Bradley County foes Cleveland and Walker Valley look to shake off slow starts to the season as they meet up in a non-region battle at WVHS, starting at 7:30 p.m. Friday. (Banner File Photo)
In the past two showdowns between Cleveland and Walker Valley, the scoreboard has been as active a Wall Street trading board.
With little regard to defensive morale, the Bradley County foes have combined for a total of 218 points in the past two split meetings under the Friday night lights.
In those games the Mustangs have run freely for a whopping 1,152 total yards, compared to "just" 600 yards for the Blue Raiders, who lead the all-time series 13-4 with four meetings decided by one score.
While scoring at will would be nice for both teams tomorrow night in a non-region battle at WVHS, both sides are simply hoping to buck a tough start to the season in which they have combined for a 1-7 record so far.
"Our kids have seen it all already," fourth-year CHS head coach Scott Cummings said. "It's been a tough go. We have had four dismissals from the team this week. Hopefully our guys rally around the decisions made. The mood is definitely lighter than it has been. Everyone was walking on eggshells before this week."
From a severe-weather cancellation against Rhea County to tough loss to Bearden and late second-half collapses against Knox Catholic and Bradley Central, a group that has been through the ringer does have some positives to look forward to.
Senior playmaker and team captain Arli Ferguson is back at wide receiver after putting in long rehab hours to overcome a knee injury. Running back Javaris Bowman also looks to return this week after dislocating his arm in a game against Bearden in which he played a major role early.
"We are moving forward in a positive direction with a team who has been through battles," Cummings said. "We are the healthiest we have been since the jamboree. We are getting valuable pieces on both sides of the ball back. Hopefully we see the benefits of that in the near future."
Cleveland (1-3) has shown the most consistency through the air this season offensively.
Senior captain and quarterback Jackson Moore has thrown for 180 yards per game with all seven of his touchdown passes landing in the hands of 6-foot-4 breakout star Robert Flowers' hands.
The junior receiver has averaged 121 yards per game and also leads the local area with 23.1 yards per catch to go with 485 yards.
"Cleveland is always going to be very athletic," Mustang head coach Glen Ryan said. "They have a lot of team speed that jumps out at you. They have a big-time receiver who we have to take care of as well as trying to stop their running game."
Outside of a 300-yard rushing effort in a region victory over William Blount, which saw the Raiders break loose in the fourth quarter, the road to success on the ground has been difficult at times.
In three other games Cleveland has rushed for a combined 189 yards and less than three yards per carry.
With two weeks to prepare, Walker Valley (0-4) will look to show improvements coming off its bye week in trying to stop the run after allowing 310 yards per game on the ground so far in 2018.
After a strong start to the season for sophomore Mustang running back Heath Tanksley, others have been called upon to show versatility after the promising runner suffered an injury in a 34-14 loss to Stone Memorial.
"All three of our quarterbacks have played other positions this season," Coach Ryan said. "We moved Griffin (Broome) to running back after Tanksley got hurt. He did a good job finishing up that game and will see more action there.
"Daniel Denton played well at receiver while he had a banged up shoulder. Our guys have done a good job doing whatever has been asked of them. It means a lot to us as coaches."
Avery Gray started the season at running back and filled in for quarterback duties against Stone Memorial, as he threw for 103 yards and rushed for 13 more. Broome showed positive strides in the run game with six carries for 46 yards.
WV is also led by Mikey Humphries (21 tackles, 2 sacks) along with linebacker Kellar Carson (30 tackles, 5 TFL) and Reid Gibson (16 catches, 113 yards, TD).
The Mustangs will most likely try to avoid senior defensive back David Dorsey, who leads the state with five forced turnovers.
Glen Ryan commented on the star play of former WVHS wide receiver Bryce Nunnelly, who is tied for the most receiving yards in the entire country with 546 through three games. Hawaii's John Ursua also has the same amount, but in four games.
"Bryce gives our guys somebody they can look up to that has been through what they are going through," Ryan said. "He is a huge encouragement to all of our guys to keep working hard."
Nunnelly can be seen this Saturday when UT-Chattanooga (3-0) hosts No. 17 Samford (1-2) at 7 p.m. at Finley Stadium.