Walker Valley defenders take down a Notre Dame running back in a preseason jamboree. The Mustangs will go to battle against the Class 5A defending state champions this Friday in Knoxville. (Banner File Photo: Patrick MacCoon)
In what became a habit, but with a bleak ending most of the time, Walker Valley fell in a shootout against Knoxville Catholic with a combined 105 points last season.
Both sides will look extremely different from last season when they clash Friday for a 7:30 p.m. kickoff in Knoxville.
Sometimes departed talent can simply not be matched, as the Mustangs lost star talents and so did the Fighting Irish.
Spoiled with talent the past five seasons, which included WV's all-time record setters in rushing, receiving and passing, consistent offense has been hard to come by in a rebuild season.
Since an 18-point fourth quarter in a late comeback attempt in the season opener at Finley Stadium against Chattanooga Central, the Mustangs have not scored more than 14 points over their past six contests.
Losing up-and-coming standout rusher Heath Tanskley early in the season stung and so have the losses, but the fight still continues.
Junior defensive lineman Mikey Humphries led a pregame prayer with his teammates before last week's game against Red Bank.
Growing into strong young men and having one another's back are some of the big things WV is taking away from this season, as they still search for its first win.
Players have had to step into positions they have never played to fill voids, while a youthful bunch thrown into several starting positions grows with each and every snap played.
Celebrating forced turnovers by its defense has also been something to cherish.
Sophomore Skyy Craig has shown unique athleticism in the defensive secondary. After recovering a fumble earlier this season he and his teammates celebrated by wearing a turnover chain super-sized clock necklace.
Even though a win may be hard to find with contests left against Knox Catholic, McMinn County and Soddy-Daisy, having fun while competing hard is still the name of the game.
The Mustangs have received strong running the past two weeks by junior Griffin Broome, who has compiled 140 yards over his last 26 carries.
Broome now leads the team with 293 rushing yards on 74 rushes, as he has been credited by his coach for taking the role head-on after starting the season at quarterback.
Tanksley, who has 90 career rushes for 435 yards (4.9 npc) and four touchdowns, saw his sophomore season end prematurely with a leg injury early on against Stone Memorial.
Walker Valley (0-7) will look to hang tough with Class 5A's reigning state champion, who has played down to earth more so this season.
The Fighting Irish (4-3) have responded of late with comfortable wins over Rhea County, 31-12, and West Greene, 49-6.
These victories came after a tough three-game stretch where they used all of what was left in the tank to beat Cleveland before only scoring a combined 10 points the next two weeks in losses to Soddy-Daisy and Brentwood Academy.
Catholic quarterback Jack Jancek could potentially make his return this week to the field after suffering an injury in a 35-16 win over Baylor in Week 2.
With an improving defense, the Mustangs hope to be able to corral the Irish better than last season early on.
Catholic lost a handful of key playmakers from last season, who have gone on to play Division-I football.
The Irish led the Mustangs 49-0 just 23 seconds into the second quarter, but were eventually outgained 501-481 in total yards in their 63-42 road victory.
Walker Valley will look to continue and find areas of growth on the gridiron with yet another tough test.