Eagles and Owls. The two giants will clash this Friday for what has become one of the biggest football rivalries in the state.
And for good reason. With three consequential games in the past two years, the rivalry is dripping with rocket fuel and Friday’s kickoff at Bill Horton Field promises to be explosive.
Rhea County ended Ooltewah’s playoff runs the past two seasons, but not before the Owls shutout the Eagles in last year’s regular season matchup, 16-0. Rhea County would have the final say with a 14-13 victory in the 2015 5A Quarterfinals.
Battle Lines are Drawn
Both bring a three-game win streak with heaps of momentum into the “Game of the Week” contest.
After dropping their season opener to 6A perennial power Riverdale, 47-14, coach Mac Bryan’s Owls beat Signal Mountain 38-7, Erwin (3A school from Ashville, NC) 69-55, and East Hamilton 38-3.
In last week’s win over hometown rival East Hamilton, senior QB Collin Thurman completed 16 of 18 passes (11 of 11 in first half) for 169 yards to a host of Owls including sophomore twins Tahj and Tylan Cargle to name a couple.
Mix Thurman’s deadly accuracy with a backfield that rushed for 195 yards rushing against the Hurricanes, and you’ll have a worthy challenge for a hungry Eagle defense.
Owl’s coach Mac Bryan tells News Channel 9, “I think the defenses have done a lot in the games we’ve played. Defenses have been very good, especially the last couple of times we played and I think that may have a lot to do with the outcome Friday night.”
Rhea County Golden Eagles
The Eagles came into the season ranked second in state 5A polls, but an opening loss at Baylor (currently ranked #1 in Div II) almost knocked Rhea County out of the top ten.
Since, the Eagles have been elbowing their way back up the list. With last week’s 59-14 win over Clinton, Rhea County jumped from #6 to #4 in state 5A polls.
How have they done it? In the last three games, Rhea County has rushed for over 458 yards rushing per game. Add two touchdown strikes from sophomore QB Zack Pemberton, one in each of the last two games, and you’ll find an offense that’s beginning to roll at the right time.
After Eagle defense that’s allowed an average of only 116 yards per game in their last three games.
“We’re excited about it. We’ve got an opportunity to battle Ooltewah again for a big time situation, for part of the lead in the district. It’s a big game,” states Mark Pemberton the Eagles’ head ball coach.
“Our kids have responded. They understand the magnitude. They’ve been around,” he adds.
Senior fullback Mason Stephsenson, who led the Eagles to victory against the Owls in the 2015 playoffs with over 182 yards rushing said, “I love playing them every year. Great competition. I’m excited for Friday. The whole team is. I hope the community is, and I think we’re ready to play.”