THE Walker Valley Mustangs will look to regroup and refocus in their Week 4 matchup at Coffee County. Here, quarterback Kolten Gibson (3) runs the ball during last week’s game at McMinn County. (Photo: George Norkus)
After blowing a 14-point lead to lose 24-21 to McMinn County last week, if there was ever a time for Walker Valley to regroup, it is now.
Regrouping is just what the Mustangs are looking to do Friday, with a trip to Manchester on tap.
“At this point we’ve kind of sputtered around again so we’ve had to regroup and refocus, trust in each other and get back to the basics,” Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan said. “We need to go up there and get better as a team.”
The Mustangs head over Monteagle Mountain with a 1-2 record and, hopefully, their coach says, a chip on their shoulders.
Last year, Coffee County defeated Walker Valley 41-29 in what turned out to be a 3-8 season for the Red Raiders. Coming into 2016’s Week 4, both teams are currently sitting at 1-2 records.
Coffee County defeated Tullahoma 49-10 in their season opener and has since dropped games to Pope John Paul II and Smyrna. This week also marks the Raiders’ first home game of the season.
“They are athletic and have a quarterback who is very athletic,” Ryan said. “The quarterback is kind of the focus of their offense and we’ve got to find a way to keep him pinned up. They’ve got a pretty good running back and some fast guys out on the edge, too.”
The Manchester team is reportedly big up front on both sides of the ball as well.
“We have to play really good defense and we’ve got to get our offense back on track and put points on the board,” Ryan commented.
“Really good defense” should not be an issue for the Mustangs, as a number of their defensive players are among the top in the area.
Skyler Swafford currently has a total of 44 tackles, 25 solo and 19 assists. Nine of Swafford’s tackles have been for a loss and he also has one sack. Cody Morfield follows closely with a total of 39 tackles, 13 solo and 26 assists. Isiah Alston also has more than 30 tackles total, with a total of 34. Alston has 17 solo tackles to his name and has been in on 17 others.
Running back Alex King may have been held to 157 yards so far this season, but he is Walker Valley’s leading scorer with a total of five touchdowns for 30 points.
Kolten Gibson leads the area’s quarterbacks with a total of 826 yards. Gibson has completed 63-percent of his passes and thrown for five touchdowns.
This week in practice, Walker Valley has been focused on going back to basics, trusting in the process and playing as a team.
“Our players have to trust the process. Our practice plans are set up to work all three phases of the game, to install an offensive and defensive game plan each week for the upcoming opponent. They’ve got to trust that by the end of the week, things that our opponents are going to do have been covered and their job is to go out and execute in that plan,” the coach detailed.
“We have to understand that it’s a team effort. When you play and the team is the center focal point, that’s when the individual accolades will come as well, because as the team succeeds, the individuals will have success. It doesn’t work the other way around. When things aren’t going good, it’s easy to fall back into that old mindset of ‘Oh I’m going to get mine,’ and that can’t happen. It’s always got to be the team first.”
The Mustangs had been ranked ninth in the AP polls for Class 5A, but their loss to the Cherokees effectively removed them from that list.
“These guys have never been ranked in the preseason, now they don’t have to worry about that; we told them that’s out,” Ryan remarked. “I’ve said it before though, it’s not where you start out, it’s where you finish.”
Still, the coach is looking for the team to turn things around starting this week.
“When bad things happen you can’t fall apart, you have to refocus in — that’s where we’ve had some struggles and breakdowns,” Ryan stated. “We’re our own worst enemies right now. We’ve got to learn to take every game, focus in, take care of business and then we can have fun with the plays.
“We can’t look behind, last week is over, and we can’t look ahead. We have to focus on Coffee County.”