Walker Valley's Cooper Melton, center, reaches for Ooltewah's Rashun Freeman as he runs for first-half yardage during Friday's game at Ooltewah. Following on the play is Ooltewah's Blake Smith. Ooltewah won 45-44. (Photo by Tim Barber Times Free Press).
Ooltewah's Rashun Freeman scored a season-high five touchdowns, but the most meaningful was last and it was late in the evening.
With his fifth score coming in the second overtime, Freeman put the Owls up 45-38 and kicker Alex Toser's extra point proved to be the winner in a Region 4-5A title-clinching, 45-44 victory over visiting Walker Valley.
Ooltewah (8-2, 5-1 Region 4-5A) will host Clinton in the first round of the Class 5A state playoffs next week.
On the possession after Freeman's last touchdown, Walker Valley (4-6, 2-4) moved within a point on Alex King's 10-yard run to the end zone. Mustangs coach Glen Ryan elected to go for two points, though, and an Ooltewah defense that had been shredded was up to the challenge, tackling King short of the goal line to set off Big Red pandemonium.
It was that kind of game, played before a full house with stands overflowing on each side of the field.
Ryan gambled, no doubt, but his offense had scored more points on Ooltewah than any team in the Owls' first nine games and had kept their defense on the field longer than anyone else. The Mustangs had also already suffered a blocked kick.
"They're a good football team, but their defense was beginning to tire," Ryan said. "We felt like we could punch it in. They hadn't stopped that play (a power read) and Alex (King) thought he saw a cutback and just came up a little short. My hat's off to those guys."
Walker Valley shot itself in the foot twice in the first half or might otherwise have gone into the locker room with a 21-14 lead. The Mustangs had a pass picked off in the end zone by Justin McFarland and then fumbled the ball inside the Owls' 5.
Still, there were challenges answered by each team. Ooltewah went up 28-14, and Walker Valley responded. Toser kicked a 23-yard field goal to return the lead to Ooltewah at 31-28, but the Mustangs' Sam Gibson answered with a 25-yarder with five seconds left on the clock to tie it again.
Walker Valley quarterback Kolten Gibson, who topped the 400-yard mark in total offense, scored from 9 yards out on the first overtime possession — only to be answered by Freeman.
Ooltewah then got the 7-yard scoring run by Freeman and Toser's seventh PAT, setting the stage for King's run and the gamble that came up short.
Coaches told Freeman prior to the game that they were going to lean on him, and he answered the challenge, rushing 20 times for a hard-earned 101 yards. Teammate Cameron Turner added 113 yards on 17 carries.
"They said they were going ride me, and I just tried to rise to the occasion," Freeman said. "And the defense rose to the occasion."
Walker Valley's Gibson led his team's valiant upset bit, running for 105 yards and passing for 309.
Contact Ward Gossett at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.