Walker Valley wide receiver Cooper Melton (31) runs for yardage after a catch in the first half against Ooltewah in Round 2 of the state 5A playoffs Friday, in Ooltewah. (Banner Photo: Lynnae Roberts)
OOLTEWAH — A fumble here, a blocked punt there along with missed opportunities at critical moments, and pretty soon you’re talking mistakes that can lead to disaster.
And they did.
Ooltewah returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, returned a fumble for another score and stopped Walker Valley on a crucial fourth-and-1 late in the fourth quarter on the way to a 45-20 Owls win that sent the Mustangs home for the season.
“We’ve go to finish drives, a turnover here and fumble there. We had the blocked punt for a score. We climbed back in and had a opportunity but we left too many points on the field. We should have gone into halftime at least 24-24,” said Mustangs coach Glen Ryan. “I was proud of our guys. Our defense stepped up and played a whole lot better than we did the first time around. We just didn’t finish some things and against a good football team, you can’t give them opportunities like that. My hat’s off to them. I wish them luck next week.”
Ooltewah was the beneficiary of the first break of the game, returning a blocked punt 22 yards for the first score of the night. Walker Valley’s Sam Gibson made it a 7-3 game late in the first quarter with a 25-yard field goal before a long return on the ensuing kick set the Owls up at the Mustangs’ 18-yard line. Ooltewah took a 14-3 lead four plays later with less than a minute left in the first quarter.
The Mustangs missed a chance to cut into the Ooltewah lead when a fumble in the end zone was recovered by the Owls. Walker Valley gave the ball back to Ooltewah after a fourth-and-2 pass from Kolten Gibson to Cooper Melton fell to the ground incomplete. The Owls again took advantage of the opening to add another score to up the lead to 21-3.
The Mustangs came alive on their next two possessions with a 72-yard drive punctuated by a 50-yard Gibson to Melton hookup followed by Bryce Nunnelly’s 15-yard run to the Ooltewah 7-yard line. Nunnelly covered the final distance on the next play for the score followed by Sam Gibson’s extra point to make it a 21-10 game.
Gibson ripped the Ooltewah defense for 333 yards with Melton the target for 151 yards. But with the Mustangs’ ground attack, again without the services of leading rusher Alex King — forced to leave the game early with a recurring hip injury — was held to only 56 yards.
After forcing an Ooltewah punt, the Mustangs put together a 48-yard advance that saw Gibson again connect with Melton this time for 17 yards followed by a completion to Nunnelly for 16 yards and Nunnelly’s second TD of the game. Gibson’s kick cut the Ooltewah advantage to 21-17 with just over a minute left in the first half.
The Owls took a 24-17 lead into halftime with a field goal as time ran out after driving 76 yards to the Walker Valley 5-yard line.
The Owls opened the second half with a 39-yard touchdown run to take a 31-17 lead.
The Mustangs answered with a 27-yard Gibson field goal to close the gap to 31-20.
Walker Valley mounted a drive that started at the Mustang’s 32-yard line and worked its way to the Ooltewah 5 where the Mustangs found themselves looking fourth-and-1 as time ran out in the third quarter. The Owls held Walker Valley to no gain on the first play of the fourth, stopping the threat.
“We got down there in the second half and had fourth-and-1 at a critical time when we had to have a score. We didn’t get it. That’s just part of it,” said Ryan.
Ooltewah reopened the lead to 38-20 with just under seven minutes left in the game, then iced the win with a 35-yard fumble recovery returned for a score.
“I’m proud of our guys and the year they had. We’ve just got to go back and we’ve got to build on this,” said Ryan.
Walker Valley 3 14 3 0 — 20
Ooltewah 14 10 7 14 — 45
O — Andy Reed 22 blocked punt return (Aleksander Toser kick), 7:47
WV — Sam Gibson 25 field goal, 3:05
O — Cameron Turner 10 run (Toser kick), 0:59.1
O — Turner 4 run (Toser kick), 5:21
WV — Bryce Nunnelly 7 run (S. Gibson kick), 4:26
WV — Nunnelly 16 pass from Kolten Gibson (S. Gibson kick), 1:21
O — Turner 39 run (Toser kick), 10:03
WV — S. Gibson 27 field goal, 7:58
O — Collin Thurman 4 run (Toser kick), 6:44
O — Grayson Avans 40 fumble return (Toser kick), 4:37
First downs WV 19 O 14
Rushes-Yards WV 28-56 O 40-238
Passing WV 333 O 108
Total yards WV 389 346
Comp-Att-Int WV 23-42-1 O 6-14-1
Punts-Avg WV 1-26 O 5-32.5
Fumbles-Lost WV 4-2 O 1-0
Penalties-Yards WV 3-35 O 9-85
K. Gibson 13-20
Mason Oran 1-17
Alex King 3-10
Sincere Quin 16-91
K. Gibson 23-42, 333 (WV)
Thurman 6-13, 109 (O)
Cooper Melton 9-151
Zeke Westfield 4-65
Zach Eslinger 3-40
Andrew Manning 1-44
Walker Valley 7-5