The Walker Valley Mustangs will once again travel Friday to Ooltewah, for a rematch with the Owls in the second round of the 5A football playoffs. The Mustangs lost to the Owls in the final game of the regular season Oct. 28. (Banner Photo: Lynnae Roberts)
The good ship Walker Valley is sailing in uncharted waters these days, but that’s exactly how head coach Glen Ryan and the Mustangs want it.
The Mustangs bounced back from an ugly Oct. 28 loss against Ooltewah in the regular season finale with an impressive win over Region 4 champion Oak Ridge in last week’s opening round of the 5A football playoffs.
“It’s good to be here this week. It’s an exciting time for us at Walker Valley,” said Ryan. “The guys are excited and looking forward to playing another round.”
The Mustangs rallied from a 14-0 deficit to score 28 second-quarter points on their way to a 35-27 win over the Wildcats, and will make the short trip to Ooltewah on Friday for a rematch with the Owls, who handed Walker Valley a 63-35 drubbing two weeks ago. Ryan feels the loss is now a distant memory, and the team is ready to step up to avenge the loss.
“We’ve got to go out and execute and do our job defensively, and not give them the cut-back lanes we gave them the last time we played. We’ve got to shore up. We made some big strides against Oak Ridge. We were much better on our fix, much better at playing downhill and much better at being more aggressive and much better at tackling,” recalled the coach. “We’ve got to go out and do those things even better, along with everything else.”
Last week it was the defense stepping up at crucial times to stop Oak Ridge drives. The result was a fired-up Mustangs offense that rolled through the Wildcats’ defense for four second quarter scores, beginning with an 81-yard touchdown pitch and catch from Kolten Gibson to Cooper Melton.
“We got down 14-0 then got the big score and that kind of gave our guys a burst. We came back and got another score but had to work for that one. We saw our defense finally start playing like they can play. It’s like the light bulb came on. Everything that we have worked on, talked about and coached during all these weeks, they finally started saying, ‘Yeah, if I do this it does work.’ They just started playing downhill and playing aggressive on defense. From that point on they played lights out,” said Ryan.
“Our offense came alive then. Usually it’s the other way around. Our offense usually has to keep scoring. But I think our defense kind of got our offense motivated a little bit. We got the score and then we held. All of a sudden the offense started going to work. We got a couple of short fields that set up our defense. Everything just exploded in the second quarter.”
Fortunately for the Mustangs, the first half offensive output was enough. The defense stepped up in a big way, allowing only one more score from Oak Ridge and sealing the win with a huge stand at the Walker Valley 6-yard line with less than seven seconds left in the game. Although they fell short of putting additional points on the board, the Mustangs were able to keep drives alive, eating up precious seconds off the clock in the second half.
“Coming back out after the half, our offense didn’t score any more but the defense kept plugging and kept us in. In the past our defense has kind of struggled, and that’s when we’ve been beaten. It was good to see a total team effort and everybody doing their part. It wasn’t always pretty, but they did what they needed to do to get the job done,” Ryan praised.
“The offense kept possession a long time in the last two quarters, I just wish they had kept possession just a little longer when it got so interesting right there at the end. If we had gotten that one first down we could have run the clock out. Then the crazy call when we were sending in the defensive signal and the officials said we were calling a timeout with six seconds in the game. But I’m just really proud of our guys and proud of the coaches for the job they did. It gave us another week of playing football, and we’ve got to take this one day at a time and each day get better, and see what happens Friday night.”
The Mustangs will face an Ooltewah team that is very familiar with postseason football. One positive in favor of Walker Valley is, after having played only two weeks ago in the final game of the regular season, the Mustangs are very familiar with what the Owls have to offer, and will be better prepared to slow down the powerful ground attack that rolled through the Walker Valley defense.
“Ooltewah is another very well-coached, very good football team. They are very familiar with being in this spot. They’ve been very successful. They’ve been to the quarters and been to the semis. They are used to this. Every day from here on out is new territory for us. We’ve got to go out and play even better,” said Ryan.
“One thing is, having not played them that long ago and having not played well has really given our kids an excitement about this game, because they have something to prove — that they are not that football team that played Ooltewah that night. Hopefully, we are going to go in and be at our best and they are going to be at their best and it’s going to be a whale of a football game that is exciting for the fans. We’ll see what happens.”
The Mustangs will undoubtedly be riding a wave of exhilaration and confidence Friday, but as always — according to Ryan — the game will come down to fundamentals and who takes advantage of mistakes and opportunities.
“I feel like this game could be right down to the wire. It’s going to be who is able to capitalize and who is going to minimize mistakes. There are going to be mistakes on both sides, but it’s going to come down to who is able to minimize them and capitalize when there is an opportunity, and who executes the fundamentals the best,” he said.
“We’ve got to go out and play defense like we did the last three quarters against Oak Ridge, and our offense cannot take the foot off the gas. We have to move the ball and put points on the board.”