Walker Valley's Kolten Gibson (3) and Christian Vandusen (64) make a tackle last week in a win over Red Bank. Gibson finished with a game-high 12 tackles and will be asked to do a lot again this week against Knox Catholic. (Photo: Nikki Swafford)
A little bit of a shake up defensively went a long way for Walker Valley, who will look to use last week’s 45-42 last second victory over Red Bank as a stepping stone to more success.
However, after beating the state’s No. 6 ranked 3A team nothing will get easier for the Mustangs who host a Region 4-5A contest against sixth-ranked Knoxville Catholic this Friday.
“There is no weak sister on our schedule,” WVHS head coach Glen Ryan said. “They go from good to better, to better. It’s going to take everything we gave last week and more to get this team. They are very big, physical and have some great athletes. We have to keep them contained.”
Previously allowing an average of 25.8 points per second half defensively, a Cody Duggan-led defense played its gaps and Walker Valley found its way to the ball carrier in the backfield quite frequently in a second half shutout last week.
A season-high four sacks were landed by the Mustangs in the upset victory, which included quarterback bring downs by Isaiah Alston, Kellar Carson, Kole Hall and Duggan. WV finished with 12 tackles for loss and in his first start at free safety Kolten Gibson had two interceptions.
“The win over Red Bank was great and it was emotional because it’s been a struggle to finish games,” Coach Ryan said. “We had some really rough goings in the early stages, but didn’t give up. Hopefully we can put our emotions in check and our guys are ready to step up and greet this week’s challenge.”
Making the move to mike linebacker, Duggan leads the team and is first in the area with 82 tackles (53 solo) and is tied for the team lead in sacks (3) with Alston (44 TT, 13 TFL).
A surprise standout on the defensive side for the Mustangs has been Hall, who made a switch after playing at running back in the season opener. The sophomore is averaging 10.5 tackles per game since joining the starting lineup.
“Kole really had a great game the other night and was making big tackles for us all night,” Ryan said. “Last week was the type of performance we need defensively. A lot of different guys were stepping up for us.”
Carson, who is third on the team with 50 stops, has shown growth at linebacker along with freshman Kallum Lowe (8 tackles in win vs. RB).
Going up against the Fighting Irish (5-3, 2-0 4-5A), a tough matchup will certainly present itself against an offense that has a pair of University of Tennessee commits and averages 39 points per game.
The No. 15 top recruit in the state in DaShon Bussell (6-foot-2, 175) has 35 catches for 610 yards and eight total touchdowns this season. Meanwhile, the lone five-star recruit in Cade Mays (6-foot-5, 305) packs a powerful punch up front at left tackle.
WV will look to sophomore Alex Duke to cover the athletic receiver, while also playing a major role on special teams. The Baylor transfer has averaged 19.5 yards per return and had a long return of 34 against Red Bank to go with an 11 tackle (TFL, PBU) performances.
“Alex has been a really strong addition for us,” Ryan said. “He has helped out our secondary a lot. He is very athletic and important to us in many phases of the game. He has good speed and is a gutsy player.”
While the major difference will be made on the defensive side for both sides, the Mustangs (1-6, 0-2) nationally ranked offense will look to pick apart a beatable defense that has allowed over 40 points to Maryville, Eagle’s Landing Christian Academy, Soddy-Daisy and Brentwood Academy.
While Bussell is major factor, Walker Valley feels as if they have just as good of a receiver if not better in 6-foot-5 Zeke Westfield.
The country’s second leading receiver in receiving yards (1,333; 190.4 per game) and catches (77; 11 per game) has 12 touchdowns with at least a long catch of 38 yards or longer in every game.
Westfield’s sure hands and ability to churn out extra yards after the catch has resulted in breaking the school’s single game receiving record three times, while he broke the school single season record in his 310-yard (17 catch) heroic performance against Red Bank.
He has five straight games with at least 10 catches and is averaging 212.7 yards per game against all other teams not named Bradley Central.
“We feel like there is always an opportunity for a big play with our 6-foot-5 receiver,” Ryan said. “We don’t game plan for it, but we know we will have our shots and have to take advantage of the deep ball when we get the looks.”
Westfield also started at defensive back last week and finished with three tackles.
Right there among the nation’s leaders is Gibson, who enters Friday’s contest one touchdown away from tying the Southeast Tennessee career touchdown record of 106 set by former Bradley Central gunslinger Cole Copeland.
Twenty-four of Gibson’s 27 touchdown passes have gone to either Brock Gibson (469 yards, 8 TD, 33 pct TD rate per catch), Sam Clements (351 yards, 4 TD) and Westfield.
Gibson ranks seventh in the nation with 2,520 passing yards (360 per game), while he also has three games over 95 yards rushing. He has four games with five or more touchdowns this season and is averaging 511 total yards over his last four contests, in which WV has averaged 44 points per game.
With full control of the offense and now playing on defense and special teams, Gibson has free reign to impact an outcome in any way he wants.
The Mustangs hope that can turn into a big region victory or two in their final three game stretch as they will need to beat Soddy-Daisy (Oct. 27) to guarantee a playoff spot.
WV's opposition up to this point has a combined record of 38-23.