The Walker Valley offensive line opens a hole for the Mustangs’ running back Alex King in the first quarter against the Hixson Wildcats Friday in Hixson. (BANNER PHOTO, LYNNAE ROBERTS)
HIXSON — As the Mustangs celebrated their 42-32 come-from-behind win over Hixson by singing happy birthday to senior offensive lineman Bryson Bradley, Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan breathed a sigh of relief.
“We’ll take Ws right now, but man we have got to get going sooner. We looked like we were still in bed half asleep the first half. Just crazy stuff,” Ryan said. “Defensively we were real porous at times. But we made some good adjustments for the second half and did much better. Offensively we were still up and down, up and down. We stopped ourselves more than they stopped us offensively. But we found a way to win and we came from behind to do it.”
The Mustangs (1-1) were forced to play catch up right off the bat after Hixson drove 70 yards on its first possession to take a 6-0 lead. Walker Valley countered with an Alex King 1-yard TD on its second possession.
The Wildcats (0-2) answered with a 77-yard march to take a 12-7 lead as time expired in the first quarter. Hixson helped the Mustangs out leaving points on the field after failing to convert on 4-of-5 extra point attempts.
The Wildcats took advantage of the first big break of the game to take an 18-7 lead when a pass to the flat from Mustangs quarterback Kolten Gibson to Avery Johnson fell incomplete, but was ruled a backward pass. Hixson fell on the football at the Walker Valley 10-yard line and scored three plays later.
“We were sloppy with the ball,” said Ryan. “There are a couple of calls I still question, but we didn’t play very well (in the first half).”
It took the Mustangs only two plays to cut the lead to 18-13. After a 15-yard gain by King, Gibson faked a handoff to King, tucked the pigskin and raced 59 yards for Walker Valley’s second TD of the first half.
Another Walker Valley miscue with just over three minutes left in the half led to a 40-yard fumble recovery returned for a Hixson score.
The Mustangs rallied back with a Bryce Nunnelly kick return that led to a Gibson-to- Nunnelly 42-yard hookup two plays later cutting the Hixson halftime cushion to 26-20.
“They ran the power and ran the trap and the I-formation stuff, but man they just ran downhill on us,” Ryan said of the Wildcats’ move from the veer formation last week to the Power-I Friday night.
“We weren’t catching things early. Even when we did get stops we were falling backward. We’ve got to get better with that,” said Ryan. “We expected to see a good Hixson team. We made some decent adjustments at halftime and slowed them down some.”
The Mustangs opened the second half with an 80-yard drive that saw Gibson finding King, Nunnelly and Zach Eslinger open for a total of 38 yards on four straight pass plays. A Wildcats pass interference call set Walker Valley up at the Hixson 27 where Gibson again found King for 20 yards to the 7-yard line. Two plays later King completed the drive with his second TD that gave the Mustangs their first lead of the night at 27-26.
The Wildcats regained the lead, 32-27, on their first possession of the fourth quarter with a 69-yard drive.
It took the Mustangs only three plays and 70 seconds to grab the lead for good. King broke through the Wildcats’ defense for a 70-yard score and Gibson found Nunnelly open for the two-point conversion to put Walker Valley out front 35-32.
King, who ran for 130 yards on 10 carries, capped a 44-yard drive and put the final touch on the win with a one-yard plunge with just over one minute left in the game.
“You take a win. We’ll take a win anytime even when it’s sloppy,” Ryan said of the overall performance by the Mustangs. “It wasn’t that long ago you play as sloppy as we did tonight and we’d have been killed. That’s a step in the right direction. We just can’t make a habit of it.
“We had a chance to put the game away a lot sooner than we did. But give Hixson a lot of credit. They are well coached and played hard. Our kids fought through adversity. We didn’t play our best game, but we found a way to win.”
The Mustangs will be back inside “The Corral” Friday when they enter their Region 4-5A schedule against McMinn County.
“We’ve got a real tough McMinn County team coming in. That’s a team we’ve never beaten. We’ve got to get ready to play our best ballgame to date. I know they’ll be coming in ready to go,” said Ryan.
Hoof Prints: The Wildcats left points on the field with a missed field goal of 45 yards and had a 36-yard attempt blocked by Walker Valley’s Mason Oran … Hixson ran up 96 first-half penalty yards and ended with a total of 124 while the Mustangs were backed up seven times for 61 yards … The Mustangs made 1-of-3 fourth down conversion attempts. Hixson was 1 for 1 … Walker Valley averaged 11 yards on first-down plays compared to 6.2 for the Wildcats … The Mustangs gave up four sacks.
Walker Valley 7 13 7 15 — 42
Hixson 12 14 0 6 — 32
H — Ladaquis Word 4 run (kick failed), 8:55
WV — Alex King 1 run (Andrew Hannah kick), 3:19
H — Justin Nicholson 19 run (conversion failed), 0:00
H — Word 4 run (conversion failed), 10:21
WV — Kolten Gibson 59 run (kick failed), 9:48
H — Tarik Twitty-Humphrey 40 fumble recovery (Word 2-pt conversion), 3:22
WV — Bryce Nunnelly 42 pass from Gibson (Hannah kick), 2:56
WV — King 8 pass from Gibson (Hannah kick), 7:50
H — Twitty-Humphrey 1 run (conversion failed), 8:20
WV — King 70 run (Nunnelly pass from Woods), 7:10
WV — King 1 run (Hannah kick), 1:16
First downs 19 18
Rushes-yards 27-195 48-304
Passing yards 265 11
Total yards 460 318
Comp-Att-Int 16-23-0 1-7-1
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties 7-61 16-124
Rushing: King 10-130, Gibson 10-56, Jones 7-9 (WV); Twitty-Humphrey 29-210, Myles Ratliff 14-92 (H). Passing: Gibson 16-23, 265 (WV); Word 1-7, 11 (H). Receiving: Nunnelly 3-65, King 5-60, Zach Eslinger 2-52, Tucker Mendenhall 5-46, Cooper Melton 1-42 (WV); Chase Williams 1-11 (H). Records: Walker Valley 1-1; Hixson 0-2.