“The king is dead. Long live the king,” is a historic phrase used to show that the state of rule is unending. When one ruler would die, another would instantly take his place.
Friday night, the same thought could be applied to the football field. As the Walker Valley walked off fifth-ranked Lenoir City’s gridiron with a 44-16 loss the 2012 season had met its fate, but almost instantaneously a new season was already on the minds of the Mustang coaches and students who will take “The Corral” in 2013.
“What can I say, our guys played hard. We lost to a really good football team. We have got to keep working. It’s like I’ve said all along, we are a work in progress. We have to keep striving to get better, eliminate the mistakes and make plays when we need to make them,” was the first thought of Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan following the game.
“Any time you can get in there and get to the playoffs that sets the bar for the next group because now they don’t want to be the group that doesn’t make. That’s the attitude we have to take this off-season. We have to hit the weight room hard. We have to go to work and get better.”
A bar was set this season on the north side of Bradley County. This year’s senior Mustang football players had only tallied three combined wins through their first trifecta of years with the program.
This season, the team got off to its hottest start in school history (3-0), had only its fourth .500 or better season in the dozen years since it began and made its first postseason since 2008.
But, a rollercoaster season came to an end Friday night at the hands of the second-seeded Lenoir Panthers in the first round of the Class 5A State Playoffs.
The Mustangs actually took the lead early in the game when senior Brad Hoffner split the uprights with a 40-yard field goal to put Walker Valley up 3-0 with 4:21 left to play in the first quarter.
A powerful Panther passing attack struck back though, grabbing the next two scores on 30-plus yard tosses. They tacked on a third score late in the second quarter via the ground game to put them up 21-3 with less than a minute left in the opening half.
Walker Valley fought back. Senior running back Justin Ware made sure to send his team into the break with some much needed momentum when he broke an 80-yard run down the sideline for another Walker Valley score.
Another senior, starting quarterback and defensive back Garrett Wallace, picked off Lenoir’s ensuing attack to solidify Mustang momentum heading into the break.
Despite Walker Valley getting the ball first, it was the Panther offense that found the end zone first in the second half when another monster pass turned into points.
Backs against a wall, the Mustangs again turned to Ware. He delivered once again, this time with a 72-yard touchdown run to bring the score to 28-17.
“I had a long talk with Justin before the game. He hadn’t had his best games the last couple Fridays. I challenged him. If you want to make a statement you need to do it in the playoffs. He stepped up and did just an outstanding job tonight,” stated Ryan.
Unfortunately, the power-packed Lenoir onslaught would not relent, scoring the game’s final three touchdowns to move onto the second round with the 44-16 win.
“We came out and let them get up on us. We got the drive going and got that opening field goal, but then they score. We come back down and have a chance to get other field goal and push it off to the right. That hurt us,” Ryan explained.
“We came back and did a few things right before half to make it a manageable kind of thing. But, we were so sporadic on offense. Defensively, we did some great things but just a few mistakes against a team like Lenoir and you’ll pay for it.”
Offensively, Ware’s accounted for 238 of the teams 331 total offensive yards and 12 of the Mustang’s 16 points.
“Being a senior for being Walker Valley it’s the first time we’ve ever even seen the playoff. I just came out tonight ready to play. I went out and played how I had been taught. I wanted to make it count,” said the senior running back.
“We came up a little short, but I can say I played my hardest and my teammates did too. The seniors wanted to come in this year and make a change. We had those bad records, and we wanted to change that. We made a deal with the coaches to give this team a new start by making the playoffs,” Ware added.
While the finish of the season came up bittersweet, it will provide the team a new foundation to further launch into the rebuilding process.
Only once in the school’s 12-year history has the team finished back-to-back regular seasons at or above the .500 mark (2003-2004). That was a feat that Ryan was already focusing on before he stepped onto the bus to head home.
“I challenge our young guys to learn from this experience, get more focused and approach things with more discipline. I’m proud of these seniors. Their goal was to turn a corner here with Walker Valley, and they did that. It didn’t end like we wanted it to, but we had a lot of good things happen this season. I’m proud of that bunch. They set the bar, and now we just have to keep raising it,” he stated.
For their part, the Lenoir City Panthers (9-2) will play host to the Ooltewah Owls (8-3) for Friday night’s kickoff of the post-season’s second round.
The District 5-AAA runner-up Owls knocked off Anderson County by a 47-28 margin Friday evening.