WALKER VALLEY senior Cooper Melton (31) is pulled down by Bradley Central junior Cameron Thompson (32) after gaining some of his 113 yards in Thursday night’s season opener at Bear Stadium. (Banner Photo, Paul Pruett)
The fact the scoreboard got lit up for 68 points didn’t surprise anyone at the “County Conflict” in Bear Stadium Thursday night, but the varied manner of how it occurred proved interesting.
Fifth-ranked (6A) Bradley Central took advantage of a trio of key miscues by eighth-ranked (5A) Walker Valley for three touchdowns in the first 5 1/2 minutes. The hosts, known for their passing attack, scored on four short runs, a kickoff return and a halfback pass.
As expected, the Mustangs fought back with a deft aerial attack of their own, but in the end, digging themselves a 14-point hole in the first five minutes proved too much to overcome, as the Bears claimed their 11th victory in a dozen tries over the Herd from the north end of the county.
“A win is a win,” declared Bradley head coach Damon Floyd after the 40-28 victory. “I told the guys after the game, that’s probably the ugliest wins we’ve ever had. We made some boneheaded plays and messed up some of our formations, but we also came through with some big plays when we needed them, and were able to take advantage of opportunities.
“We were able to do some things we wanted to do, especially running the ball (for 211 yards), but overall it wasn’t pretty. We’ve got a lot of things to fix before next week, but we’ll take it.”
The Bears will be remain home next Friday night as McMinn County comes to town to renew the second-longest continuous rivalry in the state, while Walker Valley will hold its home opener at “The Corral” with Hixson slated to pay a visit.
In last year’s game, Bradley opened the season with a bang as Cason Still ran back the opening kickoff 91 yards for a touchdown.
This time around it was sophomore Cole Reyer who started the Bear attack, jarring the ball loose from a Mustang return man on the game’s first play and then pouncing on it at the Walker 24-yard line.
Six plays later junior Adam Mullis powered into the end zone from four yards out with just 122 seconds gone off the clock.
Walker Valley was able to hold onto the football on the ensuing return, but after the Bear “D” forced a three-and-out, the ball was snapped over the Mustang punter’s head for a 26-yard loss, setting the hosts up just 15 yards shy of paydirt.
After losing yardage on their first two plays, Bradley offensive coordinator Keith Freeman dug into his bag of tricks for a halfback pass from junior Devin Moore to classmate Nick Howell for a 19-yard TD. Senior all-state QB Cole Copeland ran the ball in for the two-point conversion to put the Bears up 14-0 with 7:10 still left in the opening quarter.
Down, but not out, head coach Glen Ryan’s offense retook the field and looked more like the Stallions they’ve recently been, breaking senior Alex King free on a 23-yard dash that Bear junior Jake Presley prevented from being six points with a TD-saving tackle.
On the next play, junior signal caller Kolten Gibson threw a swing pass out to senior Cooper Melton, who made a couple of Bears miss and went 51 yards to the house for the first Blue-and-Navy score of the season.
After senior Sam Gibson tacked on the extra point, his ensuing kickoff went out of bounds, but instead of taking the ball at their own 35, the Bradley coaches elected for a rekick and it showed why immediately as junior Lameric Tucker snagged the ball at his own 13 and was off to the races for an 87-yard return to paydirt. Sophomore Clay Shoemaker added the PAT to complete a string of 22 points going up on the scoreboard in a 50-second span.
The first quarter scoring wasn’t done, as Walker Valley put together an 11-play drive after the ensuing kickoff, covering 82 yards, with senior Alex King becoming the school’s all-time scoring leader (186 points) on a 4-yard plunge. Sam Gibson split the uprights to cap the 35-point opening period.
After another out-of-bounds kickoff and rekick, a pair of Mustang penalties pushed the Bears over midfield once again, with Mullis picking up his second score of the night on a 2-yard run to cap a nine-play march for the lone touchdown of the second quarter.
Walker Valley had a chance to tack on three points when Sam Gibson booted a 38-yard field goal just before the half, but their ninth penalty of the opening 24 minutes took the points back off the board.
Each team scored twice in the second half, with the Bears capping an eight-play drive with a Moore 2-yard plunge in the third frame and Howell also scoring from two yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter. Both drives started in Mustang territory after a shanked punt set them up at the 45 on the first series and a failed onside kick and ensuing unsportsmanlike penalty put the ball at the 34.
The visitors scored in both second half frames as well, the first coming on a 45-yard hookup from Gibson to senior Dylan Towers, who had the ball knocked loose by Bear safety Cason Still. The ball rolled forward to the 10-yard line, where Mustang Cody Morfield scooped it up and ran it into the end zone.
The game’s final score came during Walker Valley’s final possession when it drove 67 yards on eight plays, with Gibson (who set a school record with 374 passing yards) hitting senior Zach Eslinger for a seven-yard strike with 1:39 to go.
“Our playmakers had good games, both Kolten (Gibson) and Alex (King) set school records, but you can’t spot any team, especially one as good as Bradley, 14 points and expect to win,” lamented Coach Ryan. “Even after we settled down and got our first score, then we turn right around and give up a kick return for a touchdown. We have got to make plays when it counts.”
“All of the concerns I had earlier in the week (mistakes, turnovers, penalties) came to a head. The good news is while this is an emotional loss, it doesn’t affect our ultimate goal of making the playoffs,” the veteran mentor assessed. “We have got to put this game behind us quickly and get ready for the next one.”
While King finished with 67 yards on 16 carries, as a team the Mustangs tallied just 11 yards on the ground with more than 60 yards subtracted on bad snaps.
Gibson completed 28-of-40 passes, but had one picked off by Bear junior Jay Person at the 5-yard line and returned 27 yards.
Melton, the leading receiver in Mustang history, pulled in a half dozen passes for 113 yards, while Eslinger pulled in 10 receptions for 75 yards and Tennessee-Chattanooga commitment Bryce Nunnelly gained 98 yards on five catches.
The Bears, who are also known for their passing attack, purposely stayed on the ground the vast majority of the night, gaining 211 yards on 49 carries. “We wanted to establish our running game and keep their offense off the field as much as possible,” explained Coach Floyd.
Moore, who broke his leg in the fifth game last season, came back with a vengeance, with 147 all-purpose yards. The junior powered his way to 102 yards on 16 carries, caught a 26-yard pass and threw the 19-yard toss on the halfback pass TD.
“Devin played great tonight,” praised Coach Floyd. “He did everything we asked of him, and then some.”
Mullis helped out with 60 yards on 16 carries himself, including the two scores, while Howell had 19 yards on four rushes and caught a pair of passes for 39 yards.
Copeland, who has also committed to UTC, completed 9-of-17 pass attempts, for 125 yards and gained another 33 yards on 10 carries, but only found the end zone on a two-point conversion.
Walker Valley 14 0 7 7 — 28
Bradley Central 21 7 6 6 — 40
BC — Adam Mullis 4-yd. run (kick failed), 9:58
BC — Nick Howell 19-yd. pass from Devin Moore (Cole Copeland run), 7:10
WV — Cooper Melton 51-yd. pass from Kolten Gibson (Sam Gibson kick), 6:42
BC — Lameric Tucker 87-yd. kickoff return (Clay Shoemaker kick), 6:20
WV — Alex King 4-yd. run (S. Gibson kick), 2:19
BC — Mullis 2-yd. run (Shoemaker kick), 10:50
BC — Devin Moore 2-yd. run (kick failed), 2:40
WV — Cody Morfield 10-yd. fumble return (S. Gibson kick), 1:48
BC — Nick Howell 2-yd. run (run failed), 11:58
WV — Zach Eslinger 7-yd. pass from K. Gibson (S. Gibson kick), 1:39
First downs (WV) 18 (BC) 20
Rushes-yards (WV) 25-11 (BC) 49-211
Passing yards (WV) 368 (BC) 125
Total yards (WV) 379 (BC) 336
Comp-Att-Int (WV) 28-40-1 (BC) 9-17-0
Punts -Ave. (WV) 2-35.5 (BC) 2-35.0
Fumbles-Lost (WV) 2-1 (BC) 1-1
Penalties (WV) 11-85 (BC) 10-115
Alex King 16-67 1 TD,
Kolten Gibson 2-6,
Bryce Nunnelly 1-4,
Mason Oran 1- -5,
Team 6- -61 (WV);
Devin Moore 16-102 TD,
Adam Mullis 16-60 2 TDs,
Cole Copeland 10-33,
Nick Howell 4-19 TD,
Lameric Tucker 2-0,
Team 1- -3 (BC).
Kolten Gibson 28-40-1 368
Cole Copeland 8-14-0 106
Devin Moore 1-1-0 19 TD
Nick Howell 0-1-0 0
Dylan Stanifer 0-1-0 0
Cooper Melton 6-113 TD,
Bryce Nunnelly 5-98,
Zach Eslinger 10-75 TD,
Dylan Towers 3-65,
Alex King 2-18,
Tucker Mendenhall 2-11,
Mason Oran 1- -1 (WV).
Lameric Tucker 3-40,
Nick Howell 2-39 TD,
Stephen Muhonen 3-20,
Devin Moore 1-26 (BC).
Bradley Central 1-0; Walker Valley 0-1.
Bradley Central junior Devin Moore (5) takes a handoff from Bear QB Cole Copeland (10) and picks up a block from teammate Tucker Bentley (54) to break away from a would-be Walker Valley tackler for some of his 147 all-purpose yards. The fifth-ranked (6A) Black-and-Gold downed the eighth-ranked (5A) Mustangs 40-28 at Bear Stadium in the season opener Thursday evening. (Banner Photo, Kevin Cannon)