Walker Valley senior Kolten Gibson (3) dives for the goalline for his record-setting 107th combined (rushing and passing) career touchdown during Friday evening's action against Knox Catholic at "The Corral." (Banner Photo: Paul Pruett)
While Walker Valley out-gained Knox Catholic 501-481 in total yards and nearly posted its second straight second half shutout on defense, the opening 12 minutes decided the final outcome in a Region 4-5A contest.
Despite outscoring the perennial private school power, 42-21 from the second quarter on, the Fighting Irish exploded for 42 points in the first quarter on their way to a 63-42 road victory.
With NCAA D-I athletes in abundance, Catholic dominated early by scoring five touchdowns on its first nine plays from scrimmage.
“They are a darn good football team,” WVHS head coach Glen Ryan said. “I appreciate Coach (Steve) Matthews for pulling his ones and allowing us to be competitive in the game the rest of the way. They are tough on both sides and we couldn’t man up with those guys or get pressure on them.”
The Irish offensive line led by 5-star Tennessee commit Cade Mays gave quarterback Jack Sompayrac (four 1st quarter TD passes) as long as he wanted to find standout receivers such as Miami (Ohio) commit Cam Blakely, Eastern Kentucky commit DJ Mitchell and another Vols commit in DaShon Bussell.
The Mustangs were out-gained 285-31 in total yards in the opening 12 minutes. Just 23 seconds into the second quarter the deficit grew to 49-0 with Catholic's backups already in the game.
By halftime the Irish had thrown for 287 yards and rushed for 89 to build a 56-14 lead.
“At halftime I told our guys to not worry about the score,” Coach Ryan said. “They could have just rolled over with a running clock at the start of the second half. I was proud they didn’t. Our final stats were a little skewed because they played a lot of younger guys."
No quit was shown from Walker Valley senior quarterback Kolten Gibson, who had hardly any time to drop back and throw with Mays and company breaking through the line in the first quarter.
The country's sixth leading passer went on to complete 31-of-53 passes (season-highs) for 319 yards with four touchdown passes and an interception.
Gibson also rushed for 86 yards on 12 carries and two more scores. He leads all Tennessee signal callers with 37 total touchdowns (career-high 31 passing, 6 rushing) and 3,308 total yards (2,839 passing, 469 rushing) this season.
The only other touchdown accounted for by the Mustangs this season was a touchdown run by freshman Kallum Lowe.
“Kolten is a competitor and has been his whole career,” Ryan said. “I’ve said this a hundred-billion times, I hope schools step up and take notice of the kind of competitor he is.
“We ran a reverse and he made a key block on a big gain. He understands the game and gives everything he’s got every single down.”
Gibson tied the Southeast Tennessee all-time touchdown record with a 12-yard score to tight end Sam Clements with 5:55 left in the second quarter.
His 107th career touchdown to break Bradley Central’s Cole Copeland’s record came when the dual-threat juked and jived his way to the goaline and dove in for a 15-yard touchdown run as the first half expired.
With 111 career touchdowns with two regular season games left, one of the top quarterback’s in state history looks to keep adding to his legacy.
Among the TSSAA records, Gibson ranks third in career total yards (10,513; one behind Upperman’s Connor York), fourth in career passing yards (8,897), fifth in career total touchdowns, fifth in career completions (644) and sixth in career touchdown passes (84).
Mustang star wide receiver Zeke Westfield was double-covered for much of the night and shadowed by a future D-I corner back in Mitchell. He finished with eight catches for 62 yards and two of WV’s four fourth quarter scores.
With 38 rushing yards as well, the 6-foot-5 playmaker posted his seventh game with 100 or more total yards in eight games.
Westfield has dazzled to the tune of a state-leading 85 catches, 1,395 yards and 14 touchdowns in his breakout senior campaign.
“I really don’t think there is a wide receiver and quarterback better than Zeke and Kolten in the state,” said WVHS senior receiver Brock Gibson, who finished with a team-high 104 receiving yards (62 long) on five catches. “They are the heartbeat of this team and we feed off them.”
Walker Valley (1-8, 0-3) will finish the regular season with contests against McMinn County at home next Friday and a playoff-deciding road matchup with Soddy-Daisy in the regular season finale Oct. 28.
With a Trojans loss to Rhea County Friday night, the two winless region opponents will battle for a final playoff berth.
“We have to regroup and find ourselves,” Ryan said. “We have to play our best football and give ourselves a chance and not be down two scores a minute in.”
Mustang athlete Alex Duke had the longest run of the night for 58 yards as he made five defenders miss. He finished with 91 total yards on four touches.
A 40-yard touchdown strike from Gibson to Luke Wallace cut the deficit to 56-42 with 19 seconds left.
WV senior receiver Caleb Grannan finished second on the team with six receptions and gained 44 yards. Clements had five catches for 28 yards and his fifth score of the season.
The leading tackler for the Mustangs was lineman Tyler Sherk, who had six tackles and one for a loss.
Isaiah Morris and Cody Duggan led WV with two TFL's apiece.