An overflow crowd is expected for the 15th annual "County Conflict" Friday evening as Bradley Central roars into "The Corral" to face Walker Valley. Mustang running back/linebacker Heath Tanksley, with ball, is slated to return from a broken leg suffered last fall. (Banner Photo)
While the north end of the county is abuzz with the thrill of victory for the first time in two years, the southside's enthusiasm over four 50-plus yard scores last week was quelled by mistakes that cost them a win.
Those games are put behind the respective teams as the annual "County Conflict" is on tap Friday evening at "The Corral."
"This week is a big rivalry game. Any time we play Cleveland or Walker Valley, it's a special week," proclaimed veteran Bradley Central head coach Damon Floyd, who has been on the sideline for 13 of the 14 previous clashes with Walker Valley.
"These guys (the Bear and Mustang players) know each other, go to church with each other, hang out together, so there's a lot of bragging rights on the line.
"This game may not matter in our region playoffs, but it matters a lot to our kids and these communities," related Floyd, who is 12-1 against the Herd as "Papa Bear."
While he's lived in Cleveland for many years, new Walker Valley head coach Drew Akins is experiencing his first true taste of the "Conflict."
"The energy and excitement that will be here Friday night, you'll be able to feel it," he remarked. "There's going to be an tangible excitement within our school building and in the stadium Friday night.
"We've got to talk to our kids (the Mustang players) about not getting too emotional. When you play this game too emotional, you make mistakes. We cannot make mistakes and expect to be competitive in this game," explained Akins, who notched his first victory as a head coach last Friday.
"We have to make sure we play within our emotions. Stay with our schemes. Do what you're coached to do. Don't let the energy of the crowd and the stadium get you outside of what you're coached to do."
The Mustangs are riding high after a hard-fought 42-40 victory at Knox Karns last week, to snap a 13-game losing streak.
"It was a really exciting night for the program," related Akins. "It solidified what we've been telling the kids: If you do things the right way; if you have discipline; if you do what you're coached to do, then the win will take care of itself.
"It (the first victory since since a 45-42 upset of Akins' former Red Bank team on Oct. 6, 2017) took a monkey off our back. Now we don't have to worry about the longest losing streak in (Class) 5A. That's gone. Now we can just go play football and not worry about when our next win is going to be."
The new Mustang wrangler knows defeating a team (Karns) that has only had 13 wins in the past seven seasons is a different challenge than facing a county rival that has made nine straight TSSAA playoff appearances.
"We understand this game doesn't affect us playoff wise (WV is already in the TSSAA playoffs the next two years due Region 4-5A only having four teams). This doesn't do anything to our season," commented Akins. "It's a county rivalry, so we want to go out there, play as hard as we can and we'll see how we stand at the end of it.
"To make this game out to be a 'Super Bowl' for our program, can't be what we make it. We have other goals ahead that this game just doesn't affect," he added.
"This game is a measuring stick of how far we've come. I think we're going to go out and play hard. I want to see us compete. If they are better than we are, then we'll come back in the locker room and continue to fight to get better," he summarized.
"That's the mentality we've taken this week. Let's go out, play as hard as we can and we'll live with the results."
While the Herd is riding high in the saddle, the Bears, ranked 10th in the first AP Class 6A poll of the season, are hungry for what they felt they should have had last week.
"We're coming off a tough loss that we gave away, but we've got to put that behind us," declared Floyd, who will be facing his fourth different Mustang "trail boss" since taking over the Bradley program in 2006.
"We had 15 penalties, four turnovers and 36 missed tackles (against Farragut). You're not going to have a chance to win many games when you do that.
"I was honest with our team when we talked about it. We had a chance to beat the No. 7 team (Farragut) in the state and we gave it away," he bemoaned of blowing a pair of 13-point leads in a 37-30 home defeat.
"Last week we found a way to lose and they (WV) found a way to win.
"This week we have got to execute. We can't have that many penalties (15 for 165 yards). We can't turn the ball over (two interceptions, two lost fumbles). Every game comes down to blocking and tackling. That's what we've got to do this week," Floyd assessed.
"They are coming in high off a big win, while we are having to regroup a little. Like any other game, the team that makes the fewest mistakes usually wins," he added. "We've got to keep our emotions under control, execute our plays and make tackles."
While Bradley has dominated the series, winning all but the 17-13 game at Walker Valley in 2014, as well as the last two meetings by a combined 93-9 tally, the 103-year-old "big brothers" won't take their 19-year-old siblings for granted.
"We expect a battle, as they have given us in the past, especially up there," stated Floyd.
Other than last year's 39-point blow out, the previous four gunfights at The Corral have been single-digit outcomes, with an average six-point difference.
Although his team has been enjoying the accolades from classmates and faculty for last Friday's victory, Akins brought his Herd back to earth by having them really watch what happened in the contest.
"The way we brought our team back to reality yesterday was with the game tape of last week. We showed them some critical mistakes we made, that could have cost us the ball game," he related.
"We still have so much to fix, so much room to get better. We're not nearly who we could be, who we have the potential to be. I think our kids see if we could have done four or five things a little differently, we could have won a whole lot easier.
"We only hit half of our team goals for a game and we showed them how if we had hit the other half, how much better the game could have went," Akins added. "Film always tells the truth. It showed we didn't do everything right and in a few instances got lucky to pull the win out."
Akins knows from watching the Bear-Farragut film, the "southside sleuth" presents big problems for his Herd.
"Bradley's skill players are so incredibly athletic and fast. They have athletes that when they get the ball in space, they are very hard to tackle.
"That quarterback (Javin Burke) is special. He has the ability to throw the ball 60 yards or stick his foot in the ground and take off on a 60-yard run to score. He showed both of those things last week. Some things it will be difficult for us to contain.
"Their offensive line not only has size (averaging 280 pounds), they move well and are able to pull, so that creates gap problems," he assessed. "They can move you out of a gap and into the second level linebackers to create massive seams for their two good running backs to run through. Not to mention their talented receivers, who cause all kinds of challenges to defend.
"They've got two corners (Davion Horton and Javon Burke) on defense that are special talents as well.
They're solid on defense. Damon always does a real good job of making sure they are sound on defense.
"I coached against Damon when I was at Ooltewah (2010-15, where he was the Offensive Coordinator for three years). I've always respected him and his teams. They are well coached and always prepared to play," complimented Akins.
It will be a battle of the new against the established. Will the galloping Herd continue its stampede, building off of last week's breakout win, or will the explosive Bear offense stop the Mustangs in their tracks?
Either way it will be exciting to watch and be a part of Friday evening at The Corral, with kickoff at 7:30.