Fans were rewarded when the final buzzer sounded and the Mustang accomplished something they have only done three times before in the school’s 12 year history — guarantee a regular season that finishes at or above .500.
Friday night’s 35-21 victory over the Golden Eagles puts Walker Valley at 5-4 on the season going into their final regular season game, setting their sights on the Ooltewah Owls next week.
“I’m proud of our guys. They overcame tonight. Don’t let Rhea’s record fool you. They are a tough, physical team and playing here in Rhea County is always a challenge,” stated Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan.
“Our guys came, fought and kept their composure. This is a big win for us. It gets us to five wins this season, and that is huge for our program.”
The Mustangs had just three wins in the previous three seasons combined before Ryan took over the program this year.
The win also puts the Mustangs in the hunt for the football postseason, a trip they haven’t made since 2008 and never in Class 5A.
But, before any of that came to fruition Walker Valley had to do some bird hunting in Rhea County.
One of the first things to greet the Mustangs and their fans was the Golden Eagles new and immaculate artificial turf field, the new pride of Rhea County.
However, through the night the different playing surface seemed to have little effect on the Mustangs who charged to 385 yards of total offense and averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
The game itself got off to a slightly inauspicious start when Walker Valley fumbled on their opening drive to give Rhea the ball on the Mustang 35 yard line.
Handed the golden opportunity, the Eagles turned right around and put the ball on the ground to give it right back to Walker Valley.
Both teams then exchanged three-and-outs before anyone was able to find some offensive momentum.
Walker Valley’s third possession saw the Mustangs break from trotting to charging as they covered 81 yards on 10 snaps to put up the game’s first seven points.
Chaz Fulford, a mid-season arrival, made his impact felt in a big way during the drive when he dragged a defender 15 yards forward to put WV in Rhea County territory off a Garrett Wallace completion. He then turned around and took the handoff, covering 35 yards for the score.
It was the ’Stang defense’s turn to come up big during the next series when Jerry Shaw ended a promising Eagle drive by picking off a pass on the visiting 33.
Rhea’s defense didn’t do the team any favors during the ensuing drive when the secondary committed a pass interference and a facemask to help Walker Valley into the red zone where senior running back Justin Ware made them pay with a second Mustang TD, from five yards out.
That score gave Ryan’s squad the 14-0 lead heading into halftime.
Coming out of the break, Walker Valley struck again. Junior running back Reggie Mills helped kick things off with a 50-yard run to put his team on the 4 yard line. Wallace did it himself two plays later when snuck across the goal line to put his squad up 21-0.
There were some fireworks late in the third quater as the team’s exchanged a bang-bang-bang series of plays that left whoever was manning the scoreboard scrambling to keep up.
With 21 seconds left in the third, Rhea’s Austin Dotson completed a pass to Tommy Blackburn who in turn covered 36 yards for the Golden Eagles’ first score.
Just 18 seconds later, Ware busted two big runs totally 65 yards for an answering Walker Valley score.
Three scant seconds remaind on the scoreboard when the Mustangs kicked off. Demitrius Patterson received the kick and surged down the sideline 99 yards for a second Eagle touchdown, brining the score to 28-14 in a matter of seconds.
The dizzying display dazzled those on both sides of the field, but after the fast-paced exchange Walker Valley looked determined to eat up some clock going into the final period.
In their second drive of the fourth quarter the Mustangs covered 52 yards on 11 plays, every one of which kept the ball on the ground and the clock running. They completed the drive when senior utility-man Gabe Cartwright found paydirt from a yard out to put Walker Valley up 35-14.
Rhea County had one last answer, mainly in the way of screen passes as they took the ball from their own 20-yard line to the visiting end zone for one final score, bringing them within 14.
With less than a minute left on the clock the Eagles attempted and were foiled at the onside kick attempt. Three kneel downs and a run was all it took for Walker Valley to seal the deal and walk away with a very important win.
“Our special team needs to do a better job on our angles of pursuit. No. 6 (Patterson) can scoot. We can’t take bad angles against a player like that. But, other than that I thought our defense played lights out. We bent a couple times but we neve broke,” said Ryan postgame.
“Offensively, we were a little sluggish early on and kept shooting ourselves in the foot with things. But, we got back on track and made a couple adjustments at half time to beat a good football team tonight.”
Ware led the Mustangs with 176 yards on 23 carries. Mills added an impressive 61 yards on just seven attempts.
Next week Walker Valley will look to keep bird season open as they set their sights on the Ooltewah Owls. A win against the 6-3 Owls would all but guarantee a post-season berth and give Walker Valley a huge shot of momentum entering the playoffs.
“We have a tough Ooltewah team coming up. We got the monkey off our back during this game getting our fifth win. Now, it’s all right there for us. If we can get a win we lock into the playoffs. Right now we are still on the bubble, so our guys have a lot to play for. Hopefully, we can go out there and find those guys down, because it’s a very quick team,” explained Ryan.