“They took it to us the last time (two years ago in a 40-33 game) we came up here. We expected no less this time,” declared coach Damon Floyd after his Bears edged Walker Valley 27-21, the second closest game in the eight-year series history.
“We played good at times. We played ugly at times. The most important thing is we came out with a win,” he stated.
The victory moves Bradley to 5-3 on the season and more importantly 3-1 in District 5-AAA, keeping pace with Cleveland (5-3, 3-1), whom they will host this Friday.
Both teams are one game behind McMinn County (7-1, 4-0) in the district chase. The Bears travel to Athens to face the Cherokees Oct. 26 in the regular season finale.
The Blue Raiders bounced back from a tough loss to McMinn with a 48-12 shellacking of Soddy-Daisy (2-6, 1-4) Friday, while the Tribe took care of class AA Meigs County (1-7) by a 40-6 margin.
Defending district champion McMinn has already secured a spot in the postseason, while Bradley and Cleveland are looking to do the same.
Walker Valley slips to 4-4 on the campaign and 1-3 in 5-AAA action, but needs just a win over Rhea County (1-7, 0-4) in Evensville this week or a victory over Ooltewah (6-2, 3-2) at “The Corral” in the finale to earn its first TSSAA playoff berth in four years. Ooltewah blasted Rhea County 33-6 Friday evening.
Like they had done the previous week, Bradley got off to a quick start on the soggy field Friday evening. After junior Baylor Terrell returned the opening kickoff to near midfield, the Bears needed just three plays to find the end zone with senior quarterback Bryce Copeland hitting junior receiver Dee Crisp with a 38-yard scoring strike.
Walker Valley answered right back with a 10-play drive into the red zone, but the Bradley defense bowed its back and forced a 28-yard field goal attempt that went wide.
Bradley appeared headed for paydirt again on its second possession after Copeland scrambled for 26 yards and then gained 21 on a designed run to move the rock to the Mustang 32.
The Bears then shot themselves in the foot with a trio of illegal procedure calls and Walker Valley senior Bryson Locke nailed Copeland for the first of his two sacks on the evening to force a punt.
After junior punter Clayton Steels pinned the hosts on their own 7, the Bradley defense came up big two plays later when junior Eduardo Trevino and senior Robert Bartolameolli sacked the ‘Stang signal caller. Crisp then picked him off on the next play and returned the ball 25 yards to the Walker Valley 21.
On the first snap after the turnover, Bear junior Logan Fetzner scampered in from 21 yards out to put the Black-and-Gold up by two touchdowns.
Despite the 14-point deficit, coach Glen Ryan’s Stallions weren’t ready to head to the barn.
After the ensuing kickoff, the Herd galloped their way downfield for eight plays, including a 25-yard screen pass from senior Garrett Wallace to classmate Gabe Cartwright. Fellow senior Justin Ware took the ball in from eight yards out for the score and senior Brad Hoffner cut the deficit in half with his extra point at the 9:33 mark of the second quarter.
Bradley senior Deshawn McCleary quelled the home side excitement by returning the ensuing kickoff 32 yards to the midfield stripe. After a pair of passes for 14 and 12 yards to senior Caleb Cain, Copeland ran for a dozen yards.
Faced with the first intrusion into their red zone, the Walker Valley defense responded with a pair of stops behind the line of scrimmage and an incomplete pass to force a field goal attempt. Steels split the uprights from 39 yards out to push the lead back to double digits with 5:50 to go in the half.
Feeding off the stand by the defense, Mustang Reggie Mills returned the kickoff 47 yards to the Bear 44. Ware broke off a 37-yard run on the first snap and Mills “carried the mail” for the final 19 just 39 seconds after the Bradley three-pointer.
The Bears looked like they were going to put points on the board for the fourth time in their first five possessions on the ensuing drive, but once again the Walker Valley defense came up big.
After moving the ball across midfield, the Bears had a 20-yard run by Copeland negated by a penalty, but on the next play he hooked up with Crisp for a 40-yard pass to the Mustang 14.
Two plays later Bradley had a first-and-goal at the 1. Copeland tried to sneak the ball across on the next play and one referee signal touchdown, but the other pointed him down just before the goal line. After the “zebras” conferred, the ball was placed just inches shy of paydirt.
The Mustang “D” then stopped the next ball carrier behind the line of scrimmage before Copeland gained the lost yard back, but was again held shy of the score on a hit by linebacker Chaz Fulford.
The Bear coaches decided to go for it on fourth down, but Copeland was turned away again when the Mustangs won the battle at the line and John Hayes met him just short of the goal to keep the difference at just three points as the bands took the field for their halftime performances.
After the intermission, it was the Bear defense’s time to flex as Trevino had a tackle for a two-yard loss on the opening play, before he combined with Timmons and then Timmons paired up with Bartolameolli for back-to-back one-yard stops.
On the third play after the punt, Copeland bobbed and weaved his way for a 63-yard touchdown run, but a yellow flag laying at the Bear 47 kept the points off the board and brought the ball back to near where it started. Eight plays later, Copeland was able to put those points back on the scoreboard when he found Cain on a 27-yard touchdown toss.
Still down by double digits in the fourth quarter, the host Herd was able to put together a scoring drive, needing just seven plays to go 74 yards.
After 25- and 12-yard passes to Morrow and Mills, plus 18- and 14-yard runs by Ware, the latter took the ball in from the 4 for his second score of the evening. Hoffner cut the difference back to three points with 8:30 remaining.
After recovering an onside kick attempt on their own 37, Bradley was able to chew nearly six minutes off the clock with 13-play drive, but once again after it got into the red zone, the Mustang D stiffened.
With a first-and-goal at the 9, Fulford nailed a Bear ball carrier for a two-yard loss. A fumble on the next play resulted in a nine-yard loss on the next play, before an incomplete pass set up Steels for a 37-yard field goal, which just cleared the crossbar by inches.
Up just six points with 2:38 on the clock, the Bear defense answered the challenge as Tennessee-bound Austin Sanders stopped the first play at the line of scrimmage.
After Terrell had a near interception to break up a pass on the next play, junior Cal Pickel was able get the “pick” on the following one, allowing Bradley to run out the clock.
“We didn’t stop the home run balls, but our defense was able to keep them out of the end zone when they were close in,” commented coach Ryan in reference to the Bears’ three trips into the red zone only resulting in a pair of field goals.
“I’m proud of the way we fought back. We were behind all night, but we never gave up. We were in it until the very end.
“Just like we tell the boys you have to put victories behind you, we have to do the same with this game,” the veteran coach remarked. “We are 4-4 and still have a lot of football left to play.”
Ware led all rushers with 138 yards on 22 carries, breaking the 100-yard mark for the fourth time this season. He has also scored in six of the eight Mustang games.
Wallace completed 6-of-11 passes for 111 yards, including three to Cartwright for 75.
Bradley put up 359 yards of offense on the night, including Copeland completing 16-of-23 passes for 202 yards, plus gaining 48 on 16 carries.
Fetzner broke the century mark for the second time this season, gaining 101 yards on 16 carries as well.
Crisp caught a trio of passes for 84 yards before leaving the game early in the third quarter with a concussion, while Cain had a half dozen catches for 76 yards.
“We didn’t turn the ball over and our defense bowed it back at some big times for us,” declared coach Floyd. “We knew they’d (Walker Valley) be pumped, but for some reason after we got up by two touchdowns early, we let our foot off the pedal and relaxed.”
“That’s the second straight week we’ve done that. We can’t afford to do things like that.”
“If we don’t play hard on every play, until the final whistle, these next two weeks (against Cleveland and McMinn) we’ll be in trouble,” he assessed.
Bradley Central 14 3 7 3 — 27
Walker Valley 0 14 0 7 — 21
BC — Dee Crisp 38 pass from Bryce Copeland (Clayton Steels kick), 10:47
BC — Logan Fetzner 21 run (Steels kick), :31
WV — Justin Ware 8 run (Brad Hoffner kick), 9:33
BC — Clayton Steels 39 field goal, 5:50
WV — Reggie Mills 19 run (Hoffner kick), 5:11
BC — Caleb Cain 27 pass from Copeland (Steels kick), 5:52
WV — Ware 4 run (Hoffner kick), 8:30
BC — Steels 37 field goal, 2:38
First downs 18 13
Rushes-yards 37-157 36-153
Passing yards 202 111
Total yards 359 264
Comp-Att-Int 16-23-0 6-11-2
Punts -Ave. 3-36.6 3-29.7
Fumbles-Lost 2-0 1-0
Penalties 11-69 4-33
Rushing: Logan Fetzner 18-101 TD, Bryce Copeland 16-48 TD, Baylor Terrell 2-8 (BC); Justin Ware 22-138 2 TDs, Reggie Mills 10-46 TD, Chaz Fulford 1-0, Gabe Cartwright 1- (-2), Garrett Wallace 2- (-29) (WV).
Passing: Bryce Copeland 16-23-0 242 TD (BC); Garrett Wallace 6-11-2 111 (WV).
Receiving: Dee Crisp 3-84 TD, Caleb Cain 6-76 TD, Cal Pickel 3-16, Baylor Terrell 3-15, Deshawn McCleary 1-11 (BC); Gabe Cartwright 3-75, Colton Morrow 1-25, Reggie Mills 1-12, Justin Ware 1- (-1).
Records: Bradley Central 5-3, 3-1 District 5-AAA; Walker Valley 4-4, 1-3 District 5-AAA.