CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Justin Woody and his fellow Rhea County offensive linemen grew up playing in Golden Eagles coach Mark Pemberton's system.
That's why game in, game out, it doesn't take much for the guys up front — an all-senior line counting tight end Drew Fisher — to adjust to what a defense is throwing at them.
That's also been the key in aiding a backfield that features a sophomore quarterback, two sophomore running backs and a freshman fullback. It's why Kaleb Martin has plenty of time to make reads for the offense and why backs Ethan Davis, Briley Mayberry and Latron Alloway have lanes on sweeps or straight up the middle for yardage.
"There's a few reads we may not see in practice, but once we get in the game we know exactly what to do just because we've played together for so long," Woody said. "I think it's really helping the backfield, given their age. We're opening the holes, and they're seeing it and getting experience running through the holes."
Friday's 30-7 win at Class 5A's eighth-ranked Walker Valley was about Rhea County's dominance up front in the first half. The Golden Eagles averaged 8.5 yards per carry on 23 rushes and 9.5 yards per play while building a 27-7 advantage going into halftime. There were four possessions for the visitors; there were four scores.
And coupled with the team's victory over McMinn County a couple of weeks ago, Rhea (5-1, 3-0 Region 4-5A) is now in the driver's seat to win the region championship.
The freshman Alloway had 162 yards on 18 carries, including a 45-yard touchdown on the Golden Eagles' first possession. Davis, the team's leading rusher this season, didn't reach the end zone on the ground, but he rushed for 126 yards and caught a 32-yard pass from Martin.
"That's the guys we count on to win ballgames for us," Pemberton said. "They've been great so far for us.
"That first half was right down our alley. That's what we have to do to win ballgames, because we shorten the game so much with our possessions that neither team gets many possessions, so we have to take advantage when we've got the ball and put it in the end zone, and it forces the other team to do the same thing."
The Mustangs (4-3, 1-1) were limited to minus-13 yards on the ground, with the longest run a 5-yard carry by quarterback Ryan Lay. He did throw for 234 yards, completing 19 of 40 passes, with junior Tucker Ownby his main target with 72 yards on eight catches, including a score.
Tristan McCann hauled in a 60-yard pass from Lay to set up that touchdown on the game's first series, but the Mustangs threatened just once after that, failing to convert on downs in the red zone before the end of the first half.