High-Powered Offenses Highlighted Prep Gridiron Season
Walker Valley quarterback Kolten Gibson not only was the Region 4-5A Player of the Year, but will enter his senior season this fall as the all-time record holder for every major passing category. Gibson has 84 career touchdowns (63 passing, 21 rushing) to go with 6,058 yards through the air in his standout career (Banner File Photo).
Walker Valley qualified for its third postseason since head coach Glen Ryan took over 5 years ago. After stumbling out of the gate in two of its first three games, Walker Valley put together a five-game winning streak to secure its spot in the Class 5A playoffs.
As the No. 4 seed out of Region 4, the Mustangs drew a very tough opening round assignment with a road trip to take on sixth-ranked Oak Ridge, the Region 3 champions.
Coach Glen Ryan’s Stallions galloped into the Atomic City and survived a pair of potential Wildcat touchdown passes from the 3-yard line in the game’s final 10 seconds first 35-27 upset victory.
Although the stampede ended the following Friday with their second loss in three weeks to eighth-ranked Ooltewah, the Herd had notched the first TSSAA playoff win in Walker Valley’s 16-year history.
Led by an explosive offense, the Mustangs put up school record 501 points on the scoreboard with Coach Todd Burkhart recognized as the Region 4 Offensive Assistant of the Year.
Averaging just under 42 points a game, the senior-laden Stallions topped the 60-point mark twice, plus scored 59 in another outing.
Junior quarterback Kolten Gibson took home the Region 4-5A Player of the Year honors with 3,004 yards passing and 39 total touchdowns — 29 by air, 10 by land. In his record-breaking career he has 6,058 passing yards with 63 touchdown passes compared to 15 interceptions.
In a 68-36 win over rival Cleveland on Sept. 30, Gibson completed 27-of-38 for 420 yards and five touchdown passes while totaling 92 rushing yards and three scores. His eight touchdowns are the third most ever in a single game in the state record books.
The senior-to-be gunslinger sits 20 touchdown passes away from tying for the state’s fifth most touchdown passes in a career, and needs 1,651 yards through the air to crack the top 10 in all-time state passing yardage (according to TSSAA.org).
Also receiving postseason awards for the Mustangs were seniors Cooper Melton and Skyler Swafford, who took home wide receiver and linebacker of the year awards. Melton finished with 61 receptions for 1,123 yards and 13 touchdowns while Swafford racked up an area-leading 158 tackles to go with three sacks. Melton, who is a preferred walk-on at Tennessee this summer, had five games with over 100 yards receiving this season and Swafford had a season-best 23 tackles in a loss against McMinn County on Sept. 2.
All-Region team selections for Walker Valley were the senior wide receiver/defensive back duo of Bryce Nunnelly and Zach Eslinger along with senior tackle/defensive end Chris Ogle and Swafford as the team's academic selection.
Nunnelly and Eslinger combined for 1,423 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns. Nunnelly, a UTC signee, provided the biggest single-game performance for WV receivers this season with a 12-catch, 206-yard performance, scoring twice against Cleveland.
Bradley won its first seven games of the season, but an injury to two-time all-state quarterback Cole Copeland had its effect in a one-point (14-13) loss at Hardin Valley (14-13) and to 16-time state champion Maryville the following week.
The Bears bounced back for a 28-13 win over William Blount in the regular season finale while Copeland continued to recover.
With the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga signee back at the helm for the playoffs, Bradley got past Cookeville 29-25, but a last-second field goal did them in a 38-35 loss at Murfreesboro Blackman the following Friday.
The Bears, who were ranked as high as No. 4 before their first loss, scored an average of 32.25 points per game (387 total), plus the “Black Hole Defense” held a half dozen opponents to two touchdowns or less, including a three-game stretch where they gave up just a total of 19 points to McMinn County, Science Hill and Cleveland, all of which were state ranked at one point during the season.
Copeland took home the Region 1-6A Player of the Year honors and his trustworthy junior wide receiver Lameric Tucker was named Athlete of the Year.
Despite missing 11 quarters of action due to the injury, Copeland completed 168-of-242 pass attempts, which made him the second most accurate passer in the state, while he compiled 2,985 total yards (2,480 pass, 473 rush) and 35 total touchdowns.
The Mr. Tennessee Football semifinalist leaves his prep career having set every major record for a quarterback at Bradley, except for most passing yards in a single game. He also set a personal best with six touchdown passes in a 39-7 win against McMinn County on Aug. 26.
A three-year starter, Copeland surpassed older brother Bryce's Southeast Tennessee and Bradley career records with 9,855 total yards and 106 combined (passing and running) TDs in just 32 starts.
Tucker was a nightmare matchup for opponents as he totaled 16 touchdowns (13 receiving, 2 rushing, 1 kick return), leading the state with 94 catches and finishing second in receiving yards with 1,459.
The all-state selection burned a Cookeville defense for 15 catches, 242 yards and two scores, plus he had two games over 200 yards receiving this season and seven games in triple digits.
Tucker scored four touchdowns in a 41-33 victory against Dobyns-Bennett on Oct. 10. He scored at least one TD in 10 of 12 contests.
Along with Copeland and Tucker, Bradley also had eight players selected to the All-Region 1-6A team — WR/backup QB Dylan Standifer, linemen Tyler Collier, Tucker Bentley and Kevin Gentry, linebackers Jay Person and Hunter Duggan, plus defensive backs Cason Still and Jeffrey Brewer.
Standifer, just a sophomore, had 35 receptions for 413 yards and accounted for a dozen touchdowns.
Person, who already has offers from a pair of SEC schools, led the Bears with 16 tackles for loss and had 64 tackles and five sacks.
Duggan led the team with 75 tackles and had 13 tackles for loss and four sacks.
Still and Brewer were impressive in the secondary. The ballhawks finished with 57 and 56 tackles respectively, while combining for double-digit pass deflections and seven tackles for loss.
Despite 5-5 regular seasons in coach Scott Cummings’ two years at the helm, the Blue Raiders, who made the postseason in 2015, just missed it for only the 11th time since the TSSAA began the playoff system in 1969.
After winning their first three games and earning a state ranking, injuries began to take their toll, forcing Cleveland to use five different QBs during the course of the campaign.
Senior speedster Skyler Davis had to move over from wide receiver to call the signals, earning him the Region 4-5A Ironman Award. In just five games at receiver, Davis had 23 receptions for 584 yards (25.4 ypc) and five touchdowns. He also threw for four scores and ran for two.
Raider sophomore running back Micaleous Elder was named Co-Newcomer of the Year along with Ooltewah's Sincere Quinn. Elder rushed for 663 yards on 66 carries and scored on the ground 10 times. He also had 10 receptions for 119 yards and a touchdown.
Cleveland also had junior wide receiver/safety Romeo Wykle (32.5 yards per catch, 5 TD, 49 tackles), junior running back Keegan Jones (658 total yards, 7 TD) and senior linebacker River Shaffer (50 tackles; academic selection) named to the All-Region team.
Winning their first two games of the season, Polk County snapped a 21-game losing streak.
Although the Wildcats claimed just one more victory in their final eight games, progress was shown by veteran head coach Derrick Davis’ crew.
Polk County also had several postseason honorees.
Sophomore lineman Skyler Camp won Newcomer of the Year after gathering 48 tackles, with 11 of those behind the line of scrimmage.
The senior trio of linebacker Seth Sloan (58 tackles, 7 TFL), lineman Jarrett Blackburn and running back Logan Griswold (11 touchdowns) were all named to the Region 3-2A team.
Griswold led area rushers with 1,082 yards on 236 carries, for a 4.6 yard per carry average.
The Wildcat numbers were up to 44 players out for spring drills recently, including 17 freshmen, as they are trying to get the Big Red Train back on track before opening the season against in county rival Copper Basin on Aug. 18.
Mustang Wideout Bryce Nunnelly earned all-region honors with 1,400 all-purpose yards, to help a record-setting Walker Valley offense in his senior season. Nunnelly will play football for the Chattanooga Mocs this fall, along with another Bradley County standout, Cole Copeland (Banner File Photo).