Cleveland High’s defense will try to contain the explosive Walker Valley offense in the annual intracounty battle Friday night at Benny Monroe Stadium. (Banner File Photo: George Norkus)
In a heated local rivalry, there are always two sides to the story.
When Walker Valley travels to Cleveland for Week 6 Friday night football action, each side will be ready to prove a point.
Last season it was the Mustangs who torched the Blue Raiders in a 68-36 victory, which became the highest single-game scoring output in school history, thanks to one of Kolten Gibson’s two career eight-touchdown performances (tied for third in TSSAA history).
Adding fuel to the fire, WVHS has won its last two meetings against CHS by a combined 102-36 on the final scoreboard.
The ’Stangs had previously fared poorly, with a 2-12 in the intracounty series.
“Our defense is definitely looking to make a statement this week,” CHS senior captain and outside linebacker Logan Stutzman said. “We still have a bitter taste in our mouths from last season. We are hungry and have some unfinished business to take care of.”
In a year’s time plenty has changed, especially for a Blue Raiders defense that allowed five opponents to score at least 28 points last season.
Stutzman (47 tackles, 2 INT) has played an integral part in a faster and more physical defense that has forced a total of 11 turnovers (seven INTs, four fumble recoveries).
Cleveland (3-2) has allowed 18.8 points per contest and held every opponent except Bradley Central to 325 yards or less, which included a combined 321 yards in wins over Bearden and William Blount.
Some of the pieces making the defense flow have been the switch of Chase Oliver to outside linebacker, Romeo Wykle’s leadership at safety and the emergence of junior cornerback David Dorsey and sophomore linebacker Clark Lockerby.
Despite the vast improvements for the CHS defensive unit, a tough task still remains as it faces an opposing signal caller currently ranked second in the state at the QB position by MaxPreps, with 338.3 passing yards per game.
Gibson is second in the state with 15 touchdown passes as well, and is a safe bet to throw the ball 30-40 times any given week.
“We have changed a few things, but not anything major with our pass rush this week, knowing that Gibson will have the ball in his hands most of the time,” said Oliver, who leads Cleveland with three sacks and over 20 quarterback hurries this season. “Getting lots of pressure on him will be big and we have to contain him in the pocket. I have a lot of trust in the boys behind me knowing they will keep their receivers locked up until we get back there to him.”
Dorsey, who shadowed Bradley Central standout wide receiver Lameric Tucker last week, could see plenty of time against another one of the state’s best wideouts in Walker Valley’s Zeke Westfield (6 TDs). Dorsey leads CHS with three interceptions.
The Blue Raiders secondary will be tested significantly against an opposition which has gone to the air 70 percent of the time in its last two contests (vs. Rhea County and Stone Memorial).
While an instant-classic game ended the wrong way for CHS with its 27-21 loss to Bradley last Friday, Cleveland is ready to turn the table against its other local rival and start the second half of the regular season on a positive note.
“Our locker room is electric about this game,” Stutzman said. “We have battled through adversity and last week learned a valuable lesson, to never give up on one another. We are going to fight as brothers, regardless of the situation.”
Their explosive air raid is without question one of the best in the state, but the Mustangs are still on the hunt for their first victory this season.
Despite this matchup being a non-district contest, Walker Valley (0-4) would love nothing more than to create an upset on foreign turf.
Expected to play a big part in trying to make that happen will be senior breakout wide receiver Brock Gibson, who has starred in the No. 2 receiver role.
The 6-foot-2 friendly target for his cousin at quarterback made the decision to play football after focusing only on basketball during his junior year. Strong results have followed to the tune of 15 catches for 282 yards and six touchdowns.
“Many people didn’t think I would do as good as I have, and I have used that in practice to push myself,” Brock Gibson said. “My coaches and teammates have helped me since the first day I came out. I’m competitive and hate to lose. I just want to help my team win.”
Twice this season the Gibson-to-Gibson connection has totaled over 100 yards together with two scores.
On the receiving end of passes from a gunslinger who set a Bradley County record and the state’s second most ever with 526 passing yards in a 62-55 loss to Stone Memorial in Week 4, Gibson and company believe in their record-breaking quarterback.
“I believe Kolten is a very underrated quarterback for his caliber of play,” said Gibson, who will take an unofficial visit to Kennesaw State outside of Atlanta within the next month. “He can sling the ball and outrun defenders if he needs to. I think he is one of the best in the state without a doubt.”
Kolten Gibson is also Walker Valley’s leading rusher with 132 yards this season, and ran for 100 yards on nine carries in 626-total yard explosion against Stone Memorial.
Even after the Mustangs’ bye week, senior Zeke Westfield is still third in the state with 637 receiving yards, and first with 38 receptions (9.5 per game) according to MaxPreps.
While Westfield, Gibson and Sam Clements are all weapons to worry about for Cleveland, if an upset victory is to be in the cards for one of the state’s top passing offenses, Walker Valley will probably have to limit its turnovers in what will likely be a high-scoring game.
WVHS has allowed 49 points per game and will have its hands full against a speedy CHS attack led by Keegan Jones (51 carries, 340 yards, 6 TDs) and Micaleous Elder (212 rushing yards, 148 receiving yards).