Walker Valley sophomore Brody Swafford (23) tries to clear a McMinn County defender while teammate Noah Duprey (88) lays a block and Griffin Broome tries to help out during Friday evening's action in Athens. (Banner Photo: Nikki Swafford)
ATHENS — It was Senior Night at McMinn County High School on Friday as the Walker Valley Mustangs hit the road for the final time this season in hopes of nabbing that elusive first win and in the process spoiling the Cherokee festivities.
It was not to be on this night however as the Tribe protected their teepee in a big way and sent their senior Braves out in style with a 41-7 scalping of the Mustangs.
The Mustangs fought hard all night long, and more than held their own on the stat sheet. But, the visitors just had no answer for the Cherokees' considerable team speed and big-play capability, which in the end became the difference in the contest.
It took the Cherokees all of three plays to take the lead as they took the opening kickoff, scored quickly and never looked back. Jalen Hunt took the pitch, found a hole, turned on the jets and didn’t stop running for 78 yards until he got to the end zone. Federico Banuelos nailed the first of his five extra points and just like that, McMinn led 7-0.
Following a Mustang punt, it took the Cherokees just five plays to score on their next drive as Hunt struck again, this time with a 57-yard scoring dash for a 14-0 lead.
A short Cherokee punt and a nice 14-yard run by Brody Swafford on a reverse put the Mustangs in business near the end of the first quarter, but a missed field goal ended the drive and the quarter.
Walker Valley put their only points of the night on the board early in the second frame as they found success with their bruising running game.
Kallum Lowe and Spencer Wilson went to work and needed only five plays to cover 50 yards for the score. Wilson went over, around and through the McMinn defense on a spectacular 42-yard run to set up a first and goal at the 4 yard line.
Two plays later Wilson bulldozed his way to paydirt, leaving footprints on the jerseys of two Cherokee defenders for the touchdown.
Charlie Swafford booted the extra point as the Mustangs cut the lead in half, 14-7 at the mid-point of the second quarter.
The celebration didn’t last long though as the Cherokees dashed all hopes of an upset on the very next play from scrimmage. Senior running back, Cam Johnson got in on the fun as he hit the middle at full speed and stopped 70 yards later for a lightning quick touchdown run to extend the Cherokee lead to 21-7.
Noah Brown picked off the first of his two Walker Valley passes late in the second quarter to set up another McMinn County score. Sophomore quarterback Will Harris found Jasuan Wooden who somehow made a circus catch between two Mustangs for the touchdown pass and a 28-7 halftime lead.
The second half was just a formality as the game had long since been decided. The Mustangs didn’t give up though as they kept the ball for over seven minutes to open the third quarter with their most impressive drive of the evening.
The 17-play drive ended at the McMinn County 7 yard line as the Cherokees finally stopped quarterback Avery Gray on a fourth-and-goal situation to deny the Mustangs on downs.
One highlight for the Mustangs came midway through the third quarter as Hunt got loose again on a 76-yard run and another apparent touchdown for the Cherokees, but took his foot off the gas four yards too soon as Skyy Craig ran him down from behind for the touchdown-saving tackle, forcing a fumble into the end zone which he then recovered to give his team an incredible turnover.
The Cherokees tacked on a pair of late touchdowns in the fourth quarter, one, a 22-yard Harris to Wooden TD pass and the second, on a one-yard plunge by Johnson to finish the night in a big way for the home team.
McMinn County (4-5, 1-4) will travel to Cleveland High Friday to battle the Blue Raiders (3-5, 2-3) for the final playoff spot in Region 2-6A.
Along with Wilson, Gray and Brody Swafford, Trevor Vines, Hunter Callihan, Hayden Gibson, Griffen Broome and Noah Duprey were just a few of the Mustangs who turned in fine performances throughout the game.
The Mustangs will get one more shot at a win next Friday night as they host Soddy Daisy (4-4, 2-1 Region 4-5A) on Senior night at the Corral.
Walker Valley 0 7 0 0 — 7
McMinn County 14 14 0 13 — 41
MC — Jalen Hunt 78-yd. run (Federico Banuelas kick), 9:58
MC — Hunt 56-yd. run (Banuelas kick), 6:29
WV — Spencer Wilson 2-yd. run (Charlie Swafford kick), 6:34
MC — Cam Johnson 70-yd. run (Banuelas kick), 6:13
MC — Jasuan Wooden 12-yd. pass from Will Harris (Banuelas kick), 4:17
MC — Wooden 22-yd. pass from Harris (Banuelas kick), 4:36
MC — Johnson 1-yd. run (PAT failed), 3:21
First downs WV 16 MC 13
Rushes-yards WV 46-130 MC 29-392
Passing yards WV 161 MC 56
Total plays-yards WV 75-291 MC 42-448
Comp-Att-Int WV 15-29-2 MC 9-13-0
Punts -Ave. WV 3-29 MC 0
Fumbles-Lost WV 1-1 MC 1-1
Penalties WV 8-62 MC 7-78
Walker Valley Individual stats
Spencer Wilson 12-69, TD
Avery Gray 15-28
Griffin Broome 11-14
Brody Swafford 5-8
Noah Duprey 1-7
Kallum Lowe 1-5
Avery Gray 15-27-2, 161 yds
Griffin Broome 0-2-0, 0
Noah Duprey 4-58
Griffin Broome 3-53
Brody Swafford 4-26
Reid Gibson 3-19
Kallum Lowe 1-5
Dylan Jenkins 8 solos, 3 asts., 1 TFL
Kellar Carson 4 solos, 3 asts., 2 TFL
Cole Gobble 3 solos, 4 asts
Kallum Lowe 5 solos, 1 ast
Brian Criddle 3 solos, 1 ast
Lane Miller 3 solos, 1 ast
Zach Hovey 1 solo, 3 asts
Christian Vandusen 1 solo, 3 asts., 1 TFL
Walker Valley 0-9
McMinn County 4-5.
Walker Valley sophomore linebacker Dylan Jenkins (21) puts pressure on McMinn county quarterback Will Harris (10) during Friday night's action in Athens. (Banner Photo: Nikki Swafford)