Walker Valley looks to continue on the right track when it hosts Soddy-Daisy on Thursday. Here, Dylan Towers (9) makes a catch. (Banner Photo: Paul Pruett)
Following a huge win over Cleveland this past Friday, Walker Valley has had an abbreviated week to prepare for its next Region 4-5A matchup.
On Thursday, the Mustangs (4-2) will look to pick up their fourth win in a row when they host the Soddy-Daisy Trojans (2-4).
The Trojans’ season has been especially hampered by injuries, which started in the first game with the loss of senior quarterback Justin Cooke and has included some other experienced players like senior tight end Ty Boeck being added to the injuries list.
According to Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan, Soddy-Daisy is expecting to have some injured players return and will look like a much different team.
“They’re getting some guys back and will be a better team than what they’ve been. They’ve been hurt by injuries,” Ryan stated.
“I think we match up pretty good with them. They’ve got some guys that are definitely a concern, and if they get their QB back, he’s a weapon because he’s a dual-threat guy that can scramble around. It puts a lot of strain on your secondary trying to cover that. We just have to follow through on our assignments, play sound football, not make mistakes and not turn the ball over.”
One area that Walker Valley can feel completely confident in coming into Thursday is its offense.
In their past three games, the Mustangs have outscored their opponents 166-70, and for the season they have put up 274 points to their opponents’ 141.
“Our playmakers are making plays and offensive line is starting to play a little bit better together,” Ryan said. “It’s been nice to see the team start to come around. I still feel like we have our best football to play.”
Included in Walker Valley’s almost 300 points is a record-setting 68-36 win over Cleveland, which should have the team riding high, both offensively and defensively, into its next region game.
“(Playing against Cleveland) was definitely a boost for our defense because there’s not many teams that we’re going to see that are faster ... speed-wise,” The Mustang coach explained. “It was a good game for them to see because they started off faster than anything we could replicate in practice and by the end of the game, we had found all the angles we needed to take to handle that speed. Hopefully that will help us down the stretch in these last few games.”
On defense, senior Skyler Swafford has racked up a total of 85 tackles, 52 solo and 33 assisted.
Included in their historic win over the Blue Raiders was a new record for most passing yards in a game, 420 total from junior QB Kolten Gibson as well as most receiving yards thanks to Bryce Nunnelly’s 206 yards. When things were all said and done last Friday, Walker Valley had posted a total of 645 yards.
“My biggest concern, like any coach coming off of a big game, is that we don’t have a letdown, because we can’t afford that,” Ryan commented. “We have to finish this season strong and play each game one at a time. When it’s over with, we have to put that behind us and focus on the next team. Cleveland is done and gone, you’ve got to get ready for the next game. Coming off of a big win like that against a rival is great, but now we have to focus on Soddy, because they are a region opponent too and we don’t need to trip up.”
Soddy-Daisy’s two wins have come against Chattanooga Central and White County, but without their quarterback at the helm, the team has managed to put up only 119 points in six games. With injured players expected to make a return, Walker Valley must be ready to face a rejuvenated Soddy squad.
“They play hard, so we have to go out and play our ballgame and focus on taking care of business and doing what we’re supposed to do,” Ryan said. “I feel like they’ll probably try to stop our throwing game, but if they do that, it will open up our running game. It’s hard to stop both and that’s what makes our offense as successful as it’s been – we have a balanced attack.”
The Mustangs’ talented receiving corps has accounted for 1,631 yards so far this season, with Nunnelly leading the way with 483 yards and four touchdowns on 25 receptions and senior Cooper Melton following with 461 yards and eight TDs on 25 catches. Gibson has a 67 percent completion rate, which includes 13 touchdowns and 1,399 yards.
On the ground, Walker Valley currently has 874 yards, with senior Alex King accounting for 405 of those yards and eight touchdowns
The Mustangs saw a few players injured last week, including starting kicker Sam Gibson, who will not be playing this week.
“The next guy has to step up and get the job done; that’s football. You’re going to have some injuries here and there, but the next guy has to step in and fill those shoes,” Ryan stated.
According to the coach, the keys to defeating the Trojans on Thursday are simple.
“We have to go out, be sharp and execute. We can’t turn the ball over and have to win on special teams.”