Coach Mark Pemberton had a clear but cautious message to his team late Friday night after its 37-7 victory at Ooltewah.
"Rhea County football is back," he declared, leading to a resounding roar.
Class 5A's unbeaten Eagles (6-0), running their wing-T scheme to perfection, displayed exactly the kind of offense Pemberton wants. Rushing 50 times for 321 yards, they had four rushers go for more than 50 yards.
"I told them I didn't want to get ahead of myself," Pemberton said," but we're back to doing what we do best: running the football and being physical."
Pemberton led the program to more than 40 wins from 2013 to '16, and now things are going well again.
Despite playing without their leading rusher this season, Jackson Langley, the Eagles never missed a beat. Langley's replacement, Bradley Goodwin, rushed for three touchdowns and had 68 yards on 20 carries.
"It feels great to come in here and beat a good Ooltewah team," Goodwin said. "This win is a huge motivator that we can win any game. It doesn't matter who we play — if we come to play, we can beat anybody."
Dalton Hampton led Rhea County with 109 yards on 14 carries, Ryan Young had 85 on 19 and Nathan Ferry chipped in 51 yards.
While the backs get the glory in the box score, the dominance of the rushing game starts up front with an offensive line Pemberton praised.
"Those guys have done a great job," he said. "It all started during the summer in the weightroom, and not just our linemen. I couldn't be prouder of a group than this one. It's a group that enjoys being around each other, and we've gotten back to where we need to be."
The Eagles completed only three passes, but one of those was a 21-yard strike on third down with less than two minutes to go in the first half that set them up inside the Owls' 10-yard line. Goodwin punched it in for his first score of the night to give Rhea County a 10-0 lead at halftime.
Class 6A's Ooltewah (2-4) received the ball to open the second half but promptly went three-and-out. To make matters worse, senior quarterback Lane Moore walked off the field and quit after arguing with coaches about the third-down play call.
Owls junior Fisher Perry was pressed into duty in a difficult spot. The Eagles picked two passes off on back-to-back plays during the quarter, and both led to Goodwin touchdowns as Rhea County opened up a 23-0 lead.
Jaquan Greehill helped keep the Owls in the game with a 60-yard run, followed by a 3-yard score to cut their deficit to 16 at the end of the third quarter. Greenhill finished with 108 yards on 16 carries, but Rhea County held Ooltewah to just 194 total yards.
Two more touchdowns by the Eagles in the fourth quarter and suffocating defense allowed Rhea County to pull away for the victory.
Contact Kevin Llewallyn at firstname.lastname@example.org.