Walker Valley players celebrate a 42-40 victory over Karns Friday evening in Knoxville to snap a 13-game losing streak and give Coach Drew Akins his first victory as a head coach in his debut with the Mustangs. (Photo: Nikki Swafford)
KNOXVILLE — Believe.
The word could be seen printed on the shirts of Walker Valley fans and coaching staff ahead of their season opener at Karns on Friday.
But had the Mustangs fully bought in to first-year head coach Drew Akins' message?
If they haven’t fully bought in yet, they are well on their way.
Walker Valley (1-0) walked into Karns on a 13-game skid and winners of just two of their last 24 games. They left in thrilling fashion, knocking off the home-standing Beavers (0-1), 42-40 in a game that was everything but short on theatrics and heroics.
According to Akins, winning — something the Mustangs have struggled to do in the past couple of seasons — starts with believing it can be done.
Walker Valley believed in it.
“I was really proud of our guys, doing what they had to do to get a win,” a Powerade-soaked Akins said after the game. “I think they’re starting to (buy in). I think they’re starting to believe what we’re selling. You’ve got to believe that Walker Valley can win football games. Until you believe that you can win football games, you won’t.
“The fact that we won a football game proves that we are starting to believe that we can do it.”
The Mustangs were hit in the mouth early on Karns’ opening drive of the game. Beavers’ freshman running-back Desean Bishop capped off a seven-play, 85-yard drive with a 48-yard gash up the middle of the field to take a 7-0 lead.
If it fazed Walker Valley, junior transfer quarterback Tucker Pope certainly didn’t show it on the ensuing drive.
On the very first play after Karns’ score, Pope hit sophomore wide receiver Brody Swafford for a 62-yard touchdown of their own, tying things up at 7-7 on the first of six Charlie Swafford extra point kicks.
Swafford had a trio of catches for 66 yards in the contest, while Pope completed 7-of-11 aerials for 130 yards, plus rushed a half-dozen times for 40 more, 37 on one run.
“We know offensively that we may have to carry our team for a little while,” Akins said. “We’ve got players that can do that. We’ve got guys that can make plays for us. It’s my job to put them in position to make those kinds of plays. We’ve got a cool confidence in us that when things go bad, we can make the next play. I’m proud of our guys for fighting through that adversity.”
Adversity struck again and again throughout the first half, but each time the Mustangs offense had an answer.
After Karns quickly took back the lead on the next drive, Walker Valley clapped back with a 15-yard touchdown run from Kole Hall to make it a 14-14 game. The senior led the Herd with 99 yards on 10 touches on the night.
Both teams finally took a break from trading scores, opting to trade turnovers instead. Karns senior quarterback Jalen Tucker rolled right, looking to attempt just his second pass of the night when it was intercepted by senior Mustang linebacker Garrett Noble and returned 10 yards to the Beavers' 45-yard line.
The thrill was short-lived, however as a Pope pass was tipped into the hands of Karns defensive back Jonathan Fellhoelter inside the 30-yard line. The Beavers took advantage, driving to go up 21-14.
Walker Valley posted a 73-yard scoring drive right away that ended in a 6-yard touchdown run from senior Griffin Broome, his first of three scores on the evening. The senior had 50 yards on eight touches in the victory.
However, Karns went into the intermission with the momentum with a late second-quarter touchdown. But their missed extra point after loomed large down the stretch.
While the Mustangs' defense struggled to halt the Beavers in the first half, a different, more determined group showed up in the very early-going of the third quarter.
Karns was held to its first punt of the game after Walker Valley managed to send the Beavers three-and-out on their opening drive of the half. That set up the offense to score on their first play of the half, a 48-yard touchdown pass from Pope to senior wideout Noah Duprey, giving the Mustangs their first lead of the game with a successful extra point, 28-27.
“It wasn’t much of anything,” Akins said of the defense’s halftime adjustments. “We were base the whole second half. We just had to play within our scheme. This is a young defense. Every week they’re going to get better and better.”
Heading into the fourth quarter, Karns was able to take back the lead 34-28, but back-to-back big plays changed the outcome for Walker Valley.
The first was a textbook-executed blocked punt by Lane Miller, that set the Mustangs up for an 18-yard scoring drive completed by a Broome 4-yard plunge.
The other was a costly Beaver fumble, recovered by senior Mustang defensive lineman Bryce Hixson, that again allowed Walker Valley to score on a short field as Broome found the end zone for the third time, this one from 14 yards out.
“It was a huge play,” Akins said of the blocked punt that sprung the scoring sequence. “Our defensive coordinator put it in early in the week. He saw some holes we thought we could attack. Coach (Taylor) Harvey made that call. It was the right call. Getting through there and making that play, picking it up, we had to go score there.”
The defense’s biggest stop of the night, though, came in the final seconds. After helping the offense put a little bit of cushion in between them and Karns, the Beavers drove late, thanks in part to a pair of Walker Valley penalties.
After converting an 8-yard pass on 4th-and-7 with a minute left, Bishop scattered after taking a reverse and flipped into the end zone a few plays later to score and pull within two, 40-42, with just one tick left on the clock.
The Mustangs’ first win in 14 tries would have to come from the defense stopping a hot Karns offense on a 2-point conversion.
They came through.
Bishop ran to the right, fighting for the pylon, but was met swiftly by the Walker Valley defense, ensuring the win.
“We had things that we did wrong for sure,” Akins said. “But I think when you give up that score, and you don’t take a timeout and you just go to the next play and you just trust that they’re going to make the play. We haven’t had a defensive trust, but we won this game on a defensive stop. Our defense has got to gain confidence from that.”
Akins and the Mustangs hope to keep their belief in what Walker Valley can be next week as they play host to county-rival Bradley Central Friday at The Corral.
Friday, Aug. 23
Walker Valley 14 7 7 14 — 42
Knox Karns 14 13 7 6 — 40
K — Desean Bishop 52 run (Austin Samples kick), 6:44
WV — Brody Swafford 62 pass from Tucker Pope (Charlie Swafford kick), 6:23
K — Adarion Patton 3 run (Samples kick), 4:55
WV — Kole Hall 15 run (C. Swafford kick), 3:00
K — Bishop 6 run (Samples kick), 11:09
WV — Griffin Broome 4 run (C. Swafford kick), 10:00
K — Trey Hawkins 8 run (kick failed), 3:51
WV — Noah Duprey 48 pass from Pope (C. Swafford kick), 9:27
K — Bishop 30 run (Samples kick), 6:00
WV — Broome 4 run (C. Swafford kick), 9:31
WV — Broome 14 run (C. Swafford kick), 8:19
K — Bishop 5 run (run failed), :01
First Downs WV 12 K 17
Rushes-Yards WV 22-177 I 50-388
Passing WV 130 K 27
Total Yards WV 307 415
Comp-Att-Int WV 7-11-1 K 5-7-1
Punts-Avg. WV 1-25 K n/a
Fumbles-Lost WV 1-1 K 1-1
Penalties-Yards WV 10-108 K 8-70
Kole Hall 9-94 TD
Griffin Broome 7-43 3 TDs
Tucker Pope 6-40
Desean Bishop 10-144 4 TDs
Jalen Tucker 9-154
Tucker Pope 7-11-1 130, 2 TDs
Karns 5-7-1 27.
Brody Swafford 3-66 TD
Noah Duprey 1-48 TD
Griffin Broome 1-7
Kole Hall 1-5
Daniel Denton 1-3
Walker Valley 1-0
The Walker Valley defense rose to the occasion and kept Karns' Desean Bishop out of the end zone on a two-point conversion try with only one second on the clock to give the Mustangs a 42-40 victory in Knoxville Friday evening. (Photo: Nikki Swafford)
Walker Valley junior Lane Mille (12) gets a hand on a Karns punt attempt to set up a Mustand touchdown during Friday's victory in Knoxville. (Photo: Nikki Swafford)