Ooltewah defensive back Steven Turman steps in front of Walker Valley's Zeke Westfield to make an interception of Kolten Gibson's pass Friday in the team's Class 5A playoff game at James. N. Monroe Stadium. (Photo: Dennis Norwood)
Ooltewah’s surging Owls got downright bullish about defending their turf at Jim Jarvis Field on a brisk Friday night.
Before the teams broke a sweat, Andrew Manning blocked a Walker Valley punt and Andy Reed returned it 16 yards for a touchdown.
The Mustangs drove to the 8, but had to settle for a field goal. They then drove to the 7 and running back Alex King fumbled into the Owls’ end zone where Steven Turman recovered to kill that scoring threat.
With Reed’s blocked punt return and Turner’s early touchdowns, the Owls built a 21-3 lead.
But Walker Valley's Bryce Nunnelly hit paydirt on a 6-yard run and 26-yard touchdown pass from Gibson to trim the lead to 21-17 with 1:21 left in the first half. Owls place-kicker Alek Toser’s 20-yard field goal as the half ended produce a 24-17 lead at the break.
Nursing a 24-17 halftime lead, Ooltewah outscored Walker Valley 21-3 in the second half and smacked the Mustangs 45-20 in a TSSAA Class 5A second-round victory at James N. Monroe Stadium in front of a good crowd.
Sam Gibson’s 27-yard field trimmed the Owls’ lead to 31-20 midway through the third quarter.
As the third quarter wound down, Walker Valley drove to the Ooltewah 4 and faced a fourth-and-one. The Mustangs came up empty on the first play of the fourth period when Mason Oran rammed up the middle and was stopped dead in his tracks.
On a weird drive with just about seven minutes left, Gibson hit Cooper Melton over the middle for an apparent 60-yard touchdown play, but it was nullified by a holding penalty. On the next play Gibson fired again and Turman intercepted and ran it back to the Mustangs’ 22.
“I did that for the team,” Turman said. “I was playing man-to-man and saw the ball coming. I’m extremely happy I could make the play because we really wanted to beat Walker Valley and keep playing this season.”
Four plays later quarterback Collin Thurman scampered into the end zone from 4 yards out to practically seal the game at 38-20.
Just over two minutes later, defensive lineman Grayson Avans had a say in the final score.
Gibson, who passed for 330 yards (Melton had 150 receiving yards), fumbled at the Mustangs’ 32 with the ball bouncing right up to Avans who scooped it up without breaking stride and rambled into the end zone for the game's last TD.
“That’s the first touchdown I’ve ever scored in my life,” he said. “I was going for the quarterback, saw the ball come loose and took my opportunity to go get it. I turned on the jets and said, ‘Bye, bye.’ It was great.”
On the ensuing kickoff, Alek Toser squibbed a high bouncer and Jake Sullivan leaped higher than two Walker Valley players and caught the ball in mid-air with 4:37 remaining.
That was that.
“About mid-season we started making big defensive plays like tonight,” Owls coach Mac Bryan said. “We played a great second half defensively. Our special teams made some great plays. The offense ran the ball well, especially in the second half and we made some big plays in the passing game.”
The Owls (10-2), who have won seven straight games since losing to Rhea County 28-6 on Sept. 16, had a 31-20 lead going into the fourth quarter.
With the loss Walker Valley fell out of the playoffs and is 0-9 all-time against the Owls. Ooltewah beat the Mustangs 63-35 two weeks ago in the final game of the regular season and rushed for a whopping 548 yards – Cameron Turner had 312 yards and Sincere Quinn added 210 and the two combined for seven touchdowns.
Walker Valley’s defense did a better job against the run on Friday, but Turner scored first-half touchdowns on runs of 10 and 3 yards and finished with 163 yards on 22 carries. Quinn scampered in from 39 yards for a TD to push the score to 31-17 in the third quarter – he gained 91yards on 16 tries.
Turner was happy to talk more about the Owls’ defense than his two scores.
“Our defense has been playing great since Week 5,” he said. “I wouldn’t want any other defense than ours. They give us a lot of confidence and I know they’ll continue to do their thing and we have to continue doing our thing on offense.
“We have a lot of momentum, but we have to work hard next week and do what we’ve doing all season.”
The Owls had 237 rushing yards and Thurman passed for 108.
Even Nunnelly, Walker Valley’s standout wide receiver/linebacker, was gracious despite another loss to the Owls.
“It was a tough loss,” he said, “but I wish them nothing but the best next week. I love to come in here and compete against a great team like Ooltewah. We came in with a lot of confidence, but non-offensive touchdowns are hard to get back.
“We got stopped a few times, I fumbled into the end zone and that would have made the score closer at the time. We did the best we could.”
Now, the Owls turn their attention to Farragut, which has won nine in a row since losing to Oak Ridge 30-25 on Sept. 2. Ooltewah is making its second straight appearance in the quarterfinals and third in five years.
Ooltewah lost to Rhea County 14-13 last season and dropped a 31-13 decision to Columbia Central in 2012.
“Beating Walker Valley to reach the third round was very enjoyable,” Avans said. “We have to have four phenomenal practices next week, keep focused and execute our game plan like we always do. If we do those things, we’ll have them (Admirals) by the tail and shouldn’t have a lot of problems.”
Walker Valley 3 14 3 0 – 20
Ooltewah 14 10 7 14 – 45
OOL – Andy Reed 16 return blocked punt (Alex Toser kick), 7:47
WV – FG Sam Gibson 25, 3:05
OOL – Cameron Turner 10 run (Toser kick), 59.1
OOL – Turner 3 run (Toser kick), 5:21
WV – Bryce Nunnelly 6 run (S. Gibson kick), 4:26
WV – Nunnelly 26 pass from K. Gibson (S. Gibson kick), 1:221
OOL – FG Toser 20, 0:00
OOL – Sincere Quinn 39 run (Toser kick), 10:03
WV – FG S. Gibson 27, 7:58
OOL – Collin Thurman 4 run (Toser kick), 6:44
OOL – Grayson Avans 32 fumble return (Toser kick), 4:37
(Contact Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @larryfleming44)