It's crunch time for the Walker Valley Mustangs.
After riding a three-game winning streak into last week's football game with Cleveland, the Mustangs learned a hard lesson about growing pains with a loss to the Blue Raiders.
Tonight, the gridiron community will watch to see how Walker Valley responds to its next big test against the Polk County Wildcats in "The Corral."
"I think they do (have their heads held high). We meet on Saturday mornings to watch film. They came in Saturday and they realized they did not give their best effort in that game. They got distracted and got caught up in some other stuff," said Mustangs coach Glen Ryan. "We would have had to play a perfect game to get that win, and we knew that. We knew it was not going to be an easy football game. Cleveland has got a very good football team. But, we hoped we would be able to at least go in and make it a good ballgame, which we did not do."
Ryan also said taking one on the chin is going to happen on occasion, particularly to a young, up-and-coming football team. It is how the team handles the hopefully temporary setback that will determine how the team moves forward, and learning how to handle distractions is a large part of the growing process.
"The guys realize they fell a little short, they got caught up in some things. We talked about that and challenged them. But, it didn't take much because they realized (their mistake). They were down. They were disappointed in themselves. That is a mark of a maturing group, to see them come in and say ‘We have to do better,’ without us having to tell them. They responded and we've had a good week."
The going gets no easier for the Mustangs. The Wildcats are 4-1 and riding a three-game winning streak. Ryan understands Polk will do everything it can to make it four games in a row and is looking for his Mustangs to stop the roll where it stands and earn their first win over the Wildcats.
"We've got another huge, huge challenge this week. Polk County is coming into our place. We've never beaten Polk County in a regular season game. Coach Webb said we beat them a couple of times when he was coaching in a scrimmage," Ryan said chuckling, "But, we've never beaten them in a real game, that I know of.
"They are always a very physical football team. They are well coached. We've got a big challenge ahead of us, which is a good thing. It allows us to put the Cleveland game in the past and get refocused on another big game coming up."
"Walker Valley is approaching tonight's matchup in a "same thing only different manner." Against Cleveland, the Mustangs were primarily concerned with a passing attack with speed in the running game. Against Polk, Walker Valley will be looking at an offensive scheme set up to run the ball with an occasional pass inserted if the Wildcats feel their opponent is sleeping on the job.
"Cleveland likes to spread it out and throw it all over the place. They've got a lot of speed," Ryan evaluated. "Polk likes to pack it in. They've always got a big, bruising fullback. But, then they have some good skill people who can run, too. They have good receivers and their defense is always solid. It's two totally different football teams, although they are both good football teams."
Ryan is well aware of Polk's ability to throw when necessary and said the Mustangs will have to be ready on every down.
"When they throw it they usually make it count," he said. "Where Cleveland is going to spread you out and throw it and pop a run in here and there, it's just the opposite with Polk. They are going to establish their run game, try and get you sucked in then, go over the top," acknowledged the coach.
"It's a big challenge for us this week. A big challenge and a totally different kind of football team that we will see. They are a very good football team."
Ryan feels if the Mustangs put last week behind them and look no further than the next play, their chances of starting a new streak are at least on par with the competition’s. If Walker Valley looks back or fails to play in the here and now, it could turn into another long 48 minutes.
"It goes back to what we told them from Day 1, we can't think about the past, we can't look ahead. We have to take one day at a time. We have to focus on one game at a time. When we stop doing those things, that's when we tumble," said Ryan. "We didn't do those things last week. We got ahead of ourselves. We were thinking about all the media and all the hype instead of focusing on what we had to do.
"They learned a hard lesson, but sometimes those are the best lessons to learn."