Very few games this season across the Tennessee Valley can claim to be as important as this game between new region foes Rhea County and Knoxville Catholic. In what could be called the “Pemberton Bowl,” the Irish and the Eagles square off in their third meeting all-time in a series that Catholic leads two wins to none.
Coach Pemberton, the current Eagles head coach, led the Irish for seven seasons and won a state title in 2008. He has led the Eagles program since 2013.
The Eagles enter the Thursday night contest with a record of 3-3 and a perfect 2-0 in region play. The Irish also sit at 3-3, following a blowout loss to the nation’s #9 ranked team in Brentwood Academy, and are 1-0 in the region after a tight 49-48 win at Soddy-Daisy two weeks ago.
After spending the entire first half of the season ranked in the AP poll, the Rhea County Eagles fell out of it this week after last week’s road loss to Bradley Central. The Irish are ranked as the 6th best team in 5A.
Here is a breakdown of the Irish:
Knoxville Catholic High School
Mascot: Fighting Irish
Class 5A, Region 4
After spending some time in 4A, the Irish were moved up to 5A following their decision to stay in the public school bracket rather than make the jump to Division II. The Irish were perennial state title contenders while in 4A, winning a state title in 2015 before bowing out last season to rival Fulton in the second round of the playoffs.
Players to Watch:
Cade Mays (#68, senior, offensive/defensive line)
-I almost put this one in bold and capital letters. Mays, a 5-star recruit, is the gem of Tennessee’s 2018 recruiting class and is a beast of an lineman at 6’5 and over 300 pounds. Look for him to disrupt the lines on both sides of the ball.
Dashon Bussell (#1, senior, wide receiver/defensive back)
-Bussell, a transfer from the Midwest that holds offers from Tennessee and Iowa among others, adds speed and athleticism to both the offense and defense.
Cam Blakely (#8, senior, wide receiver)
-Committed to Miami (Ohio), Blakely is a threat in the passing game, using his long frame to out-maneuver defenders for the ball.
A.J. Velasco (#27, senior, wingback)
-One of Rhea County’s top running backs who is just coming off a four-week hiatus after suffering a concussion against Cleveland, Velasco adds a pass-catching dynamic to the offense and is dangerous every time he touches the ball.
Ty Goodwin (#59, senior, linebacker)
-Formerly a starting offensive lineman, Goodwin has found his own at middle linebacker and is a highly talented defender against opponent’s run games.
Aulbrey Smith (#13, junior, safety)
-Smith plays the ball well and has shown that he is dangerous to throw to with multiple interceptions to his name during the season including a two-pick performance against region opponent Walker Valley.
Breakdown: There is no such thing as overstating the importance of this game for both teams. Catholic, after a close call against Soddy-Daisy and a mercy rule loss against Brentwood Academy in the last two weeks, needs a solid win in this one to catapult them through their remaining schedule and take the lead in the region.
Rhea County, after a tough loss to Bradley Central, is looking to keep themselves perfect in region play and make their claim on the region insurmountable with a victory over the Irish.
Should Catholic win, they would improve to 2-0 in region play with a game at Walker Valley and at home against Lenoir City left on their region slate. Should the Eagles prevail, they would move to 3-0 in the region, a lead that would be unable to be surpassed regardless of how the other games went, thus giving the Eagles the region title.
Each team needs a win here, and both of them know that quite well. With that, I give no prediction on the final score this week. Enjoy the game!
Other Region 4-5A games
Walker Valley @ Lenoir City: Lenoir City by 10
Current Region Standings:
1. Rhea County (2-0)
2. Knoxville Catholic (1-0)
3. Lenoir City (1-1)
4. Walker Valley (0-1)
5. Soddy-Daisy (0-2)