Rhea County used a stretch of 38 unanswered points to put away two-time reigning Region 4-5A champion Soddy-Daisy on Friday night, beating the host Trojans 38-14 and clinching the league football title for the first time since 2016.
After Soddy-Daisy quarterback Isaac Barnes found Will Ackerman for an 8-yard touchdown on the opening series of the game, the Golden Eagles (8-0, 3-0) limited the Trojans (3-5, 1-1) to less than 150 yards of offense the rest of the way. On the other side of the ball, Rhea lit up the scoreboard and churned out 438 total yards.
"We had a great week of practice, and our kids went to work knowing the importance of this game was to get home-field advantage in the playoffs," coach Mark Pemberton said. "I'm really proud of their effort. We had ups and downs over the course of the game — Soddy-Daisy does a lot of things well — but I'm super happy to get out of here with a win and be region champions."
The visitors' first points came on a 26-yard field goal by Cole Ruehling in the first quarter, and they took the lead early in the second quarter when senior running back Dalton Hampton's 18-yard sweep to the left took him to the end zone. Eight minutes later, Hampton widened the gap with another touchdown run to cap a nine-play, 75-yard drive.
Rhea quarterback Kaleb Martin was intercepted on his team's first possession of the second half, but after a three-and-out series by the Trojans, the Eagles went back to the power running game and Hampton scored on a 15-yard run. Martin scored later in the third quarter when he faked an end around before running in from 11 yards for a 31-7 lead.
Freshman running back Ethan Davis scored Rhea's last touchdown of the night before Barnes — who was 4-for-4 passing for 47 yards on the opening drive — put the Trojans back on the board with a 10-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter. Barnes finished 20-of-28 for 196 yards.
Hampton had a game-high 156 rushing yards on 17 carries, and Davis was right behind him with 143 yards for Rhea, which was coming off an open week and a forfeit victory over Red Bank due to COVID-19.
"It's always great to get a region win," Pemberton said. "I was hoping we'd get to play against Red Bank last week since they're athletic like some of the teams we'll see in the playoffs, but this group is always tough to beat. We've always traditionally played close ballgames (against Soddy-Daisy), so this is a great win for us.
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