Walker Valley's Bryce Nunnelly (23) jukes out a Rhea County defender on his way to the end zone to put the Mustangs down by only two points. Nunnelly returned this kickoff 86 yards in the second quarter with 3:51 remaining to cut the Golden Eagles lead to 19-17. (Photo by Paul Pruett)
In an important matchup with playoff implications on the line, Rhea County took on Walker Valley and beat them Friday night 47-32.
If the Mustangs had any hopes of clinching a playoff spot, they needed a win and they didn’t need Cleveland to top Ooltewah 14-7. The loss puts them at (4-5) on the year with a (2-3) record in region 4-5A play. Rhea County on the other hand, moves to (6-3) with a (4-1) record in region competition, which gives them home-field advantage in the playoffs.
Even though it was a hard loss for the Mustangs, head coach Glen Ryan was pleased with the performance of his team.
“It was a tough loss, I thought our kids played well and we had some opportunities and we didn't quite take advantage of the opportunities we had. Our kids didn't quit though and we battled, but it seemed to be a bit one sided on the penalties and that is just part of the game,” Ryan explained.
In the first quarter of action the Mustangs came out ready to play, and it looked as if they had the game in control. Kolton Gibson struck early for Walker Valley by taking a 51-yard run to the house to make it 7-0 with 9:33 remaining in the 1st.
The Golden Eagles struggled to get it going early on, but with 21 seconds left in the 1st, Mason Stephenson broke loose from 8 yards out to make it 7-6.
Walker Valley roared right back on the ensuing drive to start the second quarter with a 25-yard field goal by Sam Gibson. After taking this 10-6 lead, Golden Eagle’s Stephenson had three huge consecutive gains in what led to him breaking away for his 2nd touchdown of the evening to give them a 12-10 lead with 6:55 remaining until half.
Having to punt the ball on their next drive, the Mustangs gave up an easy score with 4:05 on the clock to give Rhea a 19-10 lead. It had seemed this may have been the breaking point for Walker Valley, but instead of hanging their heads, Bryce Nunnelly took it into his own hands and ran back a 86-yard kickoff return to close the gap 19-17.
With the momentum coming back into “The Corral,” it was quickly taken away when Daniel Dotson connected with Noel Patterson to close out the half in scoring and giving Rhea County the 26-17 lead at halftime.
It was a quiet and scoreless third quarter by both squads, where neither side was able to convert their fourth down conversions.
The fourth quarter was a different story though, and it looked like Walker Valley had it in them to make the come from behind victory. With just 42 seconds elapsed off the clock, Alex King made the 4 and 1 burst over the goal line to bring back a boost of excitement by making it a 26-24 ballgame.
But just as the Mustangs had answered in the first half with a big kickoff return, so did the Golden Eagles when Patterson returned it all the way for 98 yards making it 33-24 with 11:01 remaining. The addition of points to Rhea County’s score was not over just yet due to them tacking on a Stephenson score from 10 yards out, and Dotson getting another one of his own to give them the lead 47-24.
Walker Valley put together one last final drive, which ended with Gibson connecting with Cooper Melton to finalize action at 47-32.
The rushing attack was just too strong by the Golden Eagles in how they rushed for 370 yards, and had their star running back score three touchdowns on the night.
There were times of success for the Mustangs defense, but it was just not consistent enough to hang with Rhea County.
“We just got to keep playing defense and keep making plays on offense, and be consistent. There were times where we had some really good series and times when we let down,” Ryan commented. “That is part of the growing process and like I said, I am proud of the kids and we just got to keep trucking. Ooltewah is a great football team and so is Rhea County, but we feel like we have a great football team too. Our record doesn't show it, but we feel like we have some good kids here and anything can happen.”
If they look to be successful against Ooltewah, or have any chance in the playoff scenario, then they must be able to go mistake free next Friday night.
Walker Valley will travel up 1-75 to take on a shaken up Ooltewah team to end the regular season, and possibly the season in general.
Rhea County 6 20 0 21 — 47
Walker Valley 7 10 0 15 — 32
WV-Kolten Gibson 55 run (Sam Gibson kick), 9:33
RC-Mason Stephenson 10 run (kick failed), 0:21
WV- Gibson 25-yd Field Goal, 8:03
RC-Stephenson 15 run (pass failed), 6:55
RC-Noel Patterson 30 pass from Daniel Dotson (Bodhi Buffenbarger kick), 4:05
WV-Bryce Nunnelly 86 kick return (Gibson kick), 3:51
RC-Patterson 21 pass from Daniel Dotson (Buffenbarger kick), 0:23
WV-Alex King 1 run (Gibson kick), 11:18
RC-Patterson 99 kick return (Buffenbarger kick), 11:01
RC-Stephenson 10 run (Buffenbarger kick), 6:53
RC-Dotson 3 run (Buffenbarger kick), 4:26
WV-Cooper Melton 34 pass from Gibson (Pass good), 1:58
First downs WV 13 RC 23
Rushes-yards WV 27-125 RC 53-370
Passing yards WV 198 RC 77
Total yards WV 323 RC 447
Comp-Att-Int WV 16-30-1 RC 3-8-0
Fumbles-Lost WV 1-1 RC 1-1
Penalties WV 6-70 RC 9-111
Cody Bice 14-100
Dylan Smith 9-61
Zach Eslinger 4-31
Walker Valley (4-5)
Rhea County (6-3)