Walker Valley receiver Caleb Grannan stretches for yardage after a catch during jamboree action at Finley Stadium, Saturday. The Mustangs return to Chattanooga Thursday for their season opener against Chattanooga Central. (Banner Photo: Lynne Roberts)
Grab your popcorn, because football season is back!
While breaking the standard, Walker Valley and Chattanooga Central are in their final walk-throughs for their primetime showdown in UTC’s Finley Stadium at 8:30 p.m. Thursday night.
Here is a look at the matchup from both sides.
2016 records: Walker Valley 7-5 (3-3 Region 4-5A); Central 3-8 (3-3 Region 2-4A)
Can the offense keep up?
With a lack of experience on the defensive side, the Mustangs will look to pick up right where they left off on the opposite side, as they averaged nearly 42 points per game.
A tough test will present itself in a Purple Pounder defense, which features four standout senior linebackers.
However, a former Bradley County coach knows as well as any the difficulties that could result from trying to stop Kolten Gibson from getting into a flow.
“There is no doubt Kolten is one of the top quarterback prospects in our area,” Chattanooga Central second-year head coach Courtney Braswell said. “You have to have yourself both mentally and physically prepared for that kind of challenge. He won’t be surprised by anything we throw at him. He is poised and has a great arm that will keep us on our toes.”
Gibson averaged nearly 275 yards through the air last season and 2.5 touchdown passes and will most likely have to meet both marks if WV wants to come away victoriously.
A big step toward those numbers could be made if fellow senior Zeke Westfield is cleared to play. The 6-foot-4, 190-pound receiver is considered day-to-day with a knee injury he hopes to play through this season with a knee brace.
If Westfield is out, the Mustangs will have to try to open up the run game with big plays through the air to Sam Clements, Brock Gibson, Luke Wallace and Caleb Graanan.
Clements presents a nice redzone target for Gibson with his 6-foot-3, 240-pound frame that makes him a tough tackle.
Stopping a budding program
Chattanooga Central has done everything it possibly could this preseason to take the jump to the next level.
A defense which flashed potential at times last season in holding four opponents under two scores could be greatly helped out by the reigning Region 2-4A running back of the year, Michael McGhee.
The Purple Pounders will try all they can to control the clock with their standout junior, who just as a sophomore when he rushed for over 800 yards last season and had close to another 400 receiving, averaging over 110 ypg.
“We just have to play solid defense all the way around,” said WVHS head coach Glen Ryan. “We haven’t had anybody really step up defensively yet this preseason. Right now we are waiting for a leader on the defensive side to emerge and hopefully we will find one Thursday night.
“We have to tackle better and swarm to the football. We are going up against a good football team.”
WV senior defensive lineman Cody Duggan and Isaiah Alston will have to make their presence felt early and often by helping disrupt the lanes for McGhee.
Central turned heads at UTC once already, with an 8-6 victory over Ooltewah in the jamboree Saturday.
The Purple Pounders also return dual-threat starting quarterback Jaheim Jones, who observers agree has the capability to both rush and throw for over 100 yards.
Building for the future
While the Mustangs would like to win now, a team that will start two freshman linebackers realizes it needs to simply focus on improving each week.
“As long as they keep trying to get better and give me and our program 100 percent effort, I can’t fault these guys. If they don’t give me all they have, then we will have some issues. I hope we come and bring every bit of fight we can to the field Thursday night.”