Both county teams will be looking for big plays in Friday night’s “County Conflict at The Corral.” Walker Valley got a pair of touchdowns from senior receiver Brock Gibson (24) last week. (Banner File Photo: Lynnae Roberts)
If facing your rival in the second game of the season wasn’t already tough enough, the fact both teams in Friday’s “County Conflict at The Corral” are coming off tough losses just adds to the pressure.
“Nobody wants to start 0-2,” declared veteran coach Damon Floyd, whose fourth-ranked (6A) Bradley Central squad dropped a 27-21 overtime heartbreaker to reigning state (5A) champion Farragut last week at Bear Stadium. The Admirals are ranked eighth in the first Associated Press Class 6A poll of the season.
“Coming off a game like we had last week and now having to face Bradley is a tough order,” remarked Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan, whose Mustangs came up short in a 48-36 late night shootout at Finley Stadium against Chattanooga Central a week ago.
Both the Bears and ’Stangs hurt themselves with turnovers in their season openers. Floyd and Ryan agree that can’t happen again this week.
“You can’t win when you turn the ball over five times,” remarked Floyd of his team’s four interceptions and a lost fumble against Farragut.
“Walker Valley has too explosive of an offense for us to give them any extra chances. We have got to hold on to the ball.”
Ryan echoed the sentiment. “We had way too many turnovers (three lost fumbles) and found ourselves down 18-0 in the first 8 1/2 minutes of the game.
“To our guys’ credit, once we got our offense going we fought back, but then we gave them another score (a 50-yard fumble recovery) to start the second half.
“We can’t do that kind of thing against Bradley. We are going to have to cut down our mistakes and find a way for our defense to slow them down.”
Bradley returns 10 starters from an offense that averaged 32.3 points a game last season and put up 400 yards on the state champs last Friday.
The Bears gained 168 yards on 43 carries last week, with senior Nick Howell stepping in for a pair of nicked-up teammates to pound out 112 yards on 18 rushes, including a 14-yard scamper to the end zone.
He also caught a trio of passes for 58 more with a 25-yard TD.
“Nick really gave us a boost. He’s a do-everything type guy with good speed, great hands, great vision and is a very physical runner,” praised Floyd.
“(Bear running backs) Adam (Mullis) and Devin (Moore) aren’t 100 percent yet coming back from injuries, and Nick stepped right in and provided what we needed.”
All-state receiver Lameric Tucker had 107 all-purpose yards on a half dozen carries, five receptions and a kick return. He also scored on a 2-yard dive.
Taking over control of the Bear offense full time, junior Dylan Standifer completed 64 percent of his passes (18-for-28) for 238 yards.
“We only have three starters back on defense, so we have a bunch of puppies out there against a senior-laden offense that is very good,” Ryan related.
“Bradley is not a good matchup for us. They have experience and speed and our defense played back on its heels last week.
“I hope our fan base understands just how young we are on defense.”
Floyd has some concerns of his own when it comes to trying to slow down the high-powered Mustang offense.
“They have a four-year starter (Kolten Gibson) that is one of the best quarterbacks we’ve ever seen. They proved last week that just because they lost a lot of senior receivers (to graduation) they have some other guys that are very capable of catching his passes.”
Gibson and fellow senior Zeke Westfield hooked up for a school record 217 yards on nine aerials, including TD tosses of 52 and 20 yards.
“Westfield may be hurt (knee injury), but he can still hurt you on the edges, plus he is a big target (6-foot-5). We saw what kind of trouble that caused us last week,” commented Coach Floyd after all four Farragut scores were pulled in by 6-foot-7 Tennessee Vol commit Jacob Warren.
“Their (WV) other receivers did well also, and they are using the (Sam) Clements kid, who is big and versatile, as an H-back/tight end combo that can be a problem.”
A 6-foot-4, 240-pound senior, Clements caught seven passes for 56 yards, including a 13-yard TD.
Senior Brock Gibson hauled in four receptions for 99 yards, with scores from 60 and 4 yards out.
All totaled, Gibson connected on 26-of-38 passes (better than 68 percent) for 422 yards, with five touchdowns against the Purple Pounders last week.
The strong-armed gunslinger has nearly 6,500 passing yards in his career and led a Mustang offense that was the eighth-highest scoring in the state last season at 41.8 points per game average, while going 7-5 and winning the school’s first TSSAA playoff game.
“Last week we had way too many missed assignments (on defense). We may have overprepared. We got down 14-0 and we went back to the basics of what we do best, and did much better,” remarked Floyd.
“We can’t afford mistakes this week or they will make us pay.
“We haven’t played real well up there (at The Corral) in the past, but our kids will be ready to go. Kids are more resilient than coaches sometimes. They are quick to get over things like last week’s loss and go forward.”
The Bears will be without the services of college-bound offensive tackle Chris Cash (6-foot-6, 285), who had to leave last week’s game in the second half.
“Cash will be out three to six weeks with a severe high ankle sprain,” related Floyd. “We’ve got three or four guys that are working out in his spot, but we haven’t made a decision yet as to who will get the start.”
Bradley holds an 11-1 edge in the series between the county squads, with the lone Mustang win coming in a 17-14 game at “The Corral” in 2014.
Last year’s game at Bear Stadium was a 40-28 outcome, as both teams were state-ranked at the time.
The gates will open at 5:30 Friday evening, with advance tickets available at both school offices, the Town Squire, Cooke’s Pharmacy, Gobble Automotive and Monogram Market.