Walker Valley is looking to close out the regular season with a win over Ooltewah on Friday night. Here, Kolten Gibson (3) fires off a pass during last week’s game at Rhea County. (Photo: George Norkus)
Sitting at 6-3 overall coming into their final week of regular season football, the Walker Valley Mustangs would especially like to enter the playoffs with a 7-3 record.
To do that, they must first handle the Ooltewah Owls (7-2, 4-1 Region 4-5A).
“The final week of the regular season — it goes by quick,” Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan stated. “We have to focus on the Ooltewah Owls and that’s all we can think about now.”
The Owls haven’t lost a game since Sept. 16, when they fell to Rhea County 28-6. That game marked the only time this season Ooltewah has been held to just one touchdown. Its only other loss came in the opening week, to Riverdale.
Last week, Ooltewah was almost done in by a determined Cleveland squad, but managed to rally late in the game to produce a 37-24 win. Walker Valley came up one point short at Rhea County in a 35-34 game, but their coach feels the team has already put the loss behind them.
“It is what it is. We had a chance and didn’t quite get it, but I feel like our team is in good spirits and ready to move forward and play this week,” Ryan stated.
Ultimately, the loss to the Eagles proved to be a valuable learning experience for the Mustangs.
“Again, it goes back to every play being a critical play. You may not realize it at the time, but every play is a critical one and you’ve got to step up and give your all each and every down. You can’t take one play off in those kind of ballgames, because the minute you do, that’s the play that will get you beat,” Ryan explained. “Learning those lessons is part of becoming a playoff-caliber team.”
“In the fourth quarter, when we had to have stops, our defense stepped up and got the ball back to our offense. We didn’t do that earlier in the game, a stop here and a stop there would have made a difference,” the coach continued.
“Offensively, we had a couple of bad series and then had a pick-6. It’s not saying that any one play was the difference maker, but it’s the culmination of all of those that does make a difference. You can’t take a play off in those big games, because the minute you sneeze, that’s the minute you’re going to get toasted.”
The team now has the opportunity to apply those lessons in the final game of the regular season.
On average, the Owls are scoring 37 points per game, while Walker Valley is averaging 46 points per game.
According to Ryan, part of the reason that Ooltewah’s offense has been so successful this season is due to their ability to be balanced.
“They’ve always liked to run the football and they have a couple of good quality backs to run it. They’ve got a big line up front, but they also have a very good wide receiver out there that you better not forget about. They are pretty balanced,” he explained.
“I think they have the capability to be as balanced as us. I think they want to run the football and probably run it more than they throw it, but they will mix it up and keep it pretty close to 50/50. Sometimes we’re not 50/50 and throw it more than we run it, so it’s just whatever you feel like you can do against the defense. We’ve got to stay balanced up and keep doing the things we’ve been doing on offense. I feel like if we can do that, we can move the ball on anybody.”
On the other side of the ball, Ooltewah has allowed opponents 20 ppg, while Walker Valley has been giving up 23 ppg.
“They are always going to be hardnosed on defense. Coach (Doug) Green, their defensive coordinator, does a great job of getting them ready,” Ryan commented.
“Last year we were able to move the ball and put points on the board against them and we’re hoping to do the same thing this year. If we can keep things mixed up and keep them off balance, we feel like we can have another successful offensive outing. The key for us is going to be trying to stop them.”
Ooltewah dealt McMinn County its first region loss and second overall loss of the season on Oct. 14. Up until that point, the Cherokees’ running game had seemed nearly unstoppable.
“I know they have lots of talent over on defense and are big and physical up front. We’ve got to do a real good job up there our O-line and keep them off our quarterback,” Ryan stated. “We also have to be able to establish somewhat of a running game to keep them off balance. If we get to where we can’t do that and we become one-dimensional, they could be very deadly to us.”
No matter the outcome on Friday, the Mustangs can rest assured knowing that they will see their season extended one more week at the very least, which means the time to apply some of the lessons they’ve learned along the way is now.
“I’ve said all along, each and every game is a learning experience. Now, we’re drawing near to the playoffs, and those lessons will help us.”
Kickoff for Friday’s game is at 7:30 p.m.