“We came out flat, possibly a little distracted, and they came out ready for a fight,” Mustangs coach Glen Ryan said. “I thought this was the game we would put four quarters together, but we fought hard and there is no quit in this team.”
For the fourth time in as many games this season, Ryan’s stallions rallied from behind, scoring 24 unanswered points, including 17 in the final quarter, to notch their third victory with a 24-17 win, handing the former District 5-AAA foe its first loss of the campaign.
Bringing an impressive 3-1 (0-1 District 5-AAA) record with them, Walker Valley travels to cross-county rivals Bradley Central (2-1) Friday as the Bears open their district slate. Rhea County (2-1, 1-0 District 6-AAA) heads home to take on a Cumberland County team seeking its first win of the season.
The Eagles flew in from across the Tennessee River and took immediate control of the game, scoring on their first three offensive possessions.
After forcing the Mustangs to punt on the game’s opening series, Rhea County took over at its own 41 yard line. Moving the ball to the Mustang nine in nine plays, Eagle running back Jacob York took the ball on the Eagles’ third first down of the drive and pounded it across the goal line to give his team a 7-0 lead after the extra point by senior kicker Wyatt Maerki just a little over six minutes into the contest.
Following a booming 39-yard punt by Mustang punter Cory Cook, Rhea County took over for their second drive of the contest on their own 11 yard line. Needing only two plays to cover the 89 yards, the Eagles took a 13-0 lead when quarterback Austin Dotson found receiver Noel Patterson on a 87 yard touchdown strike.
Maerki again converted the extra point to give the visitors a quick 14-0 lead.
Walker Valley took a four-and-out on their next possession, and the Eagles took over at midfield.
Rhea County’s third drive spanned 13 plays, including three first downs and five penalties between both sides, and was closed out with a 25-yard field goal by Maerki to stretch their lead to 17-0 with 8:57 left in the opening half.
The Mustangs obviously had enough and used the ensuing drive to march 68 yards on 11 plays to get on the scoreboard.
Senior running back Chandler Hunt rolled off a nice 18-yard run to pay dirt. Following an extra point kick by junior Kevin Sabany, the Mustangs cut the lead to 17-7 just before the half.
Coming out of intermission, it was obvious Coach Ryan wanted more out of his Herd defense, and you could say he got it.
After three straight three-and-outs, the Mustangs and Eagles pushed the ball, swapping 11-play drives, but neither could push the score.
Following a 33-yard missed field goal, Walker Valley ended the futility, taking over at their own 20, a 70-yard great hookup from Cook to Hunt to move the ball to the Eagle 10.
Senior running back Tanner Dillard took it from there, covering the final 10 yards, steamrolling two Rhea County defenders to get in the end zone, bringing the score to 17-14 after the Sabany extra point with just over 10 minutes to go in the contest.
The Mustangs score was immediately followed by the first of two Rhea County fumbles on kick returns. Freshman Cooper Melton pounced on the loose pigskin, and Walker Valley took over on the Eagle 33.
Cook needed just one play to hook up with fellow senior Colton Morrow for a 33-yard touchdown strike to give his Mustangs their first lead of the game 21-17 just 14 seconds after the previous score.
The Eagles took over their final possession of the night with 9:45 left on the clock, but after only seven plays, Rhea County faced fourth down from the Mustang 34.
Dotson looked to put the ball in the end zone by targeting receiver Demitrius Patterson. However, Morrow and sophomore defensive back Josh Jones swarmed the ball to knock it away and prevent the Eagles from going back up on the scoreboard.
That is where the Herd took over clinging to a four-point lead, so Coach Ryan had his offense roll off almost eight minutes of clock, capping a 12-play drive with a 21-yard field goal by Sabany and pushing his lead to seven, 24-17.
With just 37 seconds left in the game, the Eagles looked to get a good return and try to get a quick score to force overtime.
However, Rhea County return man Noel Patterson took the kick from his own 11, danced and spun his way up to the 25 yard line when Mustang junior Jake Johnson capped off his incredible “Defensive Player of the Game” effort (five solos tackles, eight assists, a tackle for loss and a pass deflection) by forcing the second kick return fumble by the Eagles.
Junior Dallas Kuykendall fell on the loose ball and, with no time outs left for either side, closed the game.
After the game, Coach Ryan was really impressed with his team.
“Our defense stepped up big again, but really the whole team did in the second half. Cory (Cook) and Tanner (Dillard) played real big tonight,” he said. “Cory [Cook] struggled in the first half but made some big league throws down the stretch.”
Rhea County 14 3 0 0 — 17
Walker Valley 0 7 0 17 — 24
RC — Jacob York 9-yd. run (Wyatt Maerki kick), 5:54
RC — Noel Patterson 87-yd. pass from Austin Dotson (Maerki kick), 2:54
RC — Maerki 25-yd. field goal, 8:57
WV — Chandler Hunt 18-yd. run (Kevin Sabany kick), 3:15
WV — Tanner Dillard 10-yd. run (Sabany kick), 10:07
WV - Colton Morrow 33-yd. pass from Cory Cook (Sabany kick) 9:53
WV — Sabany 21-yd. field goal, :37
Team stats RC WV
First downs 10 13
Rushes-yards 36-183 48-207
Passing yards 126 125
Total yards 309 332
Comp-Att-Int 4-12-0 6-12-0
Punts -Ave. 3-37.0 2-29.5
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 1-0
Penalties 13-89 2-8
Rushing: Demitrius Patterson 12-60, Joby Berry 9-48, Jacob York 9-42 1 TD, Austin Dotson 4-15, Cody Bice 2-14 (RC); Tanner Dillard 12-79 1 TD, Colton Morrow 11-41, Holt Spencer 10-40, Chandler Hunt 9-33 1 TD, Bryce Nunnely 1-10, Alex King 1-4, Cory Cook 4-0 (WV)
Passing: Austin Dotson 4-12-0 126 yds. 1 TD (RC); Cory Cook 6-12-0 120 yds. 1 TD (WV) Receiving: Noel Patterson 2-101 1 TD, Taylor Jankins 1-22, Jacob York 1-3 (RC); Chandler Hunt 1-70, Colton Morrow 1-33 1 TD, Tanner Dillard 4-22 (WV)
Records: Rhea County 2-1, 1-0 District 6-AAA
Walker Valley 3-1, 0-1 District 5-AAA