It was a chilly night at “The Corral” in Walker Valley when the Mustangs faced off against the Rhea County Golden Eagles Friday.
Coming into the match both squads saw this game as a potential off-ramp to cruising to a winless season.
When the game’s last whistle sounded Rhea veered up the winners ramp while a disheartened Walker Valley squad was forced to eye next week’s game against Ooltewah, the final game of the season, as their one ray of hope to get off the season sweep express lane.
Neither team found momentum at the games onset. In fact, the first quarter saw more penalties and fumbles than it did first downs.
That trend unfortunately continued for much of the entire first half. Penelties and mental miscues combined with solid defensive play saw neither offense able to move the ball effectively.
It wasn’t until the final drive of the first half that the Mustangs finally caught a small spark.
The team launched into a drive that took 17 plays to go from their own 7-yard line to the Rhea 4, and with the clock winding down the Mustangs punched through a field goal to go into the break with the lead.
It looked like a different ball game when the teams took the field for the second half.
Rhea fired back on its initial drive, riding their running back Desmond Sharpe eight of the drive’s 10 plays. Sharpe broke free, and 8 yards later put his Golden Eagles on the board. The PAT attempt was no good.
Not to be outdone, the Mustangs came back swinging. On Rhea’s 35-yard line Walker Valley’s Kevin Well Jr. broke open a big run and bolted 65 yards to lead the Mustangs to back into the lead.
On the ensuing kickoff Rhea County’s return game thought they had struck gold when their return man bolted into the Walker Valley end zone. However, a penalty negated the score, and they were force to take over at their own 40.
The Eagles, once again on the legs of Sharpe, didn’t let mistake distract them, and nine plays later found the end zone again on a quarterback keeper by Luke Everett making it a 12-10 advantage for Rhea County.
The game appeared to go from a mistake-riddled, defensive stand to decisive shoot out in the span of a halftime.
The fourth quarter saw a return to the defensive play. It also saw a return of mental lapses and mistakes.
To add insult to injury the Eagles made good on their earlier special teams blunder by running back a Mustang punt for another six points.
There it was, 3:23 left on the clock. The Mustangs were down by nine points, and they launch into an 18-play drive that covered 65 yards and almost exclusively utilized the run game.
Once again Wells broke the goal line to add six point to the score. Leaving 18 ticks on the clock with the Mustangs still trailing by three.
Walker Valley lined up for the on-side kick, and as the ensuing pile of players began to thin the referee signaled Rhea County ball. The Eagles’ sideline erupted celebrating the squad’s first win.
“We didn’t play very well. You have to give Rhea credit. They played harder than we did. They were more focused and wanted it a little bit more than we did,” said a disappointed Walker Valley head coach Ted Lockerby.
“We were really lethargic tonight and just went through the motions. It was just a disappointing performance overall. We had opportunities that we just failed to take advantage of,” he elaborated.
There were some silver-linings for the Mustangs. Wells finished the night with 29 carries for 177 yards, Colton Morrow caught three passes for 52 yard and Hunter Keefer had 2 grabs for 34 yards. In total the Walker Valley offense racked up 365 total yards and had twice as many first downs as the Eagles.
The Mustangs will travel to face the Ooltewah Owls in their final game of the season.
Ooltewah carries a 6-3 record into the match and is coming off an bye week. The last team they played was Rhea, and the Owls ran away from the Eagles 38-0.