Mustangs Looking For Big Region Win Over Cherokees

Walker Valley receiver Bryce Nunnelly (23) and the Mustangs will try to retain momentum when they travel to Athens on Friday, for a District 4-5A game against the McMinn County Cherokees. (Banner Photo: Lynnae Roberts)

In just two games, Walker Valley has already seen its fair share of highs and lows.

The team is looking to keep the good times going on Friday as the Mustangs make the short trip north to Athens.

How do you top an impressively long, weather-drawn-out 59-7, Week 2 win? By opening up your region play with a win.

“The big thing is, it’s our first region game. If we’re going to do something it’s important to get off to a good start in the region,” Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan said. “McMinn has a tough team and is a tough place to play. We’ve really got our work cut out for us.”

Or even better, you can open up your region play with a win and also make history in Week 3.

Awaiting the No. 9 Class 5A Mustangs (1-1) will be the McMinn County Cherokees (1-1), a team that has been a thorn in Walker Valley’s side for nearly 10 years.

“It’s definitely a big one, because it is the first region game, but secondly, that’s a team that we haven’t been able get. It’d be nice to get both of those in one night,” Ryan commented.

Since they began playing each other in 2007, The Tribe has a 9-0 record over the Mustangs. To date, McMinn has outscored Walker Valley 312-95.

The closest game between the two schools came in 2014, when the Cherokees edged out a 28-24 win over a favored Mustang squad.

“We’ve just got to play, we can’t let all the other stuff get in our way. We have to go out and play hard, play from the first whistle to the last and then the chips can fall where they may,” the coach commented. “What we don’t want to do is let all this other stuff in and start making mistakes, because then we are beating ourselves. If we get beat by an opponent when we’ve given it everything that we’ve got, you can walk away with your head held high. If you get beat by an opponent after making mistake after mistake and basically giving them the game, that’s a hard one to swallow.”

The Cherokees started off their season with a 41-6 win over McMinn Central, but were knocked back down to earth in Week 2 in a 39-7 loss at Bradley Central.

Offensively, McMinn has changed to the Wing-T because its coach felt it fit his personnel better. According to Ryan, the Tribe’s physicality and gritty style of play remain a concern.

“They’ve got big, physical linemen up front on both sides of the ball and a ton of skill people that they rotate in, so they will keep fresh legs going and have good speed. We’ve got to try to find a way to stop them on offense and score when we’re on offense,” Ryan explained. “Wing is one of those things that everybody used to run and now hardly anyone runs it. They call it old-fashioned, but it’s such a tough offense to defend. When you don’t see it very often that just makes it tougher. You’ve really got to be disciplined and play your assignments.”

Walker Valley showed drastic improvements from Week 1 to Week 2 and is looking to keep the momentum going in Week 3.

“We didn’t play as many guys both ways Week 2, so that helped keep us fresher. By doing that, we were able to play our better players on special teams, which definitely helped shore up our special teams. Those are the two biggest differences from Week 1 to Week 2,” Ryan said. “We have to constantly make improvements each week. It doesn’t have to be major, but we have to work on getting better and better each week.”

Junior quarterback Kolten Gibson is off to a strong start, having completed 38-of-57 attempted passes for 634 yards and four touchdowns.

“Kolten is having a good year and has a lot of targets to throw to,” the coach said.

Bryce Nunnelly has racked up 190 yards and a touchdown on seven receptions, with Cooper Melton having 149 yards and two TD’s on eight receptions. Zach Eslinger has a touchdown and 121 yards on 14 receptions.

The Mustangs’ run game is still working to ramp things up, as teams have done their best to stifle it in the box.

“We’ve got to keep working on our ground game and get them more balanced. That’s the fun part about this offense, if you want to pack in there to stop the run, then you’re going to be vulnerable through the air, because it’s not just one guy you have to defend, you have to defend against all of them,” Ryan detailed. “Right now, teams have been packing in pretty tight to stop our run game, but we’ve been able to throw for 300-plus yards a game.”

Alex King has been held to 144 yards on 28 carries and in total, the team only has 173 yards on the ground. King has proven to be a threat in the air as well,and has come up with 110 yards on four receptions.

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