Walker Valley's Cooper Melton makes the catch despite being in the grip of several McMinn County defensemen. (Banner Photo: George Norkus)
Earlier in the week, Walker Valley coach Glen Ryan felt that the million-dollar question in Friday’s game against McMinn County would be if his defense could contain running back DJ Kimpson.
It's a good thing that was a hypothetical million dollars in question, because Kimpson proved to be too much for the Mustangs to handle as he put up 20 points in the Cherokees’ 37-19 win at “The Corral.”
When it was all said and done, McMinn’s star running back had a total of 255 yards on 41 attempts, which was 26 yards more than the Mustangs’ total yardage in the game.
For the Walker Valley coach, there wasn’t much to be positive about after the game.
“They just whipped us up front all night. We didn’t slow them down and we didn’t protect. We couldn’t get any running game going because they shut down our offensive line. They blew us up on defense,” Ryan stated. “Give them credit, they came to play and we didn’t play — they won a football game.”
The night didn’t necessarily start out on a bad note for Walker Valley.
Quarterback Kolten Gibson was able to connect with Bryce Nunnelly on the third play of their possession for a 51-yard touchdown reception. The extra point by Sam Gibson gave the Mustangs a 7-0 lead over the Tribe with 9:33 left in the first quarter.
A little under five minutes and 11 plays later, Kimpson crossed into the end zone for the first time of the night, for a 5-yard touchdown with 4:58 remaining in the opening quarter.
The Cherokees forced a quick 3-and-out and took over possession with 3:38 left.
Six plays later, Kimpson took a short 1-yard trip across the goal line to put McMinn up 13-7.
In the second quarter, Kimpson had a 24-yard run into the end zone at 8:44, giving the Cherokees a 19-7 lead.
Walker Valley was able to break up the visitor’s momentum a little over three minutes later.
Having worked their way from their own 42-yard line towards pay dirt in nine plays, Gibson found Cooper Melton for a 24-yard touchdown reception. The Mustangs’ extra point attempt was no good, but the Cherokees were still within range and only a touchdown ahead.
Any momentum that Walker Valley had begun to build up was soon drained, as Xavier Abernathy added another touchdown for the Tribe on a 53-yard run, which came on their fourth play of the possession.
McMinn made up for their two previous failed extra point attempts with a 2-point conversion pass from quarterback Bradley Hayes to Roman Lockmiller.
Walker Valley took over the ball at their own 35-yard-line with 4:02 left on the clock.
Gibson was able to rely on his receivers to work the ball down the field and 10 plays later, fired off a 20-yard pass to Tucker Mendenhall, who was waiting in the end zone. The Mustangs attempted a 2-point conversion, but came up short.
Gibson connected with Melton one more time in the second quarter, but a holding call on offense negated the touchdown. The northern Bradley County team attempted a 45-yard field goal, but it was just short of the crossbars.
Walker Valley went into halftime training McMinn County 27-19.
Both teams were held at a standstill in the third quarter, but the Cherokees came up with 10 more points in the final 12 minutes of the game.
After having a touchdown called back on their opening play of the fourth quarter due to an illegal man downfield call, McMinn answered with a 44-yard run by Andre Smith for a touchdown at 11:44. Kimpson saw the end zone one last time on a 2-point conversion.
Trailing 35-19, the Mustangs’ offense found themselves unable to close the gap on the scoreboard.
The Cherokees final two points came off a safety by Lockmiller with 1:49 remaining on the clock.
The McMinn County squad closed out the game by taking a knee three times in a row.
“We’ve got some talent here, but until we start getting a little nastier attitude up front and a little nastier on defense, we’re not going to get it done. We’re giving up way too many points on defense, we’ve got to get better,” Ryan said.
Walker Valley was held to just 229 yards Friday night, with only one rushing yard.
Gibson was 21-for-30 for a total of 228 yards and three touchdowns. Melton had seven receptions for 77 yards, Mendenhall had six receptions for 64 yards and Nunnelly had one reception for 51 yards. All three receivers had a touchdown in the game.
McMinn County put up a total of 460 yards, with 455 of those yards coming from rushing attempts.
Smith had 88 yards on 6 attempts and Abernathy had 82 yards on nine attempts. Both Smith and Abernathy had a touchdown as well.
The Mustangs were able to play a cleaner game than the Cherokees, and had only four penalties for 22 yards in comparison to the visitor’s 11 penalties for 90 yards.
For Coach Ryan, the time to be concerned has arrived.
“You hate to say in the third ballgame that it’s getting critical, but it’s getting critical for us if we’re going to have the kind of year we’ve been hoping to have,” he explained.
“When players don’t play well in a night, I’ve got to look and see what we need to do better. We didn’t do well and that’s on me. I have to find a way to get us better because we haven’t come close to reaching our potential yet. It’s a real concern.”
Walker Valley hosts Coffee County on Friday at 7:00 p.m.
McMinn County 13 14 0 10 — 37
Walker Valley 7 12 0 0 — 19
WV — Bryce Nunnelly 51 pass from Kolten Gibson (Sam Gibson kick), 9:33
MC — DJ Kimpson 5 run (Treavor McDonald kick), 4:58
MC — Kimpson 1 run (kick failed), 1:21
MC — Kimpson 24 run (kick failed), 8:44
WV — Cooper Melton 24 pass from Gibson (kick failed), 5:18
MC — Xavier Abernathy 53 run (Bradley Hayes to Roman Lockmiller), 4:10
WV — Tucker Mendenhall 20 pass from Gibson (conversion failed), 0:52
MC — Andre Smith 44 run (Kimpson run), 11:40
MC — Lockmiller safety, 1:49
First downs 24 15
Rushes-yards 65-455 18-1
Passing 15 228
Total yards 460 229
Comp-Att-Int 4-5-1 21-23-0
Punts-Avg. 2-29.5 3-22.7
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 0-0
Penalties-yards 11-90 4-22
Rushing: Alex King 5-15, Kolten Gibson 13- -14 (WV); DJ Kimpson 41-255, 3 TD, Andre Smith 6-88, TD, Xavier Abernathy 9-82, TD, Bradley Hayes 9-30 (MC). Passing: Gibson 21-33-0, 228, 3 TD (WV); Hayes 4-5-1, 15 (MC). Receiving: Cooper Melton 7-77, TD, Tucker Mendenhall 6-64, TD, Bryce Nunnelly 1-51, TD, Zach Eslinger 3-20, Alex King 4-20 (WV); Zane Byas 1-14, Collin Hockman 2-7, Smith 1- -6 (MC). Records: McMinn County 2-1, 1-0 Region 4-5A; Walker Valley 1-2, 0-1 Region 4-5A.