Walker Valley sophomore Kallum Lowe (40) stepped up big on both sides of the ball as the Mustangs battled 11th-ranked Stone Memorial Friday evening at "The Corral." (Banner Photo: Robert Cannon)
Although Glen Ryan could easily sing the old "Hee-Haw" song, "If it weren't for bad luck, I'd have no luck at all," the Walker Valley gridiron mentor came away from Friday night's loss looking at the positives.
"I feel good about this group – they are some tough kids. They are willing to do what it takes to improve," he declared after his young Colts suffered their fourth straight loss to a state-ranked team to open the season.
"Despite having played some tough teams and going through everything we went through last week, they have come together. Even tonight with losing (Heath) Tanksley, other guys stepped up and gave it their all."
The 34-14 defeat to 11th-ranked (4A) and unbeaten Stone Memorial came on the heels of the dismissal and voluntary departure of some players, including a pair of starters, after the previous loss at No. 10 (5A) Rhea County. Walker Valley was also without the services of a couple of starters who were in street clothes due to injuries.
On the 11th play of Friday night's home opener at "The Corral," Coach Ryan explained Tanksley suffered a broken leg while being tackled. The sophomore, who came into the contest as the area's second-leading rusher, was taken off the field on a stretcher.
"Kallum (Lowe) stepped in and did a great job running the ball. Then in the second half we needed to give him a (breather) because he was playing both ways. Griffin Broome, who has never practiced a rip at running back, came in and did a good job as well."
The veteran coach welcomes the bye this week, which will give his Herd a chance to recoup before facing rival Cleveland High after it gave reigning state champion Knox Catholic all it wanted Friday night.
The Blue Raiders will ride into "The Corral" Sept. 21 after having hosted archrival Bradley Central this Friday.
"We need a break to help us finish regrouping with all that's went on," Coach Ryan stated. "We are still taking baby steps with these young guys, but we are seeing some good things. Despite the outcome, we saw took good steps last night (against Stone Memorial). We're getting closer."
While the battle with the boys from Crossville wasn't near the 1,300-yard, 17-touchdown offensive eruption in last year's 62-55 thriller, Panther Thomas Arnold provided plenty of exposive excitement, putting on a virtual one-man show.
Ryan warned of the senior signal caller's abilities when discussing the matchup earlier this week. "We've got to keep an eye on their quarterback. He can really hurt you running and throwing."
The 5-foot-7, 150-pounder came into the contest having accounted for 532 yards and a dozen touchdowns in his team's first three victories.
Friday night Arnold used his fleet feet more than his arm, gaining 268 yards on a dozen carries (22.3 yards per carry), including all five Panther scores on runs of 75, 61, 50, 39 and 1 yards. He also caught a trick pass from his running back for a six-yard gain and threw a pair of aerials for another 60 yards, giving him 334 total yards on the night.
"It's the same problem we've had this year — giving up big plays," remarked Ryan. "Our defense isn't letting teams mount drives on us, but we've given up big plays for long scores."
Even Thomas' initial 1-yard touchdown was set up by him scrambling for 31 yards and then completing a 53-yard pass to Jesus Murillo on back-to-back play, which require TD-saving tackles from Kole Hall and Brian Criddle respectively.
All of the game's scoring, except Thomas' 1-yard plunge in the opening frame and his final 39-yard dash to pay dirt in the third, came in the second quarter.
With junior Avery Gray making his first varsity start at quarterback, the Mustangs put together a trio of scoring drives in the period.
"Avery stepped in an took charge of the offense," praised Ryan. "He didn't hesitate. He made a decision and pulled the trigger."
Gray finished with nine completions for 103 yards and gained 32 more on eight rushes, but was caught behind the line four times, including 10-yard sack late in the game.
"We moved the ball, but then struggled once we got into the Red Zone. He (Gray) played a gutsy game. I like that he's gritty."
Trailing 7-0, Walker Valley got on the scoreboard with a 35-yard field goal by junior Charlie Swafford 86 seconds into the second frame.
After Arnold scoring runs of 75 and 61 yards on back-to-back Panther offensive plays, the Mustangs' lone touchdown of the evening was set up by a 65-yard kickoff return by sophomore Brody Swafford, putting the hosts in the Red Zone.
On the first play, Lowe bobbed-and-weaved his way for a 19-yard scoring dash. Junior Kellar Carson carried the ball in the two-point conversion to close the gap to 21-11 with 7:09 to go in the first half.
After Arnold's third QB draw for a 50-yard touchdown, WV mounted a 10-play scoring drive, chewing more than four minutes off the clock before Swafford split the uprights from 23 yards out with 48 ticks remaining.
While Tanksley's nine yards on four carries will keep him second on the local rushing stats for another week, Lowe came on in his stead and gained 67 yards on 13 carries.
Broome helped out with 46 yards on a half dozen rushes.
"Those guys (Lowe and Broome) stepped up in a tough situation and played well," praised Ryan.
The Mustangs also got a boast from a new face as 6-foot-3 junior Noah Durpey pulled in four receptions for 67 yards.
"Duprey's never played before, but he wanted to come out and help us," the Mustang mentor related.
"He came to us right as school started and asked if he could come out. He's had to pay his dues, but he did well tonight. He's raw, but will get better."
Sophomore Reid Gibson also pulled in four passes for 29 yards to push him over the century mark (113) for the season.
Defensively, Dylan Jenkins led the way for the 'Stangs with 11 total tackles, including a half dozen solos and two behind the line of scrimmage.
Doing double-duty, Lowe made seven solo takedowns and had a pair of assisted tackles, plus caused a fumble.
Bryce Hixson collected five solos in eight total hits, including a pair of TFL, with one of three Mustang sacks.
Hall and Carson were both in on seven tackles. They had a trio of solos apiece, plus Hall broke up a pass and Carson made a tackle for loss.
Mike Humphries had a half dozen hits with a sack in his two TFL, while Zack Hovey made two of his three take downs behind the line, including a sack, plus he recovered a fumble.
"I thought our defense played well overall, except for the big plays," assessed Ryan. "Our guys up front and linebackers played tough. They (SM) only completed three passes, two of which were for short gains."
Stone Memorial 7 21 6 0 — 34
Walker Valley 0 14 0 0 — 14
SM — Thomas Arnold 1-yd run (Ty Burton kick), 3:33
WV — Charlie Swafford 35-yd field goal, 10:34
SM — Arnold 75-yd run (Burton kick), 9:40
SM — Arnold 61-yd run (Burton kick), 7:30
WV — Kallum Lowe 19-yd run (Kellar Carson run), 7:09
SM — Arnold 50-yd run (Burton kick), 5:02
WV — Swafford 23-yd field goal, :48
SM — Arnold 39-yd run (kick failed), 3:28
First Downs SM 10 WV 9
Rushes-Yards SM 35-291 WV 38-121
Passing SM 66 WV 103
Total Yards SM 357 WV 224
Comp-Att-Int SM 3-11-0 WV 9-20-1
Punts-Avg. SM 6-26.0 WV 4-34.8
Fumbles-Lost SM 5-1 WV 3-1
Penalties-Yards SM 7-48 WV 5-41
Thomas Arnold 12-268 5 TDs
Ethan Norris 15-46
Will Delk 1-8
Thomas Vanvorhes 3-4
Mason Hurd 1- -1
team 1- -10
Bryant Carter 2- -17
Kallum Lowe 13-67 TD
Griffin Broome 6-46
Heath Tanksley 4-9
Avery Gray 12-13
Kellar Carson 1-3 2-pt. conversion
Clint Davis 1-0
team 1- -17
Thomas Arnold 2-10-0 57
Ethan Norris 1-1-0 6 (SM)
Avery Gray 9-20-1, 103
Jesus Murillo 1-53
Thomas Arnold 1-6
Ethan Norris 1-4
Noah Duprey 4-70
Reid Gibson 4-29
Daniel Denton 1-4
No. 11 (4A) Stone Memorial 4-0;
Walker Valley 0-4.