Bradley Central sophomore Tray Curry (32) (shown here being pursued by Walker Valley's Cole Hall -6 and Reid Abel-73) caught just one pass, for a 4-yard TD, in last year's "County Conflict," but is expected to play a much larger role Friday when Walker Valley returns to Bear Stadium. (Banner Photo: Robert Cannon)
On paper, Walker Valley comes into Friday night's annual "County Conflict" with the advantage.
The Mustangs rallied for a respectable showing in a 40-28 loss to Chattanooga Central last week, while Bradley Central got shut out (34-0) for just the second time in more than a decade.
Walker Valley forced five Purple Pounder fumbles, recovering three of them, while the Bears turned the ball over eight times against Farragut last Friday.
However, Herd head coach Glen Ryan is quick to point out the game isn't played on paper.
"Last week's Bradley game isn't what they'll bring this Friday," the veteran Mustang mentor related. "They are a better team than what they showed against a very good Farragut team."
Pleased with his team rallying from a 34-3 deficit with four touchdowns in the final 15 1/2 minutes last week, Ryan saw some things he feels good about.
"We hope to take the positives we saw last week and build on them," he stated. "Our kids have shown a great desire, attitude and effort, but we are young and still need to work on the fundamentals. We looked back at every touchdown we gave up last week, and could see where our mistakes led to each score."
"I'll tell you one thing, those (WV) kids don't give up," proclaimed Bradley head coach Damon Floyd. "They played hard and continued to battle even when they were down by 30 points. They came back to make a game of it.
"It doesn't matter what either team did last week, or last year; this is a big county rivalry game, so there will be a highly emotional atmosphere. Each team will go all out."
While Bradley has dominated the previous 13 "County Clashes" with a dozen wins, including last year's largest margin of victory in a 52-7 blowout, the Black-and-Gold won't take anything for granted when it comes Friday night's battle with the Herd in Bear Stadium.
"Every time we've faced them, they have given us their all. We expect nothing less this time around," declared Floyd, who has been on the sideline for all but one of the yearly meetings since 2005.
While very unhappy about last week's results in Knoxville, 10th-ranked Bradley is looking to get things turned around.
"Last week left a bad taste in our mouths," proclaimed the Papa Bear, who wondered out loud about how his team got ranked in the first AP poll of the season. "We had too many self-inflicted wounds last week with the turnovers, missed tackles and 11 penalties.
"We can't beat ourselves. While we are obviously preparing and putting in a game plan to face what Walker Valley does, a lot of our preparation is about getting back to doing what we need to do."
Despite being unable to find the end zone, the Bear offense did go for 320 yards at Farragut, including 95 on 19 carries by junior running back Ricky McCleary.
"Their running back has got some speed, plus we have to know where No. 12 (Tray Curry) and No. 9 (Saylor Clark) are at all times," remarked Coach Ryan. "Then you have (Dylan) Standifer, their all-state quarterback, who is a wild card in the mix because he can do so many things to hurt you.
"We've got to find a way to corral them to have a chance. They are not one-dimensional. They are very balanced, plus they are big up front. They may not have the experience up there they had last year, but they have the size.
"We are small and not too fast, plus we're young and still have a big learning curve right now," he assessed. "We showed improvement on both sides of the ball last week and had some guys really step up, so we're heading in the right direction.
"Our guys are giving it all they've got and that's all we as coaches can ask of them. When you lay it all on the line, you can hold your head high."
Both teams came out of their season openers with a few nicks and bumps, but only Bear starting cornerback Davion Dunn will miss the game due to injury.
"Davion reinjured the same hip that had kept him out of much of the preseason," Coach Floyd related. "He's day-to-day. We will hold him out until he's 100 percent."
While both squads are looking for their first win of the new campaign, the battle isn't a region contest and therefore will have no bearing on either squad's playoff hopes.
"What's on the line is pride," declared Floyd. "These guys all go to church together and are friends outside of football, so bragging rites has a lot to do with it as well."
No matter the outcome, Bear Stadium will be filled to capacity with excitement and action Friday night, with gates to open at 5 p.m. and kickoff set for 7:30.
Game tickets are already on sale at both schools as well as Lake Forest Middle, plus Town Squire, Cooke's Food Store, Gooble Automotive, the Chop Shop and Medical Center Pharmacy.