In a game billed as one of the hottest tickets in the Chattanooga area, the Rhea County Eagles will be hosting the Fighting Irish of Knoxville Catholic.
The Irish (2-3, 0-1) are coming off a 40-3 loss to the Brentwood Academy Eagles while Rhea County (3-2, 2-0) is looking to rebound from last week’s tight 42-35 loss to Bradley Central.
The Eagles and Irish are no strangers to each other, having met in non-conference action in 2009, 2010, and in region play in 2017.
The game in Knoxville last season drew in Mark Packer and his Rivalry Thursday crew in a game that saw the hosts come out victorious in what ended up being the regular season region championship.
The Eagles are 0-3 all-time against Catholic, and they will be looking to right that wrong this season with the help of an electric home crowd at Bill Horton Field.
The Irish are led by senior quarterback Jack Jancek, son of former Tennessee Defensive Coordinator John Jancek and brother of current Tennessee walk-on quarterback Zack Jancek, who has done a great job filling in the shoes of last year’s starter Jack Sompayrac.
The strength of the Catholic offense lies in their offensive line that boasts a four star and a three star linemen in Bryn Tucker (#55, 6’5, 300 lbs) and Cooper Mays (#78, 6’3, 250 lbs), younger brother of former Irish and current Georgia Bulldog offensive tackle Cade Mays.
Both players are only juniors and hold offers from college bluebloods such as Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, Clemson, and Tennessee.
Also contributing on the offensive side are wide receivers Tommy Winton III (#24, 5’10, 175 lbs) and Adam Jones (#9, 6’3, 170 lbs).
On defense, the Irish are led by Raynoch Thompson, Jr. (#13, 6’0, 175 lbs), son of the former Volunteer player of the same name, at defensive back, and Bryce Nicely (#79, 6’3, 260 lbs) and Stiles Moore (#7, 6’3, 227) on the defensive line.
Even though they dropped the game to Bradley Central last week, the Eagles played their best overall game to date, rolling a stout Bear defense to the tune of over 450 yards of offense, while holding the high powered offense of the visitors to a little over 100 rushing and 272 passing.
Eagle quarterback Zack Pemberton has been a scoring machine for the triple option offense, carrying for 13 touchdowns and passing for another 5 for a total of 613 rushing yards and 298 passing yards (14-21, 0 INTs).
Senior wingback and safety Aulbrey Smith has been a key cog on both offense and defense, picking up 809 yards through rushing, receiving, kick return, punt return, and interception return yardage, scoring 4 receiving touchdowns and 1 rushing touchdown, and recording a couple interceptions along the way.
Senior kicker Haden “Chigger” Frashier has been perfect on the season on PAT attempts, tacking on 22 of 22 extra points.
And who can forget the fullback tandem of Chandler Kaylor and Bo Garmany who have combined for over 500 rushing yards and two touchdowns?
Should this game could come down to turnovers, penalties, 3rd down, or red zone play, how well have the Eagles been in each of them this season?
In regards to turnovers, the Eagles have coughed up the pigskin 19 times, losing 6 of them, but have yet to throw an interception. On defense, they have forced 6 turnovers (2 fumbles and four interceptions).
The Eagles have been penalized 51 times for 447 yards, while opponents have been flagged 38 times for exactly 300 yards.
The Eagles have been efficient on 3rd down on offense and defense, converting 26 of 36 attempts on offense (72%) and only allowing 16 of 35 attempts on defense (42%).
In the red zone, the Eagle offense is a perfect 17 for 17 turning drives into points, while only allowing 4 scores on 8 attempts in red zone defense.
Should the Eagles win, they would be guaranteed a home game to begin the playoffs with either a 1st or 2nd place finish, and, should Soddy-Daisy win over Walker Valley, it would set up the region championship two weeks from this Friday at Soddy-Daisy.
Should Catholic win, they would tie Soddy-Daisy for first place in the region with a chance to win if they win out and Soddy drops to Rhea and/or Walker Valley.
Friday will go a long way in determining region standings, especially with Lenoir City playing Walker Valley in a game where the loser more than likely misses out on the playoffs.
Going into this season, I did not think Catholic was beatable by anyone in our region, but Soddy-Daisy proved me wrong two weeks ago. Can Rhea County prove me wrong again? I think they can.
If the Eagles avoid turnovers, chew up the clock, and stand tall on defense they can win against the Irish.
Brian’s pick: Rhea County 35, Catholic 31
Other Region 4-5A Games:
Lenoir City (2-4, 1-1) @ Walker Valley (0-5, 0-1)
Brian’s pick: Lenoir City 24, Walker Valley 10