EMORY, Va. – Patrick Henry junior Ean Rhea turned some heads last season with his effective work at tight end and defensive end.
One year later, Rhea commands attention.
The 6-foot-2, 215-pound athlete starred on offense and defense Friday as the PH Rebels earned a 16-13 win over the Chilhowie Warriors in a Hogoheegee District showdown for first place.
“Ean has progressed from being a really good player into a great player,” PH coach Mark Palmer said. “He’s all over the field.”
It was a breakout night for Rhea and a breakthrough win for his team. With a victory next week at 1-8 Northwood, the Rebels (9-0, 3-0) will earn their first district title since 1997.
“We’re on our way to where we want to go,” Rhea said.
PH made a big step Friday on its first play.
With the Chilhowie defense crowding the line of scrimmage in preparation for the potent PH run game, quarterback Dakota Rector hit Cody Smith out of the backfield on a 55-yard scoring connection.
According to Warrior head coach Jeff Robinson, that particular play had not shown up on any film.
“PH caught us with our pants down there,” Robinson said. “To have something like that ready at the start is good coaching, and I told the kids that was all on me.”
The Rebels took a 14-0 advantage with three minutes and 31 seconds left in the opening quarter when Smith scored on a 4-yard run. PH recovered a punt that bounced off a Chilhowie player moments earlier.
Chilhowie (7-2, 2-1) then put together touchdown drives of 26 and 44 yards in the second quarter. After the second TD at the 58 second mark of the first half, PH sophomore Cody Pruitt blocked the ensuing point after attempt.
That sequence proved vital as both teams struggled to gain footing on the muddy turf in the second half.
Chilhowie outgained PH on the ground 167 to 142, but the ever-present Rhea haunted the Warrior quarterback and running backs.
“No doubt, [Rhea] is one of the best players in the district just like he was last year,” Robinson said. “We had to know where he was at all times, and we couldn’t block him.”
Rhea embraced the challenge.
“My team needs me, so I’m not going to let anyone get outside on a run,” Rhea said.
With the Rebels facing a third and long situation at midfield and under five minutes left in the game, Rhea displayed his other talents by hauling in a 30-yard reception.
“Dakota and I have been talking about getting our chemistry right, and that play popped up with a perfect pass,” Rhea said.
Robinson paid credit to Rhea for converting the clutch sequence.
“Big time players make big time plays, and he’s a big time player,” Robinson said.
The Warriors stopped the Rebels at the 1-yard line with 1:10 left remaining. But on the next play, Connor Beeson of PH tackled a Chilhowie ball carrier in the end zone for a safety following a double reverse.
“PH doesn’t have any weaknesses,” Robinson said. “We got put behind the eight-ball early tonight, but I thought our guys on defense played their hearts out. We just needed more possessions on offense.”
Six-foot-one sophomore Jonathan Gilley led Chilhowie with 62 yards rushing on nine carries. Quarterback Logan Adams collected 57 yards rushing and a score while Malachi Thomas added 29 yards and a TD on Chilhowie’s deceptive crisscross run series.
“We run the same play and it’s hard to defend, but we made some defensive adjustments at halftime,” Palmer said.
Smith finished with 83 yards rushing on 22 carries while Rector passed for 153 yards. The Rebels overcame 15 penalties.
Linebacker Isaac Chaffin was a force at linebacker for PH and Rector contributed stops on the second level, but Rhea was the defensive demon.
“Ean has benefited from a year in the weight room,” Palmer said. “He has size, length, athletic ability and good hands. And he’s still growing.”
Rhea also had his share of aches and pain after Friday’s emotional conquest.
“My leg, back and head hurt, but this win makes it all good,” said Rhea, who has started since late in his freshman season.
“I knew this was going to be a dogfight. I was going to give it all I had for my teammates and all these fans.”
Chilhowie 0 13 0 0-13
Patrick Henry 14 0 0 2-16
PH – Smith 55 pass from Rector (pass failed)
PH – Smith 4 run (Pruitt pass reception)
C – Adams 2 run (Hutton kick)
C – Thomas 11 run (kick blocked)
PH – Safety, runner tackled in end zone
First Downs: C 10, PH 12; Rushes-Yards: C 32-167, PH 43-142; Passing Yards: C 29, PH 153; Comp-Att-Int.: C 4-9-0, PH 7-12-0 Fumbles-Lost: C 2-2, PH 1-0; Penalties-Yards: C 4-15, PH 15-111; Punts-Average: C 4-35, PH 6-32.