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Only the Mavs can stop the Mavs

After three straight turnovers, Anderson County erases 17-point deficit in final frame

  • Anderson County’s Bryson Vowell looks for a lane in the Rhea County defense last Friday. The uber-talented senior wideout caught two touchdowns, including the game winner with 45.2 seconds left. - Zack Williams

  • Anderson County’s Eli Davis had a monster game from his linebacking position against Rhea County Friday night. - Zack Williams

Rhea County’s Golden Eagles brought their quirky wing-T offense to Maverick Field Friday night and almost pulled off an upset.


Despite four turnovers — all leading to Golden Eagle points — the Mavs pulled out a 41-38 win for the ages, coming back from 17 points down in the final quarter to stay perfect at 4-0.

“We knew we were only down because of our own mistakes, but it was encouraging to see that after we had put ourselves in a deficit that seemed impossible, we stuck together and continued to fight,” Anderson County Head Coach Davey Gillum said.

Rhea County is big up front and has a couple of all-world athletes in its backfield in quarterback Caleb Martin and running back Briley Mayberry.

And the team showcased those two in the first quarter with an 80-yard drive that ate up almost 10 minutes of clock.

With the point after, it was 7-0 with 2:13 left in the first.

Anderson County isn’t lacking in the all-world athletes department, and Rhea County gave the Mavs a helping hand with a couple of 15-yard penalties to give the hosts a short field.

Anderson County took advantage of that and Walker Martinez connected with Bryson Vowell for an 18-yard score, and after the PAT, a 7-7 tie with 38.6 seconds left in the first quarter.

The Golden Eagles almost scored a second time in the first stanza. The kick return following AC’s score was hauled in by Caleb Martin, and he found a path up the sideline and almost took it in. But Waylon LaRue chased him down from behind and the Golden Eagles set up shop 13 yards shy of a touchdown.

The Anderson County defense stiffened and the Golden Eagles settled for a 26-yard field goal from Cole Ruehling on the third play in the second quarter and a 10-7 lead with 10:26 showing on the clock.

Martin’s name would crop up in a big way once again.

Martinez and Company started marching from the 14, and with a mix of what has become the new Mav norm — hard runs and quick, short passes — moved to the Rhea County four in 11 plays using almost eight minutes of clock.

But Rhea’s Martin read a pass to the flats perfectly and picked the throw and returned it 90-plus yards for a pick six. After the PAT the Golden Eagles held a 17-7 lead with 4:48 left in the half.

Another Rhea County 15-yard penalty resulted in the Mavs getting the ball at midfield. A big run from Nick Moog, a pass to Braden Miller and another to Bryson Vowell set the ball at the 19 and that’s all the space Moog needed to break free for a score. After the PAT the Rhea lead was cut to 17-14 with 3:32 left in the half. Anderson County’s defense again stood tall and forced a punt — Eli Davis making a big hit on what could have been a big run for the Golden Eagles on second down.

With 75 yards between the line of scrimmage and a score, Martinez found Eli Braden and Braden found the end zone for a 75-yard catch and run.

After the PAT the Mavs led 21-17 going into the break.

Anderson County ran three offensive plays in the third quarter. All three resulted in lost fumbles. All three lost fumbles turned into Rhea County touchdowns.

Martin took in two — an eight yard scramble and a one yard plunge in the third. The Golden Eagles turned the last fumble into a score to open the final quarter on a Mayberry score.

With 11:55 left in the game the Mavs faced a 17-point deficit at 38-21.

No worries.

“This group has played a lot of football over the years,” Gillum said.

“They have played against the best players and teams in the state and they have played in big games and been involved in many big moments. With that experience comes confidence.

“Confidence In themselves and each other. Even when we were down our players still knew what we were capable of if we could just clean up some things.”

A great return from Eli Braden gave the Mavs a short field. Martinez found Zeke West for a big gain and it took six plays for the Mavs to start chipping away at the Rhea lead with Martinez connecting with Braden Miller for a five yard score. With 10:13 left the Mavs were trailing 38-28.

Rhea County’s wing-T showed signs of life, but some timely defense stops from Andrew Meier, Eli Davis, and Nick Moog — as well as a tenacious play from the Mavs’ front four — and Anderson County was in business with the ball with 5:10 left in the game. Less than 90 second later (3:55 left) Martinez again showed his poise when he found Eli Braden on a slant and a score. After the PAT, Anderson County trailed 38-35.

Even knowing it was coming, Rhea County couldn’t stop Anderson County’s onside kick. Bryson Vowell can through with the grab and Anderson County had just under four minutes to take care of business.

And the Mavs did just that.

“The players stuck together, encouraged each other and continued fighting and making play after play and got us the win,” Gillum said.

The Maverick offensive line took over. Nick Moog was brutal. Andrew Meier had two punishing runs to move the chains.

Then, with 45.2 seconds left to play Martinez connected with Vowell on a fade in the end zone and the Mavs took the lead, 41-38. The PAT sailed slightly wide, but the defense shut down the Rhea attack for the win.

“The biggest reason we were able to come back is this group’s resilience and willingness to compete,” Gillum said.

“This group has worked extremely hard and long for years to get where they are. The work and time commitment develops a passion in the kids for this team and makes the season and each game mean a lot to each of our players.”