From nailbiters to shootouts to region titles, the 2016 Golden Eagles have been a blast to watch and chronicle. While most hate to see it end, there are many positives to for the program to take into next season.
Golden Eagle seniors will graduate the winningest class in the history of Rhea County football with 42 wins.
Stat Leaders and Record Breakers
Rhea County, since its founding in the 1974, has been one of the proudest programs across the state of Tennessee. Many players from Rhea County have left Evensville as legends, and some of them moved on to the national stage at the collegiate and professional levels.
The names of players like David Douglas, Andy Kelly, Charles Benton, Jimmy Hampton, Josh Walker, Jacob York, and many others that have come through Rhea County High School come to mind when one thinks of the rich history of the program.
This season, we watched another name get added to that list of all-time greats.
Cody Bice, one of three senior members of the four headed monster backfield, bolted his way into the Rhea County history books for career rushing yards with over 3,400 yards in his four years in Evensville.
In 2016, Bice led the region in total rushing yards with 1081 yards on 150 carries, followed by fellow senior, Mason Stephenson with 1020 yards on 143 carries. Stephenson also led Region 4-5A in scoring, finding paydirt 19 times in 2016.
The trio was capped off by Christian Simon, a junior, who totaled 974 yards on 121 carries. Eddie “The Sheriff” Davis banged out 677 yards rushing including a 74 yard touchdown for for 943 total all purpose yards. Davis was also freshman quarterback Zack Pemberton’s favorite receiver with 266 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior linebacker Jawan Martin also came in second place to Walker Valley’s Skyler Swafford in the region and the Chattanooga area in total tackles, amassing 119.
Senior defensive lineman Tyler Brown led the region with 8 sacks, followed by fellow terrorizer Bradley Evans, a junior, with seven.
Senior tight end Jared Edwards (6′ 4″, 265 lbs) was invited to play in the Toyota East-West game and after receiving hordes of offers, he’s decided to continue his gridiron career as a Memphis Tiger.
Kicker Logan Johnson, also a senior, made the longest field goal by a region kicker in 2016, splitting the pigskin through the uprights from 40 yards away in the first round playoff showdown with future region foe Lenoir City.
Building a Legacy
Since the hiring of Coach Mark Pemberton just a few months prior to this senior group’s freshman year, Rhea County’s record now stands at 42-10, besting the 41-9 record of the 1988 senior class led by Rhea County’s legendary coach Bill Horton by one win.
The accomplishment of breaking the all-time win record for a senior class speaks volumes for the hard work and dedication of these seniors from the first day that they donned the green and gold, and I believe that there is nowhere to go but up for the Eagles.
There were many memorable moments in the 2016 season.
Senior defensive back Alex Barton’s pick six against McMinn Central, the Rhea County defense scoring two safeties in the first quarter at Clinton, Jawan Martin’s fumble return for a touchdown against Ooltewah, the closer-than-the-score-shows game with Indianapolis Cathedral, the shootout at Cleveland, the season-defining 6-7 halftime deficit at Soddy-Daisy, junior Chris Sturgeon’s pick-six against Walker Valley that ended up being the deciding factor, winning the Region 4-5A championship with a 6-0 record in region play, finishing the season at 9-3, and the hard-fought home loss to eventual 2016 5A state champion Farragut in Round 2 of the playoffs all will be remembered by Rhea County fans for years to come.
Looking to the Future
For anyone that has been a Rhea County fan for longer than four years, the plight that our program was in prior to Coach Pemberton’s arrival was well documented as fans watched their beloved Eagles post a record of 3-17 in the 2011 and 2012 seasons, the worst record since the first two seasons of Rhea County football in 1974 (0-10) and 1975 (3-7).
Not only has the program returned to state relevance over the course of these past four seasons, they have become the most successful team in Golden Eagle history.
So as Eagle fans enter the offseason, one thing should never be forgotten. We did not get there because of luck.
We got there by the hard work and determination put forth by this group of seniors and the senior classes that came before them, and the top-notch job that Coach Pemberton and the assistant coaches have done guiding this program back to competing for state championships year in and year out.
2017 is just around the corner, and, before you know it, we will once again find ourselves traveling across the state of Tennessee and maybe even beyond to watch our hometown gridiron warriors go to battle once more.
Get excited Eagle fans, and be proud of the 2016 Golden Eagles and the seniors that led it. Their achievements will echo on throughout Rhea County for years to come.