“Every down on the football field is important,” intoned Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan.
Downs could be at an even higher premium Friday night as the Mustang’s travel to Lenoir City to face the 8-2 Panthers in Walker Valley’s first postseason football game since 2008.
There is also a shot at some more school history, as the team still has yet to ever win a playoff game, a feat that Ryan and his team have their sights set on. It will be a challenge, but one that Walker Valley is hoping a season full of lessons prepared it for.
“Lenoir City is a pretty good football team. They are big. They have a very good quarterback, a big, physical tight end and a speedster receiver they try to get the ball to a couple of times a game,” stated Ryan.
The quick wideout and a tough tight end have helped the Panthers take to the air early and often, favoring the pass on almost 65 percent of their plays. So, some focus has been placed on the Mustang secondary this week, but getting the ball moving offensively is still Ryan’s main priority.
“Hopefully, we can slow Lenoir down, but our focus has to be getting the offense rolling. That’s the key to our team. On the games where we’ve just laid an egg, we just couldn’t get things going offensively,” he explained.
“Even though we were beat by Bradley, we moved the ball offensively and made a ballgame out of it. We were able to keep it close and had some opportunities to win that game.”
That might be good news for the Mustangs, as Ryan said the area team Lenoir makes him think most of is Bradley Central, a team Walker Valley hung with in the regular season.
“Practices have been good so far. We’ve put a few wrinkles in and opened a few things up. We have to be able to throw the football. We don’t have to throw it a bunch, but when we do we have to be accurate. If we can do that our offense will be clicking,” Ryan stated.
To that end the team has been pruning the playbook in an effort to simplify starting quarterback Garrett Wallace’s keys and reads, a strategy that will hopefully pay dividends on the field for Walker Valley.
“Anything can happen right now. You just have to get to the dance. Once you get there, some crazy things can happen,“ Ryan said.
“The guys started out really excited, and then reality set in and the nerves started up a little bit. Now, I think they are settled in a little bit more. Then the stuff with Cleveland happened, and I told the guys that you can’t let that affect you. We’re in, and we deserve to be in.”
“I hate what happed to Cleveland, but it’s sad when you have people in the community putting other people down by saying they don’t deserve it. I don’t want our guys getting caught up wondering if they’ve earned this, because they have.”
Ryan’s comments were made in reference to the decision that came late last week about the TSSAA removing Cleveland from the playoffs in favor of Sullivan South. Instantly, a few people around the area took to social media platforms to make the argument that because the Raiders won the head-to-head matchup against the Mustangs it should have been Walker Valley removed instead.
However, as clearly stated by the TSSAA playoff seeding criteria, one of the first tie-breaking criteria after a .500 season is the number of opposing team at or above .500. Walker Valley had six to Cleveland’s five.
“I told the guys that we didn’t make the rules. Under the current playoff format, we did what we had to do to get in. I’m happy and excited for my guys. I just hate it that all that other stuff had to happen. We can’t worry about that right though. We have to take care of us and go take care of business Friday night,”
Another item Walker Valley will have to put behind it is their 56-7 loss at the hands of Ooltewah’s Owls. Despite the one-sided loss, Ryan said there were plenty of lessons to take out of the film room and onto the practice field. Lessons he hopes to see translated on the field against Lenoir City.
“Mostly, it was all about consistency. When we played the way we are supposed to play and executed our assignments, we did a good job against them. When we had breakdowns here or there, Ooltewah exposed it and were gone. That’s what good teams are going to do,”
The Mustangs begin their quest through the postseason at 7 Friday night at Lenoir City High School. The game will decide if Walker Valley inks history, or closes the book on the 2012 season.