“I think the off week came at a good time for us. We’ve got four games left and we’re sitting 3-3. Our playoff hopes hang in the balance of these next four ballgames. We play a really tough schedule — everyone that we’ve played already has a winning record,” head coach Glen Ryan explained. “There are four good teams left with Ooltewah, Cleveland, McMinn County and Soddy-Daisy, there’s no weak sister in there anywhere. We feel that we need to win more than we lose in this last stretch, if we want to get to the playoffs.”
With that time off, the Mustangs have been working to prepare for one of their toughest challenges yet, the third ranked class 5A Ooltewah Owls.
While Walker Valley currently has a 3-3 overall record and are 0-2 in their District 5-AAA play, Ooltewah boasts a 6-1 overall record and a blemish-free district record.
The Owls’ only loss came to early in the season to the tough Siegel Stars out of Murfreesboro.
“Ooltewah is playing very well, and we haven’t played well the last few weeks. They are a very balanced team and do a good job,” Ryan commented. “We’ll have to play a really good football game to get back on a positive note ourselves. Our guys have picked it up this week and hopefully we’ll be ready to play.”
One of the biggest threats on the Owls is senior running back Desmond Pittman, who did not play in their last game due to a knee injury.
Pittman has racked up 956 yards in 118 rushing attempts and has a total of 14 touchdowns so far for Ooltewah. Having faced the Pittman factor last season, Ryan knows that if he is in the game Friday night, the Owls will look to pound the ball down the field.
In their losses to the Bears and Wildcats, the Mustangs seemed to be stalled when it came to being able to move the ball.
“We just didn’t do a good job on offense and weren’t able to get anything going offensively. Defense was on the field for way too long and they didn’t play that bad. The offense kind of stumbled and fumbled around a bit and didn’t play ball like we know how to play. We’ve gotten out of that and spent this off week getting better,” Ryan stated. “Offense just wasn’t in synch very well and basically was just going through the motions. We’ve had some injuries so some guys have been adjusting to the speed of the game on Friday night instead of at JV games or practices.”
The injury bug took its turn, biting the young Mustang team, but according to Ryan, the team is almost back to full strength, with only two starters out of the lineup.
“We still don’t have Reed Jacobs back, he’s still out with a shoulder injury. We also lost Dallas Kuykendall to a shoulder injury. Josh Davis is back on the offensive line for us now, as well as having Nunnelly and Cooper Melton back,” could be a factor in the Mustangs’ chances, Ryan said.
During their down time the Mustangs have been working to correct and solidify the things that have been slowing up their success. After some intensive practices, coach Ryan feels that the team is performing better.
“They have been sharper and crisper during practice. I think these guys are ready,” Ryan commented.
Throughout the season Walker Valley’s offense has had to play catchup with the team’s defense.
“Defense has been pretty solid, minus a few breakdowns here and there. Like I’ve said before, we’re a work in progress ... as young as we are,” Ryan explained. “The young guys are getting more acclimated to playing on Friday night and the defense is getting more aggressive and following their assignments better — that’s our strong side. On offense, we just have to get back into our rhythm.”
Coach Ryan knows his team will have to show up in a big way to hold its own against a team that is as balanced as the Owls are.
“We’ve got to move the ball and put points on the board. We have to score, because Ooltewah is going to score. We have to be able to give our defense time to rest a little bit,” Ryan stated. “Defensively, we’ve got to go out there and deal with their two-pronged attack. Ooltewah has a real strong running game but they also have a great passing game to go with it — we’ve got to stop both sides of that.”