Walker Valley wide receiver Zeke Westfield (2) fights for yardage after a catch in the second quarter against McMinn County inside the Toby McKenzie Athletics Complex at Walker Valley. (Banner Photo: Lynnae Roberts)
On a night where three senior Mustangs etched their names in the Walker Valley record book, the team continued to struggle.
Quarterback Kolten Gibson put his name in the book again breaking his own record, which he set last year, for most passing yards in a season with 3,042 and most touchdown passes in a season with 34.
Gibson's favorite target, Zeke Westfield, carved his name in the compendium setting a new mark with 1,503 yards receiving and 91 receptions on the season.
Cody Duggan is now second all-time on the Walker Valley tackle list and has recorded an even 100 stops this season after eight solo tackles with five assists.
Gibson completed 17-of-31 passes for 203 yards while Westfield hauled in six passes for 108. Duggan was involved in a total of 13 tackles Friday evening.
But, the individual efforts did little to stop the McMinn County rushing machine. The Cherokees (2-7) bullied their way through the Mustang's defense to the tune of 393 yards in a 49-31 defeat of Walker Valley (1-8).
The Mustangs again started off in the hole with two negative yard plays on their first possession that led to a 14-0 McMinn County lead late in the first quarter.
“That's been our struggle all year,” said Mustangs coach Glen Ryan of the team's inconsistent play. “We have opportunities and we don't capitalize. We get a score and we let them score. We can't put it all together. We are still making too many knucklehead mistakes.”
The Mustangs put together a solid drive as the first quarter came to a close moving from their own 25-yard line to the McMinn 8-yard line before back-to-back fumbles pushed the ball back to the 16. CJ Heifner got Walker Valley on the board with a 33-yard field goal to make it a 14-3 game.
The Herd again put a drive together to open the second quarter and moved from their own 36 to the Tribe 3-yard line where Gibson found Caleb Grannan open in the corner of the end zone for the TD cutting the gap to 14-11, where the score stood at halftime.
McMinn opened the second half with back-to-back scores to take a 28-11 lead.
“We play in spurts. We don't play consistent. It goes back to how you practice. We do the same thing in practice every day. We will have one day that's good and the next day we look like we've never stepped on a football field,” lamented Ryan, whose Mustangs were flagged 19 times for 154 yards. “I don't know. I wish somebody could tell me the secret to it. It is really mind boggling.”
Walker Valley again put a drive together after a Tribe punt and moved 69 yards to the McMinn 6-yard line where Gibson covered the final distance across the goal line cutting the difference to 28-18.
The fourth quarter was all Tribe. McMinn County put three TDs on the board in the final 12 minutes as emotions flared on both sides of the ball.
The Mustangs came back to cover 67 yards in two plays — helped along by a 15-yard penalty — scoring on a Gibson to Sam Clements 13-yard touchdown pass to make it 49-24. Walker Valley added a final score to the total with a 62-yard drive that culminated in a Gibson to Luke Wallace 16-yard TD connection with just under two minutes left to play.
“We lost our cool out there. We talk to them about those things and preach it,” Ryan said of the skirmish that saw a Mustang and Cherokee ejected. “You've got to play heads up football. You've got to know where you're at in the game. You've got to understand (the situation) and not be jumping offsides. You can't be doing crazy things like that.”
It falls back on us as coaches. We've got to figure out a way to get it straight. It's driving me crazy. It's one of those things that keeps you up at night and makes you pull your hair out or turn gray.”
The Mustangs fall back into region football in the regular season finale with one last shot at a playoff bid on the road against Soddy-Daisy.
“We've got one more shot at it. I hope our guys understand and realize that. For us to win next Friday, we've got to start Monday. We can't wait and go through the motions next week and expect to be better on Friday because that ain't gonna happen,” said Ryan.