Both teams have been up and down this year. Cleveland is 3-3 after Friday’s 21-19 loss at Cookeville, but Coach E.K. Slaughter’s team is undefeated (2-0) and leading the 5-AAA district race.
The Raiders can take the league title into the post-season with victories in their final four games, all against district foes.
Walker Valley has only three games remaining on a 2-5 record ... also against 5-AAA opponents. The Mustangs are winless in district play, losing to Rhea County, Soddy-Daisy and Ooltewah. Wins were against Brainerd and McMinn Central, non-district teams.
Coach Ted Lockerby’s Mustangs battled Ooltwah’s Owls in a close game last week, with the defense coming up big in the second half.
Walker Valley’s coaching staff and team are looking forward to a week off following Friday’s clash with Cleveland. The Mustangs will follow the week off with a Thursday-night game at McMinn County Oct. 21.
Friday’s Cleveland-Walker Valley bash will be a battle between teams with similar offensive philosophies on the ground.
The Mustangs have depended on the rushing of sophomore tailback Kelvin Wells Jr. He has threatened the 300-yard plateau multiple times, and is leading the region in rushing with 1,169 yards. He has scored 16 of Walker Valley’s touchdowns.
Cleveland’s Raiders have enjoyed the success of senior running back Jamarcus Mobley, who paces his team’s rushing attack.
Both defensives will be keying on these two individuals.
An offensive edge to the Blue Raiders is the addition of a potent passing attack.
Walker Valley’s passing has been limited throughout the season, while the passing game has been a big part of Cleveland’s success.
Junior quarterback Chad Voytik guided the Blue Raiders through the air in Cleveland’s first five games, until he suffered a compound fracture to his finger two weeks ago. Freshman Austin Herink stepped into the lineup last Friday at Cookeville and completed 11 of 17 passes for 143 yards.
Coach Slaughter felt Voytik had been lost for the year with the fractured finger and surgery after the Red Bank game. He later revised his estimate and said his veteran signal-caller might be able to play in postseason.
Stories have since circulated that Voytik has been throwing in practice sessions, and might be able to return to game action at an earlier date.
These stories have caused some concern for the Walker Valley coaching staff this week. “We don’t know who’s coming to the game,” Lockerby said at Tuesday’s practice.
Slaughter would not confirm that Voytik will be able to play Friday, but he did say, “We’re continued to evaluate that possibility.”
Asked about the rapidity of Voytik’s recovery time from the broken finger, the Cleveland coach said, “It’s borderline miraculous.”
Walker Valley has some quarterback concerns of its own. Junior quarterback Logan Hindman has been in and out of the lineup all season, first with a foot injury and more recently with a shoulder problem. Freshman Garrett Wallace has filled during Hindman’s absence.
Lockerby said he expects Hindman to be available on Friday.
Regardless who’s in the starting lineup, the game is big for both teams. Perhaps the most crucial factor will be the two defenses ... and how much control they will have against the opposition’s offense.