CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Ooltewah football coach Mac Bryan has tried to convince people that his Owls, who had gained a reputation in recent years for throwing often, were better in the running game this season. Well, they couldn't have been more convincing Friday night at Walker Valley.
Ooltewah rushed for 532 yards against the Mustangs, breaking open a close game early in the second half and rolling to a 63-35 Region 4-5A victory.
Ooltewah (8-2, 5-1) will host Campbell County (8-2) in the first round of the TSSAA state playoffs next week. Walker Valley (6-4, 3-3) will play at Oak Ridge (8-2). The games will start at 7 p.m.
"We're at that crossroad," Walker Valley coach Glen Ryan said. "Are we going to bow up and get it done, or do we stay satisfied and go on to the next thing? It's going to be a challenge this week — a challenge to our coaches and a challenge to our players. We're going to have to step it up."
The game couldn't have started any better for the Mustangs, who won the coin toss and chose to receive. Then on the first play from scrimmage, quarterback Kolten Gibson threw a quick screen to wide receiver Bryce Nunnelly, who slipped through a crease in the defense and went 62 yards for a touchdown.
"That's no way to start," Bryan said. "We knew they were good on offense. They played (region champion) Rhea County really well last week. We knew we were going to have to score points."
The Owls scored points all right, starting with an 80-yard run by Cam Turner at 6:49 of the first quarter. Turner and running mate Sincere Quinn each had more than 100 yards rushing in the first half and more than 200 for the game.
Turner ended up with 283 yards and three touchdowns on 29 carries, and Quinn totaled 219 on 12 carries and scored four TDs.
"Our offensive line just did a great job," Bryan said. "Cameron Turner and Sincere Quine just did a tremendous job running the football. Up front we've just gotten better every week."
The game was tied at 21 before Ooltewah scored twice in the final 5:45 of the first half. By scoring on their first two possessions in the second half, the Owls went up by 28 midway through the third quarter and had Walker Valley playing catch-up the rest of the night.
The final proof the Owls' ground game was unstoppable came when they took possession at the Mustangs' 49 with 9:39 to play. With the intent of going to work on the clock with a 21-point lead, they not only took 5:05 off the clock with nine consecutive running plays but scored at the end of the possession.
"We just did a poor job of wrapping up and getting guys to the football," Ryan said. "Those are some big backs. You can't leave your feet and arm-tackle. I don't know if we got tired. I won't know until I go back and look at the film. But it looked like we had guys there. We just did a poor job of tackling."
Gibson ended up 23-of-37 for 268 passing yards. Nunnelly caught five passes for 93 yards and Cooper Melton's nine catches produced 88 yards. Alex King was the Mustangs' leading rusher with 54 yards, but he aggravated a hip injury on his third carry — a 47-yard run in which he lost a fumble at the end — and did not return.