Walker Valley quarterback Kolten Gibson (3) is escorted by offensive linemen Hunter Raines (65) and Koby Hooker (74) in the first half Friday, against Lenoir City. (Banner Photo: Lynnae Roberts)
LENOIR CITY — As Walker Valley coach Glen Ryan slowly walked toward the visitors locker room, he paused and rubbed his chin searching for an explanation.
The Mustangs minutes earlier had let another chance at a win slip away with yet another big play by the opposition.
On a perfect night for football, missed opportunities, missed tackles and holding penalties at the worst possible moments were more than the Mustangs (0-6, 0-2 Region 4-5A) could overcome in a 35-28 region loss Friday at Lenoir City (4-3, 2-1).
“Our guys are great guys. They are great kids and they’ve got the heart. We just keep shooting ourselves in the foot with things at critical times. We gave up big plays at the wrong time and we didn’t score when we had to score. But we still fought right down to the wire. The heart is there, we’ve just got to understand that every play counts,” said a quiet Ryan.
“It’s not big things, it’s the little things that are beating us. We’ve got to start taking the little things seriously. It’s part of youth and inexperience but we’ve got to grow up and get better. They say sometimes it takes failing big in order to get to the mountain top and have success. I keep hoping good things are around the corner for this football team because right now we are failing. We are failing to take care of the things it takes to win a ballgame. Hopefully we learn from those things.”
The Mustangs once again were solid through the air with senior quarterback Kolten Gibson — who averages just over 355 yards per game — throwing for 343 yards.
Favorite target Zeke Westfield (176 ypg) caught 12 passes from Gibson for 141 yards.
Gibson also was the leading rusher for Walker Valley calling his own number 18 times for 108 yards.
It was the lack of football fundamentals and situational awareness that cost the Mustangs big time. Walker Valley was flagged seven times for 60 yards, more than once at critical junctures.
Two offsides calls, one with the Panthers looking at fourth-and-2, led to the first Lenoir City score early in the second quarter.
The Mustangs were able to counter with a three-play drive that saw Gibson connect with Westfield twice, the second hookup good for a 58-yard touchdown that tied the game at 7-7.
The Gibson led Mustangs took only three plays after a Nolan Cawood interception at the Loudon 28-yard line to take the lead.
An eight-yard pass to Sam Clements and two throws to Westfield for 18 and 10 yards ended in the second TD combination of the night for the duo with less than two minutes left in the half.
The Panthers came right back to score with 19 seconds left and went to the locker room leading 15-14 after a successful 2-point conversion.
The hosts led 21-14 after its first possession of the second half was also successful.
Once again, the Mustangs got down to business and moved from their own 29-yard line to the Panthers’ 22. From there, Gibson found Clements for 22 yards to knot the score at 21-21.
But, as they had twice before, the Panthers retaliated with a scoring drive to take the lead to open the fourth quarter.
After a Lenoir City punt, Walker Valley looked poised to even the deal one more time, but back-to-back procedure penalties and a holding call at the Panthers’ 9-yard line eventually forced the Mustangs into a fourth-and-goal at the Lenoir City 7-yard line. Gibson again found Clements who looked as though he was headed for the tying score before being knocked out of bounds at the half-yard line.
The Panthers dealt the knockout blow seconds later with a 99 1/2-yard burst through the middle of the Mustangs’ defense that gave Lenoir City a 35-21 lead with just over two minutes left to play.
The Mustangs fought back for one more score on a Gibson 1-yard run with 53 seconds left to play.
An onside kick was recovered by the Panthers who were able to run the remaining time off the clock to seal the win.
“We can’t miss tackles like we did tonight. We stunted maybe four times right into the play and had chances to make big plays and missed tackles. We gave them two first downs on offsides calls even after we reminded them to watch the ball,” said a perplexed Ryan. “People make mistakes. As long as you learn from the mistakes you make, you grow and you develop. If we keep making the same mistakes over and over again we are not growing and developing.”
The Mustangs will try again Friday to find what so far has been an elusive win in 2017 with a road game to Red Bank.
“It’s tough right now. I really don’t know what to say. I don’t know what to say to them. They’re hurting. We’re hurting. It’s really frustrating. The No. 1 thing we’ve got to do is keep our heads up and keep plodding along. Keep trying to get better,” the Mustangs’ coach stated.
“This is something I’m not used to. I’m having to learn and adjust how to handle that and motivate them in the right way to keep moving. I can’t help but believe there is a win out there somewhere for us if we just put it all together. I love our kids and I believe in them. I can’t help but feel something good is around the corner for them.”
In Lenoir City
Walker Valley 0 14 7 7 — 28
Lenoir City 0 15 7 14 — 35
LC — Kevin Crabtree 6 pass from Devin Noah (Jonah Rittenhouse kick), 10:26
WV — Zeke Westfield 58 pass from Kolten Gibson (Charlie Swafford kick), 9:09
LC — Tyler Dutton 29 pass from Noah (Dutton catch), 0:19.6
LC — Noah 37 run (kick failed), 10:01
WV — Sam Clements 22 pass from Gibson (Swafford kick), 4:00
LC — Kaleb Aikens 13 pass from Noah (Rittenhouse kick), 10:31
LC — Dutton 99 1/2 run (Rittenhouse kick), 2:33
WV — Gibson 1 run (Swafford kick), 0:53.8
First downs WV 23 LC 14
Rushes-Yards WV 22-119 LC 37-303
Passing WV 343 LC 139
Total yards WV 462 LC 442
Comp-Att-Int WV 27-41-0 LC 8-16-1
Punts-Avg. WV 4-32 LC 3-38.6
Fumbles-Lost WV 0-0 LC 2-0
Penalties-Yards WV 7-60 LC 8-83
Gibson 18-108 (WV)
Cody Clevenger 7-52
Preston Adams 4-22
Gibson 27-41, 343 (WV)
Noah 8-16, 139 (LC)
Brock Gibson 4-88
Caleb Grannan 3-36
Dylan Allender 1-11 (WV)
Kevin Crabtree 1-6
Dutton 3-75 (LC).
Walker Valley 0-6
Lenoir City 4-3.