According to Walker Valley coach Glen Ryan, the Mustangs’ defense has improved with each week. Here, Cody Duggan (42) gets ahold of a Soddy-Daisy ball carrier. (Photo: Paul Pruett)
Week 9 finds the Walker Valley Mustangs in a bit of a different spot than they were this time last year.
Coming into last year’s meeting with White County, Walker Valley was nursing a 3-4 record and was reeling from a seven-point loss to Soddy-Daisy.
This year, the Mustangs hit the road to Sparta with a 5-2 record and on a four-game win streak, which includes back-to-back weeks where they have scored 60 points or more.
“We’re encouraged by what we see, and each week we’re getting better and better. Hopefully we’ll continue to do that through the remainder of the season and be where we want to be when it’s all said and done,” said Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan.
The Mustangs are currently third in Region 4-5A with a 2-1 record, following behind No. 2 Rhea County and No. 1 McMinn County, both of which are undefeated in Region play. The Northern Bradley County squad’s only region loss this season has come at the hands of the surging Cherokees.
A win in Sparta on Friday will ensure Walker Valley a spot in the playoffs.
“It’s crunch time now,” Ryan declared.
White County is sitting last in the region with a 0-4 record and is 3-5 overall.
Despite their record, the Mustang coach knows that the Warriors are not a team to overlook — especially since the team has nothing to lose.
“I know their record doesn’t show it, but they can move the ball and put points on the board. They didn’t score against Ooltewah, but rushed for over 200 yards against them. They put 22 points on McMinn and scored 20 on Soddy,” the Walker Valley coach commented. “They are a dangerous football team, plus we are playing up there and there is always an advantage when teams are playing at home.”
White County is running an option offense that has managed to put up 194 points in eight games.
“They are a big option team. We’ve got to go out, play solid defense, keep playing well on offense, take care of business and do what we’re supposed to do,” Ryan detailed. “We have to be ready to go play a good football game.”
On the flip side of things, the Warriors have given up a total of 273 points this season.
Last week, they were dealt a 42-0 loss by Ooltewah, which marked the first time they’ve been shut out this year.
Scoring has been the least of Walker Valley’s worries in the 2016 season.
To date, the Mustangs have put a total of 335 points up on the board. To date, only two of their games have resulted in less than 30 points being scored and both of those games were also losses.
Walker Valley has a total of 2,946 yards on offense, with 1,124 coming on foot and 1,822 by air. The team has proven to come out of the gate strong, posting 134 of its 3,325 points in the first quarter this season.
Between running back Alex King, quarterback Kolten Gibson and receivers Bryce Nunnelly, Cooper Melton, Zach Eslinger, Tucker Mendenhall and now Zeke Westfield, the ’Stangs have proven to be quite a balanced team, offensively speaking.
“We want to continue to be balanced on offense – we want to run the football and throw the football,” Ryan stated.
The team is averaging 48 points per game.
Aiding the Mustangs’ success this season has been a defense that continues to improve week after week.
“I feel like our defense against all teams has been getting better and better. We’ve cut our point total down drastically. I’d still like us to get a little bit on the lower end than what we’re giving up, but it’s a whole lot better than it was,” Ryan explained. “The other thing we’re doing is getting more turnovers. I think we’ve gotten somewhere around 13 turnovers from the last two weeks.”
Currently, the Mustangs are allowing their opponents 24 points per game.
Walker Valley has allowed its opponents to score only 169 points this year, with the only team to score 40 points on the Mustangs being Bradley Central.
To date, the Mustangs have picked off 12 passes, recovered eight fumbles and sacked the opposing QB eight times. Walker Valley’s defense has also forced 18 three-and-outs.
Skyler Swafford, who already has 95 tackles to his credit, should easily surpass the 100 mark Friday in White County. Swafford has 59 solo tackles and has been in on 36 others. He has had 16 tackles for loss, caused and recovered one fumble and recorded a sack.
Cody Morfield currently has 65 total tackles, 25 solo and 40 assists. Morfield has three tackles for loss and has scored two defensive touchdowns — a 10-yard fumble recovery and also a “Pick 6.”
The Mustangs have seen their opponents get a total of 1,904 offensive yards, 1,257 rushing and 647 passing.
Walker Valley has also broken back into the polls this past week and is currently ranked 10th. That is nothing for the team to be concerned about though, according to Ryan.
“You have to go out and play the game — we can’t get caught up in polls,” the coach said. “We have to go out each week and focus on that game, not looking ahead or behind. After we got beat by McMinn, that’s just what we started doing.”
This Friday, the Mustang coach is looking for his team to play more aggressively and less lackadaisical than how they played against Soddy-Daisy in their 61-28 win.
“We got a little sloppy with the ball and didn’t play great at first against Soddy, but luckily defense stepped up, got some turnovers and got the ball right back,” Ryan explained. “It was sloppy and yet we still managed to put all those points on the board. It was a good learning experience for us, and it’s always a good situation when you can learn from a win.”
Kickoff at White County is scheduled for 8 p.m.