The last time Bradley Central traveled the 12 miles to the north end of the county, the Bears had all they could handle from the new kids on the block.
Friday night Bear head coach Damon Floyd expects nothing less as Walker Valley isn’t the “little brother” of years past.
“Coach (Glen) Ryan has done a really good job of turning that program around,” praised Floyd. “He has some very talented kids who are playing hard. They’re executing well and will be tough to deal with, especially up there (at The Corral).”
Both teams come into the “County Clash” with identical 4-3 overall records, while the Bears are 2-1 in District 5-AAA play and the Mustangs 1-2. Walker Valley’s league losses have come to district leader McMinn County and Cleveland, two teams Bradley has yet to face. Both squads are also in the thick of the TSSAA playoff chase in their respective classifications (Bradley in 6A and Walker Valley in 5A).
The teams are also very close statistically.
While the Bear offense has outgained the Mustangs 2,404-2,020, the Stallions have outscored their neighbors to the south 175-167. Coach Ryan’s herd has a 70 percent success rate in the red zone, having scored 11 touchdowns and a field goal in 20 trips inside the opponent’s 20 yard line.
Bradley has split its attack by gaining 1,346 yards through the air and 1,058 on the ground, while Walker Valley has galloped to 1,558 rushing yards and added 462 passing yards.
Defensively, the squads are just 59 yards (2,097-2,156) apart in ground surrendered, but the Bears have allowed 17 fewer points (156-173) to be put on the board. Both teams have 11 takeaways this season, but the Mustangs have turned the ball over 15 times, while Bradley has 11 miscues.
Walker Valley is coming off its second 30-point victory over the season with a 42-12 drubbing of Soddy-Daisy to snap a three-game slide last Friday, while Bradley is having to rebound from a stunning loss to Ooltewah where it saw a 14-point lead turn into an 11-point defeat.
“They (Walker Valley) are going to be up. They’re coming off a big win and are in the hunt for a playoff berth,” remarked Floyd, whose team is in the middle of four straight games against their closest rivals. “Even though we got beat last week, we’ve had two of our best practices of the year and the guys are really focused.”
“When we looked at the film (of the Ooltewah game), there were really only five plays that made the difference in that game,” he added. “There were a lot of positives we were able to take away from it. We are a better team now than we were at the beginning of the year.”
Battling the injury bug all season long, Bradley will be minus two more starters Friday, but hopefully will have one back.
“LJ (Goodridge) and Nate (Mills) are out, but DJ (King) has been released to practice this week and will play some Friday, but we’re not sure how much yet,” Floyd said of his two injured linebackers and the return of a key lineman. “(Logan) Fetzner (the starting tailback) is day-to-day. We’ll just have to see how his ankle is at game time.”
The Bear coach said Walker Valley presents some unique challenges this week. “They run a wing-T offense, so we’ll have to read our keys and react the right way. We need to play our assignments and trust our teammates to do the same.”
The Mustang offense is led by senior Justin Ware, who had gained 707 yards and scored 9 touchdowns on 69 rushes (9.6 average) and a reception, plus he returned a punt for a score.
“Jack of all trades” Gabe Cartwright has helped out with 368 offensive yards on 67 touches and scored four times, while quarterback Garrett Wallace has completed 33 passes for 454 yards and a half dozen scores.
“Defensively, they (WV) run a three-man front and stunt on almost every play. We’ve got to hit some big plays on them to back them off,” he added. “We can’t afford to have turnovers against them.”
Although the Bears have won all seven meetings between the two teams, including a 42-0 rout last year, Floyd is taking nothing for granted. “They almost beat us the last time we played up there,” he said of a 40-33 shootout. “(First year) Coach Ryan has changed things up there and has gotten them excited and playing well. Nothing that’s happened before matters. We’re in for a battle.”