Both Walker Valley and Cleveland took their turn at the jamboree in Chattanooga, and both teams saw some success and walked away with wins. While both teams’ head coaches urged that there is still room for improvement, Bradley County football fans had plenty to cheer for as the squads left the field.
The Mustangs were the first team to kick off Saturday’s play as they faced off against Brainerd High School. A 20 minute battle resulted, but in the end, Walker Valley came out on top by a score of 7-6.
A team that is trying to transform from last year’s winless ponies are taking the field more like war horses this season, and that mentality showed Saturday night.
Walker Valley’s offense launched into some ground-and-pound during their first offensive possession. Starting quarterback Garrett Wallace rolled out of the pocket for a 6-yard scramble to get kicked things off.
Justin Ware followed with another 6-yard carry. Chandler Hunt grounded out 5 yards. Gabe Cartwright broke a 10-yard dash. Hunt pounded out another 5 yards, and then Cartwright opened some eyes with a 42-yard touchdown sprint to put some wind in the Mustang’s sails and give them the 7-0 lead.
The Panthers also took to the ground on their first offensive series. For six plays Brainerd methodically pushed the ball downfield, but facing a fourth-and-short Mustang Frank Snyder charged through the offensive line to stop the play in the backfield and give Walker Valley the ball.
However, the resulting series ended in a three-and-out after a pair of run plays and a sack forced them 12 yards back from the original line of scrimmage.
Brainerd didn’t waste time as the clock ticked down to its final few minutes of play. Their first few plays, a sack and an incomplete pass, looked to have them down and out, but a 10 yard quarterback keeper was followed by a mammoth 41-yard run down the sideline. A 16-yard and an 18-yard pass back to back put Brainerd in the end zone and on the board.
With time running out the Panthers decided to go for the two-point-conversion and the win, but the play fell apart, giving Walker Valley the 7-6 win.
During the postgame huddle new Mustang head coach Glen Ryan stressed the importance of maintaining focus on every single play, citing breakdowns of offensive and defense coverage that allowed for big Brainerd plays.
An impressive “Yes, sir” resounded from the team each time Ryan pointed out possible areas for improvement. The Mustangs are demonstrating, early on at least, a focus and determination that has the potential to separate this squad from Mustangs past, a team that has only compiled two winning season in its 11-year history and has only won three games in its last three seasons.
“We were inconsistent out there tonight. That’s the part we have to get better at. We can’t have flashes in the pan. If we are going to have success this year we have to be more consistent. We’ll go out there and be satisfied with one good drive and then be sloppy in the next drive,” Ryan expressed.
With a Walker Valley win whetting their appetites, Cleveland area football fans still had one course to go as a new-look Cleveland High School Raiders team took the field later that evening.
Sporting new “throwback” style jerseys, it was evident that under new Raider head coach Ron Crawford the team is also trying to establish a new identity moving forward into the next chapter of Cleveland football.
Facing off against Howard’s Hustlin’ Tigers, it didn’t take long for the Raiders to show they have some skill on both sides of the ball.
The Tigers won the toss, but were unable to move the ball well. They were forced to punt after a quick three-and-out.
Cleveland took over on its own 26-yard line, but didn’t stay there long. Raider quarterback Austin Herink hooked up with DJ Jones for an explosive 68-yard pitch and catch. Two plays later Herink found Tyler Davis for 25 yards and the score, putting Cleveland up 7-0.
During Howard’s next series the defense shined again. This time, senior Reed Allison laid out to pick off a Tiger pass deep in Raider territory, giving Cleveland the ball on its own 18-yard line.
Despite moving the ball downfield with success, including a 29-yard pass play from Herink to Jackson Earl and a 28-yard toss to Eric Goodwin, the Raiders fell short in the red zone. The team was forced to walk away with nothing but a missed field goal for its trouble.
“Tonight things went really fast. We executed the passing game really well. We were getting blitzed, and Austin did a good job of getting the ball out. Defensively we were pretty solid. But, we have to score in the red zone. Our special teams is going to have a huge impact on our season. We need to get our kids to buy into that and do a better job coaching it,” Crawford said.
But, the damage had been done. With the clock quickly running out Howard only had time to run a pair of plays before the clock ran out, giving the Raiders the 7-0 win.
The next time both Walker Valley and Cleveland take the field it will be for keeps as the Mustangs launch into their 2012 campaign traveling to East Ridge Friday night for a 7:30 start against the Pioneers. The Raiders will have to wait until Saturday for their 5 o’clock season opener at Alcoa.