Walker Valley wide receiver Cooper Melton (31) cuts to the outside after a catch avoiding the tackle of Oak Ridge linebackers Caelan Thompson (32) and Kyndall Clark (54) in the first half Friday, in Oak Ridge. (Banner Photo: Lynnae Roberts)
OAK RIDGE — Blocking. Tackling. Running. Catching. The Mustangs did all those and more in a big way Friday in Walker Valley’s first ever TSSAA playoff victory, a 35-27 win over Region 3 champion Oak Ridge in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs.
The Mustangs overcame a 14-0 deficit, scoring four times in the second quarter and held the sixth-ranked Wildcats out of the end zone on two pass attempts from the Mustangs’ 3-yard line with less than 10 seconds left in the game.
Quarterback Kolten Gibson engineered four second quarter Walker Valley scoring drives, rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns.
The junior gunslinger shredded the Wildcat defense for 301 yards and a pair of TD passes including an 81-yard, first quarter scoring strike to Cooper Melton. The senior receiver was the target of seven Gibson passes good for 150 yards.
“The offense got some things going. We kind of sputtered a little bit the second half and had a chance to seal it with a first down but we didn’t quite do that. We had some drives that stalled out, but it was a great team effort,” said a happy Mustangs coach Glen Ryan. “The guys did what they needed to do against a really good football team. We’re on to the next round.”
Oak Ridge end it’s season with an 8-3 record, while the Mustangs moved on with a 7-4 overall mark.
In this week’s second round Coach Ryan’s Herd will square off against eighth-ranked Ooltewah Friday in Hamilton County.
Walker Valley will be seeking revenge on the road against the Region 3 runner-up Owls (9-2) who hung a 63-35 loss on the Mustangs in the regular season closer a little over a week ago.
Oak Ridge had control early scoring on back-to-back possessions to open the game before Gibson hooked up with Melton to make it a 14-7 game. Bryce Nunnelly’s interception of an Oak Ridge pass deep in Walker Valley territory was nullified on a pass interference call that resulted in the third Wildcat TD of the first quarter. Oak Ridge held a 20-7 lead after the failed point attempt.
“What a turnaround from last week to this week defensively. It started out ugly, but then we settled down and played dad-gone good defense the remainder of the game to hold a team like Oak Ridge out of the end zone,” praised Ryan.
Down by 13 to open the second quarter, the Mustangs went to work at the Oak Ridge 30-yard line after a Nunnelly punt return. Gibson found a leaping Zeke Westfield at the Wildcat 7-yard line, setting up a first-and-goal. Two plays later, Gibson called his own number on a quarterback draw and covered the distance into the end zone. Sam Gibson made it 20-14 with the PAT.
After forcing another Oak Ridge punt, the Mustangs went to work at the Oak Ridge 30-yard line again, helped by a pass interference and offside call on the Wildcats. Zach Eslinger was Gibson’s target for 15 yards to the 10. Two plays later a Gibson screen pass caught the Wildcats in a blitz and Mason Oran followed his blockers to the end zone to give the Mustangs the lead, 21-20.
Minutes later, Grayson Rountree made sure the Mustangs kept the momentum recovering an Oak Ridge fumble and returning the football to the Wildcat 15. Gibson hooked up with Eslinger to the 5-yard line. From there, Gibson again tucked the leather and raced for his second score of the night to put Walker Valley on top 28-20.
It was Nunnelly stepping up big on defense next for the Mustangs on the Wildcats’ next possession. The University of Tennessee Chattanooga commit fell on another fumble giving the ball back to Walker Valley at the Mustang 12-yard line.
Three consecutive running plays set up a 22-yard Gibson to Melton connection. One play later Gibson found Nunnelly for 13 yards to the Oak Ridge 13-yard line. Oran and Nunnelly combined for 10 yards before Oran finished the drive with a 3-yard touchdown run that gave the Mustangs a 35-20 lead.
“I don’t know if it’s the best game we’ve played all year. The offense was not as consistent as it normally is, but it was just a good team effort. Everybody did what they needed to to to win the football game. That’s something I’m proud of,” said Ryan as the Mustangs celebrated. “The knock on us has been we can’t win the close games, we can’t win the big games. These guys showed a lot of heart to night. They could have folded up a couple of times and they didn’t.”
Oak Ridge added a fourth quarter score with 8:35 left in the game cutting the score to 35-27.
Melton preserved the score intercepting a Wildcat pass at the goal line with 1:20 left to play.
The Mustangs were forced to punt from their own 19 with 26 seconds left on the clock. The Wildcats quickly struck with a 37-yard pass to the Walker Valley 3-yard line with 6.6 ticks left on the clock.
After an incomplete pass, Oak Ridge took a final shot with 3.6 seconds to go. The pass was complete but out of bounds in the end zone as the clock read triple zeros sending the Mustangs racing onto the field to celebrate the 35-27 win.
“They (defense) held them early on another drive that could have been a difference with a turnover. Everybody did what they needed to do. It wasn’t the prettiest thing at times, but we never caved in. We kept bowing and kept fighting. We got down 14-0 and fought back,” said Ryan. “I’m proud of these guys. This team took a big step this week. We’ve got to keep going.
“We can absolutely build off this. That’s what we want, to build off this win. That’s what we’ve got to do, we’ve got to build off this and get ready for next week.”
TSSAA Class 5A Playoffs
Walker Valley 7 28 0 0 — 35
Oak Ridge 20 0 0 7 — 27
OR — Jordan Graham 11 run (Carson McGhee kick), 8:15
OR — Graham 64 run (McGhee kick), 7:01
WV — Cooper Melton 81 pass from Kolten Gibson (Sam Gibson kick), 6:18
OR — Johnny Stewart 1 run (kick failed), 3:14
WV — K. Gibson 7 run (S. Gibson kick), 10:52
WV — Mason Oran 12 pass from K. Gibson (S. Gibson kick), 8:31
WV — K. Gibson 5 run (S. Gibson kick), 6:39
WV — Oran 3 run (S. Gibson kick), 1:37.
OR — Stewart 2 run (McGhee kick), 8:35
First downs WV 25 OR 18
Rushing-Yards WV 39-173 OR 36-226
Passing WV 301 OR 166
Total yards WV 474 OR 392
Comp-Att-Int WV 19-32-1 OR 12-23-1
Punts-Avg WV 4-31 OR 4-30.75
Fumbles-Lost WV 0-0 OR 3-2
Penalties-Yards WV 5-46 OR 8-91
Kolten Gibson 20-112 2 TDs
Mason Oran 17-49 TD
Bryce Nunnelly 2-12 (WV).
Kolten Gibson 19-32-1, 301 yds, 2 TDs (WV).
Cooper Melton 7-150 TD
Bryce Nunnelly 5-75
Mason Oran 3-32 TD
Zach Eslinger 2-25
Zeke Westfield 2-19 (WV).
Walker Valley 7-4; Oak Ridge 8-3.