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Pioneers face undefeated foe
Mitchell Stembridge
Defensive end Mitchell Stembridge wraps up a Smith County ball carrier last week. The Pioneer defense is coming off one of its best games of the season after holding the Owls to 17 points. - photo by Jeffery Simmons

The Pioneers’ newfound road warrior reputation will be put to the ultimate test Friday night.
Warren County is set to visit Evensville Friday for a District 6-AAA tussle against the undefeated Rhea County Eagles. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. Central.
The Pioneers have a great challenge on their plate, but playing on the road shouldn’t be the biggest worry. Warren County has earned all three of its victories on the road this season, including last week’s come-from-behind victory in Smith County. The Pioneers also beat DeKalb County and White County away from home while amassing a 3-1 road record.
Beating Rhea County on the road may be the team’s biggest challenge though.
The Eagles come into Friday’s game boasting a 7-0 record, good for the District 6-AAA lead and all but ensuring the team will make the playoffs once again under second-year coach Mark Pemberton. Rhea County can clinch at least a share of the district title with a win over Warren County after beating Cumberland County, White County and Cookeville – a 28-27 thriller in Evensville – earlier this year.
Bolstered by an excellent running game, Rhea County comes into the contest averaging 43 points per game. Zach Daoust and Jacob York were the bell cows last week as the Eagles piled up 419 rushing yards in a 47-37 victory over Soddy Daisy - the sixth time the Eagles have topped 40 points this year. In last week’s win, Daoust had 139 yards and two touchdowns while York added 116 yards and one score.
Rhea County quarterback Daniel Dotson is also a threat to run, though his air assaults have been keeping defenses honest this year. Dotson threw for 132 yards and a touchdown last week and was one of the team’s heroes in the win over the Cavaliers. Dotson hit York with a 63-yard TD pass with :01 on the clock to keep the team’s undefeated season alive.
Facing a potent offense will be a tough task for the Pioneer defense, which surrenders over 32 points per game. Warren County is coming off one of its best defensive efforts though. In last week’s 23-17 victory over Smith County, the Pioneers limited the Owls to less than 100 yards in the second half and picked up three turnovers. Safety Rickie King led the charge with 10 tackles and an interception on the final play.
Trying to win a shootout with the Eagles may be the best bet for the Pioneers and Warren County may have the weapons to exploit Rhea County’s shaky secondary.
Soddy Daisy quarterback Hunter Maynor shredded the Eagle secondary last week with 339 yards passing and four touchdowns. Maynor also ran for a score in his team’s loss.
Passing has picked up for the Pioneers as junior Christian Wilkinson continues to improve in his first year starting. Wilkinson has thrown touchdown passes in four of his last five games and currently averages 116 yards per game.
Wilkinson’s main targets have been the senior trio of Adrian Lusk, Malik Ladet and Ethan Fliss. Lusk tops the team with 46 catches for 478 yards and three scores. Ladet (26 catches, 352 yards) also has three touchdowns while Fliss is coming off a week where he hauled in a 26-yard pass and had a 35-yard kickoff return.
The Pioneers will be looking for their first win over Rhea County in school history. The Eagles won both matchups in 2010 and 2011, then followed with a 41-7 victory at Nunley Stadium last year – the first time the teams met as district foes.