weren't aware, the Rhea County High School football team has a passing game.

It played a big role in Friday's 34-10 victory over host Marion county.

The Eagles not only used the pass effectively early on, at the end of the first quarter they were up 7-3 and had 36 yards rushing and 50 passing.

"Believe it or not, we do work a lot on throwing the football," said Rhea coach Mark Pemberton, whose son Zack is the Eagles' starting quarterback. "We just haven't done it a whole lot this year."

Zack was 5-of-7 passing for 85 yards before halftime. He threw one pass in the second half — a completion to Christian Simon for 14 yards.

By then, the Eagles' renowned running game was taking over. Brandon Hunt paced Rhea with 139 yards on 12 carries.

He rushed for the first touchdown, Simon rushed for the next two and fellow running back A.J. Velasco scored the last two. Simon ended up with a combined 142 yards rushing and receiving.

Marion County has a game-breaker in running back Jacob Saylors, who's also a threat as a receiver and kick returner. Coach Pemberton acknowledged he's "a dangerous football player." Yet the only time he got loose was when he scored the Warriors' touchdown on a 47-yard run on the first possession of the second half.

"They just weren't going to give up the perimeter," Marion coach Joey Mathis said. "When you play us, that's a good game plan. They knew what to take away, but that also opened up some other things for us. He was a shoestring away every now and then. He just couldn't get loose."

Rhea (4-4), which played reserves most of the fourth quarter, now turns its attention to next week's Region 4-5A game against Soddy-Daisy.

"It's good to get that done at this point in the year," Coach Pemberton said of getting his starters out of the game. "Most teams that are successful late (in the season) are healthy.

"We've got a huge region game next week against Soddy-Daisy that's for the number two spot. They've been scoring a lot of points. It's at our place. We've got to have tunnel vision. All of our focus now is on that game."

Marion (3-5) plays up in class again next week at Class 3A's Loudon before finishing at home with a Region 3-2A game against Polk County.

"Every week we're getting better," Mathis said. "We're taking steps in the right direction. You hope your strength of schedule and practice habits help you build a foundation for a positive finish. Then when you get into the second season (the state playoffs), anything can happen."

Contact Kelley Smiddie at or 423-757-6653. Follow him on Twitter @KelleySmiddie.