Walker Valley junior linebacker Alex King (33) zeros in for a tackle against Bradley running back Courtland Bradley (7) in friday night's game against Bradley Central. King had all four of Walker Valley's touchdowns in the 35-27 loss. Banner Photo, Kevin Cannon
Bradley Central had plenty of motivation going into the season-opening gridiron game at the “The Corral,” but after the payback victory over its cross-county rivals, the biggest celebration of the night took place 11 miles away at Bear Stadium.
“We told Coach (Damon) Floyd we’d meet him on the 50-yard line (on Bradley’s home field) after we won,” proclaimed interim head coach Keith Freeman after the 34-27 victory over Walker Valley.
“We’re going to park the (team) bus at the north gate (at Bear Stadium) and run out to midfield to celebrate this win with our mentor and leader,” said a choked-up Freeman Friday evening as he wiped away tears from his eyes.
Floyd, the second-longest tenured head coach in the 98-year Bear football history, wasn’t allowed at the contest due to a controversial TSSAA suspension, but rode to the stadium with his team before leaving to watch the contest on the internet.
“He (Floyd) has built this program from scratch to what it is today,” declared Freeman, who has been by Floyd’s side during the 10-year process, which includes five-straight playoff appearances. “Not being able to have him here made this a very emotional night for us.”
The victory was extra sweet for the Bear players and coaches, who walked off the same field with their first-ever loss to the Mustangs in a heartbreaking 17-14 outcome last September.
“It (last year’s game) hurt worse than any loss I’ve ever had,” declared Bear junior quarterback Cole Copeland, who finished Friday night with 236 yards of total offense. “I’m glad to get that bad taste out of my mouth.”
Bradley faces a similar situation this week when it will once again be without Floyd as the team heads to Athens to face their oldest rival — McMinn County.
The Cherokees, who have played the Bears 92 times since Bradley opened in 1916, including the last 88 years straight, opened the 2015 campaign with a revenge win of their own, stopping their county-rival McMinn Central 34-20 Friday.
Walker Valley will regroup to get ready to head to Hixson to battle the Wildcats, who took it on the chin from reigning state champion Marion County Saturday in its season opener.
“This loss stings, but it’s not the end of our season,” proclaimed Mustang head coach Glen Ryan. “We’ve got to bounce back and get ready to face a good Hixson team.”
Both coaches (Ryan and Floyd) said going into the contest that the team that made the fewest mistakes would win.
“They made the plays and took care of the things they needed to do and we didn’t,” assessed Ryan. “We knew it was going to be a tough game, but the little things didn’t go our way. We had some opportunities but didn’t cash in on them.”
Bradley dealt the hosts a big blow right out of the gate when junior Cason Still fielded the opening kickoff on the 6-yard line, broke a couple of tackles and headed down the left sideline (in front of the Bear bench) to paydirt.
After the 94-yard scoring dash, senior soccer player Makhail Beregousky entered his first-ever football game to boot the extra point with just 15 seconds gone off the game clock.
To their credit the Mustangs took the body blow and came right back with an 11-play drive covering 74 yards to answer with points of their own.
Junior Alex King carried the ball over from eight yards out for the first of his four touchdowns on the night.
The extra-point kick was wide leaving the boys from the south side still in the lead at the end of the opening quarter of play.
After going three-and-out in its first try, the high-powered Bradley offense got going in its second try.
Copeland ran the ball three times for 27 yards during the drive, plus completed 4-of-5 passes for another 44, including an 18-yard toss to the back of the end zone to senior Tyler Carpenter, who showed off his vertical leap to pull it down and get his feet just inside the back line of the end zone.
After the Bear PAT attempt missed, it was Walker Valley’s turn for some excitement as King returned the ensuing kickoff 88 yards for a touchdown. Andrew Hannah evened the game with his extra point kick just 27 seconds into the second frame.
Back-to-back penalties and some good Mustang defense holding the visitors to just one yard in three plays, forced the Bears to punt from their own end zone.
Walker Valley junior Bryce Nunnelly returned the kick 25 yards to the Bradley 11. Three plays later King bulled in from the 2. Hannah’s kick gave the hosts their first lead of the contest.
Copeland answered by orchestrating another scoring drive to knot the contest at 20-all.
Stepping into the starting 1-back role this year, senior Courtland Bradley showed what he is capable of doing with his first of three touchdowns on the night on an 11-yard scamper to paydirt to cap the 10-play, 63-yard march.
The Bear defense came up big on the second play after the ensuing kickoff when sophomore Jake Pressley went up high to tip a Mustang pass and then came down with the interception near midfield.
Needing just a half dozen snaps to cover the 55 yards needed, Bradley scooted the final 16 yards to put the Bears back on top 27-20 at the half.
“That turnover shifted the momentum,” declared Coach Ryan. “We were up by a touchdown and then we let them score twice in a little more than a two minute span.”
After getting off nine snaps but coming up empty in the final 127 seconds before the bands took the field, Walker Valley took the opening kick off of the second half and drove down to even the score once again.
King crossed the plane of the go from three yards out on his fifth carry of the 10-play, 74-yard march. Hannah split the uprights to knot the game at 27-all with 8:20 left on the third quarter clock.
After stalling the Bears’ next drive at the WV 26, the hosts gave the ball back four plays later when a fourth-down try by King was met by the Bear defense behind the line of scrimmage, giving the ball back to Copeland just 33 yards from paydirt.
After the talented signal caller gained 11 yards on three plays, he once again handed the ball to Bradley, who raced the final 22 for what turned out to be the game-winning score with 1:37 left in the third quarter.
“Courtland showed a spark tonight,” declared Coach Freeman of Bradley’s 68 yards and three scores on 11 carries. “He’s patiently waited for his turn and he’s ready to make the most of it.”
After the offenses and special teams combined to put 61 points on the board in the first three frames, the fourth quarter was dominated by big plays by defenses.
The Bears stopped the hosts on a fourth-and-2 play near midfield when sophomore Jake Pressley hit King behind the line of scrimmage before junior linebacker Hunter Duggan finished him off for no gain.
The Black-and-Gold was able to pick up a couple of first downs but were forced to punt, which Howell dropped in perfectly to be downed on the 1-yard line.
King got the Mustangs out of the shadow of their own goalposts with a 15-yard run and then sophomore Kolten Gibson hit junior Cooper Melton for seven yards. However, a holding penalty, a pass attempt knocked away by senior Ryan Still and a sack by junior Dalton Taylor forced a Mustang punt.
Walker Valley junior linebacker Skyler Swafford then started a three-and-out with a five-yard tackle for loss. He led the ’Stang defense with a dozen tackles, including eight solos.
Howell’s final punt of the night gave the Mustangs one last chance to rally, but they would have to go 81 yards in a little over two minutes.
The Navy-and-Gold Stallions opened the drive with a 17-yard connection from Gibson to junior Dylan Towers, but two plays later Bear junior defensive end Malik Whaley was able to record a sack with 95 ticks left on the clock.
After an incomplete pass, Walker Valley was faced with a fourth-and-17 when Gibson hooked up with Towers again to get the first down at midfield.
However, on the next play Duggan hit the receiver of a screen pass immediately for a three-yard loss.
After using their final timeout with 53 seconds remaining, Gibson then completed a pass to himself (the ball popped straight up out of his hand while throwing and he caught it on the way down) before Taylor tackled him for another seven yards in the wrong direction.
Walker Valley was able to head in the right way with an 11-yard pass to King on the next play. With the clock still running, the Mustangs rushed to the line to spike the ball, not realizing it was fourth down. However, the hosts were given one more chance for a miracle when the Bears called a timeout prior to the snap with 0.6 seconds remaining.
With 48 yards to the end zone, Bradley set up its prevent defense, which worked well when Gibson hit Nunnelly with a short pass and the Bears were able to tackle him at the 26.
“The defense came up with some big plays when we needed them the most,” praised Freeman. “Coach (Cortney) Braswell has come in and done a great job of reworking our defense to a 3-4. He’s one of the best defensive coordinators I’ve ever been around.”
Walker Valley finished with 356 yards of offense, with Gibson completing 23-of-31 passes for 199 yards, while King bulled for 108 yards on 17 carries.
The Bear offense countered with 319 total yards as Copeland rushed 22 times for 122 yards, plus completed 12-of-20 aerials for 102 yards.
Courtland Bradley gained 68 yards on 11 carries, while Carpenter covered 59 on four receptions.
Bradley Central72070 — 34
Walker Valley61470 — 27
BC — Cason Still 91-yd kickoff return (Makhail Beregousky kick), 11:45
WV — Alex King 8-yd. run (kick failed), 7:56
BC — Tyler Carpenter 16-yard pass from Cole Copeland (kick failed), 11:40
WV — King 88-yd. kickoff return (Andrew Hannah kick), 11:23
WV — King 2-yd. run (Hannah kick), 8:33
BC — Courtland Bradley 11-yd. run (Beregousky kick), 4:35
BC — Bradley 16-yd. run (Beregousky kick), 2:16
WV — King 2-yd. run (Hannah kick), 8:20
BC — Bradley 22-yd. run (Beregousky kick), 1:37
Rushing: Cole Copeland 22-134, Courtland Bradley 11-68 3 TDs, Tyler Carpenter 1-11, Adam Mullis 1-4 (BC); Alex King 17-108 3 TDs, Avery Jones 9-35, Kolten Gibson 10-13, Bryce Nunnelly 1-1 (WV).
Passing: Cole Copeland 12-20-0 102 TD (BC); Kolten Gibson 22-29-1 213 (WV).
Receiving: Tyler Carpenter 4-59 TD, Lameric Tucker 5-19, Jeffery Brewer 1-14, Nick Howell 1-10, Jake Pressley 1-4, Courtland Bradley 1-0 (BC); Cooper Melton 8-63, Bryce Nunnelly 6-54, Dylan Towers 2-38, Avery Jones 3-24, Zach Eslinger 2-16, Alex King 1-11 (WV).
Records: Bradley 1-0; Walker Valley 0-1.