With both teams currently having an overall record of 3-5 and two final games left to play, a win this Friday is critical if either side hopes to have any chance of reaching the playoffs.
“There’s a lot to play for in this ballgame on both sides. McMinn is sitting right where we are — they have three wins and if they win out, they have a chance to make the playoffs, and if we win out, we have a chance to make the playoffs. If either one of us loses in the next two games, that will eliminate any possibility of going on,” Mustang head coach Glen Ryan explained. “We are going to have to play our best ballgame of the year.”
For the coach, a must-win game in Week 9, which is also Walker Valley’s senior night and final home game, is a decent situation to be in.
“You hope to be in this situation at some point and time of the season where there is a game that decides things. It’s better to be in that situation than to play and know that you have no shot at all,” Ryan stated. “To be in Week 9 of the season and have a shot, as a coach that’s all you can ask for. We’ve got to go play a game.”
If the Mustangs hope to keep their playoff hopes alive, they must first beat an opponent they have consistently struggled with.
“McMinn is a team that this school has never had success against. As far as I know, we’ve never beaten them,” Ryan said.
Since their first meeting in 2007, the Cherokees have been victorious against the Navy-and-Gold for a consecutive six years. In that six-year run, McMinn has outscored Walker Valley 215-52.
Although they have an identical overall record, the Tribe has gained some momentum following a decisive 28-8 win over Bradley Central.
“They have weapons which include two running backs who can fly and a quarterback who is a real competitor. He’s gutsy, makes things happen and does a good job when he throws the football. Defense is always going to be solid for them; we can always count on that,” Ryan commented. “We’re still looking for that win against somebody that we haven’t done well against, but McMinn is playing very well right now and has improved tremendously.”
The Mustangs have come up against the Cherokees’ style of both offense and defense numerous times this season.
“McMinn is a spread offense like Bradley and runs a 4-3 on defense and does a good job of it. They run the zone read and will run some track plays and stretch plays. If their backs get the ball, they have a lot of speed and the quarterback does a good job of the zone read,” Ryan explained.
While McMinn’s momentum is on the upswing, Walker Valley will be coming into Friday’s game with its last win coming against Rhea County a little over a month ago.
Last Friday, the Mustangs were dealt a 48-14 thrashing at the hands of Cleveland.
“I feel like up front they were a lot stronger than we were. We know we’re not where we need to be there yet as far as strength goes. Cleveland definitely had more team speed than we had and were able to get by us a few times,” Ryan stated.
Despite the fourth loss in a row, the team morale is back where it needs to be for a game with such high stakes.
“Team morale is good, they know what’s at stake here and their spirits are back up. Right now our focus has to be strictly on McMinn,” Ryan proclaimed.
In addition to a strong morale, the Mustangs will have a bit more depth as more players return from injuries.
“We’ve got some more guys back healthy, so that’s going to help us out,” Ryan said. “Reed Jacobs was back right before the game last week, but he didn’t get a lot of playing time against Cleveland. He will get a lot more time this week and should help us on defense. We’ll see where it goes.”
While Walker Valley’s defense has been a strong presence on the field this season, their offense, which was young to begin with and has been shifted around due to injuries, still has some vast room for improvement.
“I’ve said it all along, we’re a work in progress and are continually trying to develop and get better in areas. We’ve just got a lot of areas to develop in. Offensively we did not have one guy back that played the same position as last year. Defensively we did, so we expected them to be ahead,” Ryan commented. “We’ve been hoping that our offense would get caught up a little more but they haven’t. That’s been a concern of mine — we haven’t developed quite like I hoped we would have by this point in the season.”
While their record may not reflect it, the Mustangs are 16-of-19 in the red zone with 14 touchdowns and two field goals for an 84 percent success rate.
The pressure is on for the young team, which knows what is riding on its final two games of the season.
“We have to win these last two games. If we can pull that off and reach the playoffs, that would be two years in a row that we’ve reach .500 or better, and that’s a step in the right direction. We’ve just got to get where we can play with those big teams,” Ryan stated. “This is going to be a big test for our football team. Hopefully we’ll be ready to go and see what happens on Friday night.”