EAST RIDGE — Mother Nature must be a fan of the Navy-and-Gold, because it was the half-hour delay due to lightning that gave Walker Valley a chance to regroup after being dominated by East Ridge in the first and much of the second quarter.
Following the delay, the Mustangs were able to turn things around and leave Shanks Stadium with a 21-3 season-opening victory.
“Anytime you can start off with a ‘W’ that helps, it’s better than starting off with a loss,” Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan stated. “Special teams came through in a big way. Defense stepped up. Offense was able to punch it in, make some plays and put some points on the board. The standouts were special teams and defense tonight for sure.”
Junior running back Holt Spencer made it into the end zone twice, with senior Tanner Dillard chipping in for a touchdown of his own. Junior kicker Kevin Sabany was three-for-three for Walker Valley on extra point attempts.
East Ridge’s only points came from Tad Whitaker’s 35-yard field goal with 43 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The Mustangs started out with the ball on their own 22 yard line, but the offense was quickly shut down by the Pioneers defense.
Four quick, non-productive plays later, Walker Valley’s defense was put to the test as East Ridge marched down the field.
“We came out complacent and let them get after us. We can’t play that way. We’re not the kind of football team to come out, go through the motions and expect to win games,” Ryan commented.
Starting at the 50 yard line, the Pioneers had three consecutive first downs which got them to the Mustang 12.
With the heat on full blast, Walker Valley’s defensive line was able to hold East Ridge back, forcing them to attempt a field goal from the 7 yard line.
Senior Colton Morrow was able to block Whitaker’s first field goal attempt of the night.
A Walker Valley turnover two plays into the second quarter gave possession of the ball right back to the Pioneers.
The ball went back and forth between the two teams once more before the weather brought about a game-changing delay.
“We had a talk with them during the storm delay and they came out playing much better in the second half,” Coach Ryan said. “There were still a lot of mistakes made, but we at least played with intensity and that’s what carried us through.”
Following a Walker Valley 10-yard holding penalty, junior QB Cory Cook fired off a 24-yard rocket to a leaping Cooper Melton, who landed on the Pioneer 4 yard line.
Spencer was able to drive his way through the East Ridge defensive line for the Mustangs first touchdown of the evening with 2:17 left in the second quarter.
Morrow’s 46-yard punt return in the third quarter got things lined up for Walker Valley’s second end zone trip of the evening.
Starting out at the Pioneers’ 11 yard line, it only took two plays for Dillard to run in the 8-yard touchdown.
With a 14-3 lead, the Mustangs would solidify their hold over East Ridge in the fourth quarter when senior Billy Raulston just happened to be in the right place at the right time.
In what Coach Ryan referred to as a “heck of a play,” Raulston intercepted a Pioneer pass and was able to make it 10 yards before getting taken down at the home team’s 8 yard line.
“I was just glad that I caught the ball. It was awesome,” Raulston commented.
From there Spencer was able to take care of business with his second and final Mustang touchdown of the night.
During the game, the Mustangs did rack up seven penalties resulting in a loss of 43 yards, which Coach Ryan attributed to sloppy play.
“It was just sloppy play and a lack of focus. That’s my biggest concern with these guys is being able to keep that focus for a whole ballgame — we kind of go up, down and all over the place. We’ve just got to settle down and be able to focus for 48 minutes and play football,” Ryan stated.
Cook completed seven out of his 10 attempted passes for a total of 71 yards. He also had four punts, which totaled 130 yards (32.5 average).
Spencer led Walker Valley in rushing with a total of 50 yards, while Dillard racked up a total of 41 yards of his own.
On the receiving end, Morrow and Melton had a total 48 and 24 yards respectively.
Defensively junior Jack Johnson led the Mustangs with a total of 10 tackles comprised of four solo tackles and six assisted.
Juniors Hunter Newport and Reed Jacobs also had a total of 10 tackles apiece, which came from two solo tackles and eight assisted tackles.
Johnson and Jacobs each registered one QB sack.
“We feel like our defense is our strength this year, if we’ve got a strength at all with these young pups,” Ryan joked. “My hats off to these guys, they can go home and enjoy the win this weekend and get ready to go back to work on Monday. We’ve still got a long way to go and like I said we’re a work in progress. We’ve got to go to work, put our hard hats on and get better every day.”
The Mustangs will have their first home game of the season Friday, as Sequoyah comes to visit “The Corral.” The Chiefs are coming off a 41-0 thumping of Tellico Plains in their opener. Kickoff is slated for 7:30 p.m.