Soddy-Daisy, Tenn. -- Lightning bolts weren’t only spotted around Robert Talaska Field, but quick flashes out of the backfield helped Soddy Daisy defeat Walker Valley, 41-34, in the early hours of Saturday morning. The victory ended a two-game skid for Justin Barnes’ squad, which looks to be his most promising yet.
Senior’s Christian Bell, Tre Carter and junior Justin Cooke ran wild on the Mustangs defense as they combined for over 300 yards on the ground and five rushing touchdowns.
“We had a strong confidence in the run game,” third-year head coach Justin Barnes said after the win. “We had a three-headed monster, they all had great success running the football. It was a testament to how well our offensive line and receivers were blocking too.”
Bell finished with one of his top highlight performances of the season as he powered his way ahead for 178 rushing yards and three touchdown runs to help the Trojans improve to 5-2 and 3-1 in Region 5-A. The win also locked his team into the playoffs.
“It’s just awesome, and I’m blessed,” Bell said, who now has 12 rushing touchdowns on the season. “I give all the glory to God. My lineman did a great job tonight. They are really balanced with power and speed and helped opened up the blocks for me tonight. Our receivers and quarterback played great too.”
What has become a familiar sight so far this season, Carter provided a spark on special teams early for Soddy Daisy as he took a 95-yard kickoff return to the house to open the game.
Walker Valley (3-4, 1-2) threw an interception on what looked to be a productive first drive before senior safety Jacob Jordan made a nice read on a miss-fired pass over the middle by Kolten Gibson and returned it for 23 yards.
The Mustangs first score came off a 28-yard field goal to cut the deficit to 6-3 and then forced the Trojans to punt before the officials signaled for each side to head to the locker rooms with 2:57 left in the first quarter as dangerous weather approached.
After the long delay, Gibson found his mark through the air despite tossing around a slick football.
Three quick scores from the sophomore quarterback of 56 yards to Zach Eslinger and 42 and 22 yards to Bryce Nunnelly, gave Walker Valley a 24-12 lead at halftime.
Gibson completed 13-of-27 passes for 233 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. Nunnelly had three long touchdowns and an interception on defense.
“Our defense has been playing well for the most part lately, we just have to cut out those big plays against us,” Barnes said. “We made the necessary corrections, but the second quarter was one to forget.”
Carter accounted for both scores in the first half for the Trojans. The Tennessee baseball verbal commit scored a rushing touchdown on a 43-yard sweep down the right sideline. The wide receiver finished with a team-high 44 receiving yards and also had four carries for 78 yards, which marked his best performance carrying the football out of the backfield this season.
“On a night like this, you have to find a way to get him the ball,” Barnes said. “When he and Bell have the ball in their hands, they can do great things with it. That’s why they are back on kick return as well. We want to let them be playmakers.”
The second half belonged to Bell, who gashed his opposition for over 100 yards in the second half alone running the football.
Soddy Daisy scored the only two touchdowns of the third quarter as Cooke and Bell provided rushing scores from three and 17 yards out to suddenly take a 26-24 lead into the fourth quarter.
Cooke finished with 131 passing yards on 11-of-20 passing.
Both sides went back and forth until the Trojans starting tailback broke free on a 51-yard scamper, Bell’s longest of the night, to bring the ball down to Walker Valley’s 29-yard line with just over four minutes left to play.
Soddy Daisy took precious time off the clock before Bell went straight up the middle behind strong blocks from his offensive line for a four-yard touchdown run with 1:23 left to play.
“We have had motivation this season to prove to everyone we are not under-performers,” Bell said. “Some didn’t believe in us, but our fans did, we did and our coaches did. We put in the hard work in the weight room and all throughout the offseason. We are grateful for all that we have accomplished so far.”
Victory was sealed just after midnight as the Trojans defense locked down in the secondary and had a tipped pass on third down by junior Jordan Day and a fourth down stop to end the game as Gibson’s pass fell incomplete.
Soddy Daisy will take to the road next week to face Rhea County in a contest between two legitimate playoff contenders.
“We have to take care of business and win out to be No. 1 or No. 2 and host a first round playoff game,” Barnes said. “Hopefully we can lock that up and take a big step in the right direction again next week.”
Walker Valley 17 | 7 | 0 | 10 - 34
Soddy Daisy 6 | 6 | 14 | 15 - 41
SD- Tre Carter 95-yard kick return (kick no good) 6-0 11:42 1Q
WV- Tucker Mendenhall 29-yard field goal 6-3 3:59 1Q
WV- Zach Eslinger 56-yard pass from Kolten Gibson (kick good) 10-6 1:54 1Q
WV- Bryce Nunnelly 42-yard pass from Kolten Gibson (kick good) 17-6 0:00 1Q
SD- Tre Carter 43-yard run Tre Carter (failed two-point conversion) 17-12 10:40 2Q
WV- Bryce Nunnelly 22-yard pass from Kolten Gibson (kick good) 24-12 9:05 2Q
SD- Justin Cooke 3-yard run (kick good) 24-19 8:13 3Q
SD- Christian Bell 17-yard run (kick good) 26-24 5:07 3Q
WV- 29-yard field goal 27-26 10:36 4Q
SD- Christian Bell 6-yard run (Bell two-point conversion) 34-27 5:39 4Q
WV- Bryce Nunnelly 80-yard pass from Kolten Gibson (kick good) 34-34 5:26 4Q
SD: Christian Bell 4-yard touchdown run (kick good) 41-34 1:23 4Q