Super Showdown - Rhea Edges Walker Valley 35-34 in 5-4A Showdown

 

Walker Valley defenders Bryce Nunnelly (23) and Cody Duggan (42) tackle Rhea County running back Cody Bice during their prep football game at Rhea County High School on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Evensville, Tenn. (Photo: Doug Strickland-Times Free Press.)

 

EVENSVILLE, Tenn. — Vintage ground-and-pound proved too much, by a single point, over the modern spread passing attack in a crucial Region 4-5A football shootout Friday as Rhea County held on for a 35-34 victory over Walker Valley.

 

Even with all of Rhea's ball-control running, the game's outcome hinged on a single play as the clock ticked down.

 

The quick-strike Mustangs gave it their all, closing to within a point with two minutes to play after twice erasing the Eagles' two-touchdown advantage.

 

Down by a point with 2:39 remaining, 10th-ranked Walker Valley (6-3, 3-2) went for two points, but sensational passer Kolten Gibson was bumped by Tyler Brown just as he released the ball. That pass sailed over the outstretched arms of a wide-open receiver.

 

"There was no way we were going overtime, not with the way they can grind it out," Mustangs coach Glen Ryan said. "We all decided if we scored we'd go for two right there, and if we didn't get it, we'd try to onside it again."

 

At that conversion juncture, Rhea coach Mark Pemberton told his seventh-ranked Eagles (7-2, 5-0) to flush everything that had happened in the previous 45-plus minutes and realize the game hinged on one more defensive effort.

 

"I told them let's go make a play, and Tyler got a super rush on (Gibson)," Pemberton said.

 

The Mustangs' ensuing onside kick failed to go the required 10 yards, and Rhea, from the 50, was able to run out the clock and keep a strong hold on its top spot in the region.

 

"Our kids battled back the whole night," said Pemberton, whose team rallied from early 7-0 and 7-6 deficits to take a 21-14 halftime advantage, thanks in part to a 27-yard interception return from Chris Sturgeon.

 

"That was huge — got us up a touchdown — and a big lift with us knowing we'd get the ball to start the second half," he added.

 

Rhea took that second-half kickoff and marched to a 28-14 lead.

 

"We'd get up two scores and here they come. Up two scores again and here they come," Pemberton said.

 

The outcome overshadowed the efforts of Gibson, who was pressured most of the night and who had several passes skip off the fingertips of intended receivers. The junior still passed for 272 yards and four touchdowns.

 

His opportunities were limited, though, by Rhea's rushing attack. The Eagles ran the ball 44 times for 338 yards with Cody Bice and Christian Simons each topping the 100-yard mark behind a big offensive line and the lead blocking of fullback Mason Stephenson.

 

"Walker Valley's a good football team now," Pemberton said. "We knew they were going to make plays. We just made one more."

 

Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.

 

Rhea County's Christian Simon breaks a tackle by Walker Valley defender Skyler Swafford during their prep football game at Rhea County High School on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Evensville, Tenn. (Photo: Doug Strickland - Times Free Press) 

Walker Valley football coach Glen Ryan watches his team warm up before their prep football game against Rhea County at Rhea County High School Oct. 21, 2016 in Evensville, Tenn.  (Photo Doug Strickland - Times Free Press)

Walker Valley's Bryce Nunnelly tackles Rhea County's Mason Stephenson during their prep football game at Rhea County High School on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Evensville, Tenn. (Photo: Doug Strickland - Times Free Press) 

Rhea County's Christian Simon (22) and Peyton Barger (29) tackle Walker Valley receiver Cooper Melton during their prep football game at Rhea County High School on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Evensville, Tenn. (Photo: Doug Strickland - Times Free Press) 

A pass intended for Walker Valley's Cooper Melton hits Rhea County defender Cody Bice in the face during their prep football game at Rhea County High School on Oct. 21, 2016, in Evensville, Tenn. (Photo: Doug Strickland - Times Free Press) 

Walker Valley quarterback Kolten Gibson drops back to pass with protection from teammate Alex King during their prep football game at Rhea County High School on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Evensville, Tenn. (Photo: Doug Strickland - Times Free Press) 

Walker Valley running back Alex King breaks a tackle by Rhea County's Tyler Brown during their prep football game at Rhea County High School on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Evensville, Tenn. (Photo: Doug Strickland - Times Free Press) 

Walker Valley defenders Cooper Melton (31) and Skyler Swafford (40) tackle Rhea County's Cody Bice during their prep football game at Rhea County High School on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Evensville, Tenn. (Photo: Doug Strickland - Times Free Press) 

Walker Valley quarterback Kolten Gibson hands the ball off to Bryce Nunnelly during their prep football game at Rhea County High School on Friday Oct. 21, 2016, in Evensville, Tenn.  (Photo: Doug Strickland - Times Free Press) 

Walker Valley wide receiver Zach Eslinger catches a pass in the end zone for a touchdown during their prep football game at Rhea County High School on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Evensville, Tenn. (Photo: Doug Strickland - Times Free Press)

Rhea County defender Chris Sturgeon tackles Walker Valley's Zach Eslinger during their prep football game at Rhea County High School on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016 in Evensville, Tenn. (Photo: Doug Strickland - Times Free Press) 

Walker Valley cheerleaders bow their heads for a prayer before their prep football game against Rhea County at Rhea County High School on Friday, Oct. 21, 2016, in Evensville, Tenn. (Photo: Doug Strickland - Times Free Press) 

 

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