Chattanooga, Tenn.-- With nearly no luck in trying to stop a Walker Valley offensive attack led by sophomore Kolten Gibson from the fourth quarter on, Ooltewah’s gassed defense knew it had to hold its ground for one final play.
Just after Rashun Freeman’s career-high fifth rushing touchdown to start the second overtime, Mustang running back Alex King answered back with a 10-yard scamper down the right visitor’s sideline at James N. Monroe Stadium for a score. Realizing there was little to lose and much to gain at the time, Head Coach Glen Ryan sent his offense back out on the field for a two-point conversion to try and spoil the Owls senior night and region championship hopes.
However, two standout defenders put a stamp on the 45-44 victory for the Owls, as linebackers Jeremiah Jackson and Tyler Reid got to the edge and helped bring down King on a halfback sweep two yards shy of the end zone to end the game. Immediately after, the red sea of Ooltewah jerseys on the home sideline along with Head Coach Mac Bryan ran out to celebrate a third straight region championship.
“A game like this builds a lot of confidence and a lot of character when you have to find a way to win in double-overtime,” said Bryan, who is three-for-three in region championships in his time at Ooltewah. “This was my first overtime game we’ve played since I’ve been here and for us to come away with a third straight region championship for the seniors was special. From here on out it will be survive and advance.”
Jackson, who broke the 100 tackle mark on the season and recorded his 400th career tackle in the first quarter, was mobbed by teammates and surrounded by coaches after helping create a game-changing stop. The winded, emotionally exhausted and ill senior middle linebacker took several minutes before he could say any words to express the emotions he felt after a monumental win Friday night for the Owls (8-2, 5-1 Region 4-5A).
“It’s a great feeling,” said Jackson, who had been dealing with a stomach virus all week. “This game definitely drained me, but we gave up more points than we should have. It hasn’t hit me yet. Winning three region championships in a row is unreal.”
While the Ooltewah defense entered the final regular season contest having only allowed just under eight points per game and only two opponents to score in double digits, a youthful, but extremely talented Walker Valley offense gave them a run for the money.
Gibson led a quick-paced offense for the Mustangs (4-6, 2-4) and was extremely efficient through the air as well as deadly with his legs.
Despite trailing 28-14 after a 17-yard touchdown run by Cameron Turner with just over 10 minutes left to play in the fourth quarter, the right-handed dual-threat quarterback led his team back into the game.
In the final quarter alone, Gibson totaled 65 passing yards, which included a 38-yard touchdown pass to King, and 49 rushing yards, which included a 15-yard touchdown run to tie things at 28-all with 5:41 left to play in regulation.
Gibson finished what would be Walker Valley’s final game of the 2015 season by setting the program’s single-game passing record with 304 yards on 29-of-40 completions and two touchdown passes. He also rushed for a team-best 105 yards on 12 carries and three touchdowns.
“Walker Valley has the best offense we’ve played all year in my opinion,” Jackson said. “Their quarterback is one heck of a player, you won’t see many like him.”
While Gibson made a living off of screen passes to King and several of his talented junior receivers, on several occasions he threw deep strikes downfield that helped spark a 17-point fourth quarter for the Mustangs.
He also displayed his trust in his receivers in the third quarter when he lobbed a pass to the left, front corner of the end zone that junior receiver Cooper Melton caught over a leaping defender for a six-yard score, his eighth of the season.
“(Kolten) is special,” Coach Ryan said. “He’s got a lot of talented juniors around him that are special too. We will only lose our starting senior center on offense and we will grow from this. Tonight showed our team just how close we are. We have a lot to be excited about with the future of Walker Valley football.
"These guys laid it all out there and they kept battling and battling. I’m super proud of them. It should hurt that we lost, because we laid it all out there, but we are going to bounce back from this. We are going to come back bigger and stronger.”
Both quarterbacks threw the ball well in important situations as senior London Elrod engineered a crucial drive late in the fourth quarter, in which he completed five passes for 46 yards to help set up a made 23-yard field goal from junior Aleksander Toser to give Ooltewah a 31-28 lead with 1:34 left.
Walker Valley benefited on its final drive of regulation from a pass interference call against the defense that brought Sam Gibson within his range to sneak a 25-yard field goal just through the inside of the right upright with 5.4 seconds remaining.
Both teams scored in the first and second overtime, as the ball was spotted for each 10 yards out from the end zone, while the crucial play at the end went the Owls way to conclude a memorable senior night.
“We were able to match their scoring in overtime and Rashun gave us a big performance,” Bryan said. “When they went for two, which on the road in the second overtime, that is a good standard strategy. I would’ve gone for two if I was at their place too.”
Elrod finished with 238 passing yards on 21-of-35 completions while Turner and Freeman both totaled just over 100 yards rushing, with Freeman boosting his rushing touchdown total in the regular season from nine to 14. Senior defensive tackle Nick Putman had two sacks for Ooltewah.
“Elrod made the throws, and we had great pass protection tonight,” Bryan said. “We ran the ball about as well as we ever have since I’ve been here too. Tonight was just the first night we’ve had trouble stopping anyone defensively.”
Freeman, who also leads his team in interceptions this season, finished with 13 carries for 102 yards to go with three catches for 22 yards.
“We were shocked at first when they came back, but we knew our defense could stand tall in the end,” Freeman said. “They said they were going to ride me tonight offensively, so I just rose to the occasion.”
For Walker Valley, King produced a dynamic night with 66 rushing yards and caught 10 passes for 112 yards. He finished with his 17th rushing touchdown of the season and also caught his third reception for a touchdown to end a stellar junior season.
Zach Eslinger finished with seven receptions for 91 yards while Bryce Nunnelly had six catches for 34 yards and Melton finished with four for 29 and a score. All three juniors will return next season.
“I’m really proud of how we fought,” Eslinger said. “We never gave up and we believed. We started this thing on our wrist tape and it says believe. I felt like nobody believed in us, but just looking at how close we came tonight can change that and give us momentum for next season.”
Ooltewah will move on to the playoffs as the No. 1 seed and will have a home matchup next Friday against Clinton to begin the 5A playoffs.
Walker Valley 7 | 0 | 7 | 17| 7 | 6- 44
Ooltewah 7 | 7 | 7 | 10 |7 | 7- 45
WV: Kolten Gibson 16 yard run (Tucker Mendenhall kick). 7-0 WV. 9:06
O: Rashun Freeman 11 yard run (Aleksander Toser kick). 7-7 T. 1:16
O: Rashun Freeman 5 yard run (Aleksander Toser kick). 14-7 O. 10:25
O: Rashun Freeman 4 yard run (Alexsander Toser kick). 21-7 O. 7:48
WV: Kolten Gibson 6 yard pass to Cooper Melton (Tucker Mendenhall kick). 21-14 O. 2:38
O: Cameron Turner 17 yard run (Aleksander Toser kick). 28-14 O. 10:19
WV: Kolten Gibson 38 yard pass to Alex King (Tucker Mendenhall kick). 28-21 O.8:17
WV: Kolten Gibson 15 yard run (Tucker Mendenhall kick). 28-28 T. 5:41
O: Aleksander Toser 23 yard field goal. 31-28 O. 1:34
WV: Sam Gibson 25 yard field goal. 31-31 T. 0:05
WV: Kolten Gibson 9 yard run (Tucker Mendenhall kick). 38-31 WV
O: Rashun Freeman 10 yard run (Aleksander Toser kick). 38-38 T
O: Rashun Freeman 3 yard run (Aleksander Toser kick). 45-38 O
WV: Alex King 10 yard run (two point conversion run by Alex King no good). 45-44 O
Contact Patrick MacCoon at email@example.com or follow him on Twitter @RCS_Patrick