The high school football playoffs hadn't arrived quite yet, but that win-or-go-home urgency came a week early for the Soddy-Daisy Trojans and the Walker Valley Mustangs, who squared off Friday night with their seasons and the fourth and final Region 4-5A state berth on the line.
Soddy-Daisy used a strong second half to take the 48-28 win on senior night and earn its place in the postseason. That spot might have been locked up earlier this season if not for some close calls for the Trojans (6-4, 1-3), who lost their first three region games by a combined five points.
"It feels fantastic," Soddy-Daisy coach Justin Barnes said. "We were able to play better in the second half and make some corrections defensively. (Walker Valley quarterback) Kolten Gibson will beat you any way he can, so it's pretty impressive what our defense was able to do."
The Mustangs (1-9, 0-4) started strong, putting up 14 first-quarter points behind freshman running back Heath Tanksley's two plunges from the 1-yard line.
Soddy-Daisy answered in the second quarter with a 28-yard touchdown run from Ty Boeck and a 14-yard pass from Gavin Chambers to Beau Blaylock, but a missed PAT and Kolten Gibson's 4-yard scoring strike to Brock Gibson kept Walker Valley ahead 21-13.
"We have to learn to start faster," Barnes said. "We've been in that spot a few times this year where one side comes out ready to go and the offense puts points up early or the defense gets a couple of three-and-outs. We want to come out more unified."
The Trojans were able to tie the game at 21 with 1:44 to play in the first half on a 7-yard run by Brandon Davis, and that's what it was at halftime.
The fireworks display continued in the third quarter as the teams traded touchdowns.
The Mustangs got another aerial connection from the Gibsons, this time for 20 yards to regain the lead, after starting the drive on its 5-yard line. Soddy-Daisy tied it less than a minute later with Chambers' second touchdown pass of the night, a 21-yarder to Hayden Maynor.
"Our kids play hard, but they just make too many mistakes at critical times," Walker Valley coach Glen Ryan said. "That's been our Achilles' heel all year. When it comes to crunch time, I have to do a better job of coaching our guys to perform in that crunch time. But you won't have a lot of teams that come in 1-8 and play that hard."
Soddy-Daisy lit up the scoreboard with big plays in a 20-point fourth quarter, and its defense made sure Walker Valley didn't get the chance to answer.
Chambers got to four total touchdowns in the game with a 61-yard pass to Blaylock and a 13-yard run. Boeck added the final score with 1:33 to go by breaking a 79-yard run on the first play after the Trojans forced a turnover on downs.
Contact Idris Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.