Walker Valley sophomore running back Heath Tanksley bursts upfield as a pair of blockers keep a Polk County defender pushed back. The Wildcats and Mustangs brought physicality in Tuesday's scrimmage at WVHS. (Banner Photo: Patrick MacCoon).
The popping of pads and the impact of contact provided warm sounds and sights for both Glen Ryan and Derrick Davis.
In an otherwise friendly meeting between Walker Valley (4A) and Polk County (2A) the head football coaches got to see some earth-shaking hits provided by Polk's Eddie Lamb, Walker Valley's Heath Tanksley and others in the hot summer heat at the Mustangs' practice field Tuesday.
A large crowd was on hand, as anticipation for the 2018 football season is skyrocketing.
"Both sides came out and played very physical football," a pleased WV Coach Ryan said of his team's final tuneup before it faces McCallie and Notre Dame in UTC's prep jamboree Friday night. "We haven't been tough like that in a long, long time. We knew Polk would be a good test, because they come at you and get down and dirty. I was pleased how our guys reacted."
For the Wildcats, the 30-minute bus ride to the northern end of Bradley County was worth the drive.
No significant injuries occurred for the Big Red Train, which is on track for a strong showing with a loaded backfield and a four-year starter at QB behind center in Nate Waters (8 TDs, 1 INT, 2017).
The Wing-T, pound-and-ground offense has returned star playmakers in sophomore fullback Eddie Lamb and senior wingback Hunter Morgan.
Both look to have gained extra strength without having lost a step after combining for over 1,400 rushing yards and 18 ground scores in 2017 (Lamb missed 2 1/2 games).
"We aren't setting goals for 1,000 yard rushers or anything like that," Coach Davis said. "Our first goal is to beat Copper Basin and be in every game this season. We are better overall as a team from last year (4-6). The key is to keep improving."
Versatile senior wingback Kyle Dunn scored on the ground and through the air with "the 1s" during Tuesday's scrimmage. Last season he totaled over 500 yards and averaged close to seven yards per touch.
Polk's first-string defense, meanwhile, came away with a goal-line stand to go with two forced fumbles, while its No. 2s intercepted a pair of passes.
The Wildcats had the edge in 1s vs. 1s before they removed their starters with several series left.
"We have had good results in all three scrimmages," said Davis, whose Wildcats look to compete in Region 3-AA with powers such as Marion County and Tyner Academy. "I am glad the regular season is almost here. I liked what I saw out of our ones today. However, we are going to have to get better with guys we can roll in."
Walker Valley saw several positives, which included several long passes reeled in by sophomore Reid Gibson, to go along with a one-handed snag as well as a juggling catch for a score.
The quarterback battle between Griffin Broome and Daniel Denton remains neck-and-neck, with less than 10 days to go before the season opener at UTC with Chattanooga Central next Thursday.
"Every scrimmage we have gotten a little bit better," Ryan said. "That's all you can ask for out of a young bunch. There are no superstars on this football team, but they play together as a team."
The Mustangs moved the ball effectively, but lost hold of the pigskin four times.
Tanksley accounted for two scores, one of which came on the final play of a 10-play series covering 80 yards. He also eluded several tacklers and showed his lateral quickness on a big gain off a screen pass.
The promising sophomore runner was not scared to lower his shoulder pads to deliver forcible blows, and to take one as well.
Tanksley expects to be a bell-cow back this year, especially after flashing his talent with 19 carries for 97 yards to go with five receptions for 57 more in the season finale last year at Soddy-Daisy.
Cole Gobble intercepted a pass and WV's defense bottled up the Polk running game at times in the middle.
Mustang tight end Clint Davis moved the chains with some big catches, while Avery Gray also fought his way through contact on several carries.
"This is a fun group to coach," Ryan said. "All of these kids want to please, and do the right things. We just have to get them comfortable and get better each day.
"Polk County was a tough competitor and they are definitely getting back to how they used to be."
The Wildcats will go up against Sweetwater in McMinn Central's jamboree kick off at 7:30 Friday night.
Polk County fullback Eddie Lamb plows through a Walker Valley defender during a scrimmage Tuesday evening. (Banner Photo: Patrick MacCoon)