Walker Valley junior Brody Swafford (23) heads down the sideline against a pair of Rhea County defenders during Friday evening's Region 4-5A opener at "The Corral." (Banner Photo: Nikki Swafford)
Walker Valley had every intention of handing the visiting Rhea County its first loss of the season on Friday night at "The Corral."
However, the powerful Golden Eagles had other ideas as they built a big lead and then held off a furious fourth-quarter comeback bid by the Mustangs to take the big Region 4-5A win by a final score of 27-21.
Both teams will get a rest this week with byes Friday evening.
The well-oiled offensive machine of the Eagles took the opening kickoff and promptly posted an impressive 10 play, 85-yard drive, wasting no time in taking the lead.
Rhea County's wing-T offense used a three-headed running attack as Ryan Young, Jackson Langley and Dalton Hampton took turns chewing up chunks of yardage on their way to the end zone.
Langley, who finished with 201 yards on 21 carries, had runs of 19 and 15 yards during the drive and Hampton, who garnered 124 yards on 18 tries, covered the final yard with a plunge to paydirt for the touchdown. The PAT was wide right for a 6-0 lead.
“Rhea County is a really good team,” explained Walker Valley coach Drew Akins. “We’ve come a long way. Our kids just kept fighting tonight and came within an onside kick of having a chance to win a football game. Just a few little bitty things that we have to fix and we will start to see the ball bounce our way.”
The Mustangs had the ball twice in the opening frame as their first drive of the night looked promising, but ended on downs as the Rhea defense stiffened.
After forcing a three-and-out from the Eagles, the Mustangs crossed midfield again near the end of the quarter, but a tipped pass from Mustang quarterback Tucker Pope was picked off by Dillon Reed to halt the drive and the quarter.
The Rhea County rushing attack went back to work after the turnover, to start the second quarter and needed only six plays to reach the end zone. Hampton crossed the goal line again, this time from six yards out, but again the PAT was wide right to leave the score at 12-0.
The Mustangs then ate up most of the clock in the second frame with perhaps their most impressive drive of the night. It took 16 plays to cover 71 yards, mostly through the air as the home team worked their way down to first-and-goal at the two-yard line.
Griffin Broome came into the game as QB in the goal line situation, but a snap that sailed over his head and rolled for 20 yards, left Walker Valley with second and goal at the 21 yard line.
Pope came back in and on the next play fired a touchdown pass to Noah Duprey and just like that, Charlie Swafford's PAT kick allowed the Mustangs to more than sliced the lead in half to trail only by five at halftime, 12-7.
The Eagles padded their lead midway through the third quarter with a long TD drive as Langley scored from 18 yards out. The try for two was successful to push the lead to 20-7.
Rhea County stretched its lead on a drive started in the third and finished in the fourth quarter, taking about six minutes off the clock. Langley scored from four yards out to give the Eagles a commanding 27-7 lead.
Some teams would have called it a night, but the Mustangs were determined not to go quietly as they came right back with their second touchdown of the game at the 6:25 mark to cut the lead to 27-14. Pope was on target six of seven times in the drive while Broome covered the final yard for the score.
The Mustangs (1-2, 0-1) came within an eyelash of recovering an onside kick, but to no avail. Rhea County (3-0, 1-0) then took several precious minutes off the clock and picked up three first downs before the Mustang defense could force a punt that pinned the home team at their own one-yard line.
Again, Pope took his team quickly down the field completing six of seven tosses with the home run ball coming at just the right time. A 10-yard out pattern completed to Brody Swafford and a nice move by the junior receiver, turned into an 81-yard touchdown dash down the home team sideline and in the blink of an eye, Walker Valley had sliced the lead to a precarious 27-21 difference.
The comeback would end there though, as Rhea County picked up a pair of first downs forcing the Mustangs to use all their timeouts to secure the hard-fought win.
“Our players are learning,” said Akins. “We have to understand as coaches, our players have to understand, our fans have to understand that we are learning how to win football games. We just spent two years finding ways to lose games and now we are trying to find ways to win football games and we are this close.”
“Just a few little things tonight,” the coach continued. “We have to coach a little better, a coaching error cost us a penalty and we have to fix that. We ran into the punter and ran by him on another punt. That’s coaching and I’ve got to do a better job. We are going to find a way to break the dam open and when we do we are going to flood this place.”
Walker Valley-Rhea Co.
Friday, Sept. 6
Rhea County 6 6 8 7 — 27
Walker Valley 0 7 0 14 — 21
RC — Dalton Hampton 1-yd run (kick failed), 8:19
RC — Hampton 6-yd run (kick failed), 8:15
WV — Noah Duprey 22-yd pass from Tucker Pope (Charlie Swafford kick), 2:26
RC — Jackson Langley 18-yd. run (Langley run), 8:02
RC — Langley 4-yd. run (PAT kick), 9:31
WV — Griffin Broome 2-yd. run (C. Swafford kick), 6:25
WV — Brody Swafford 81-yd pass from Pope (C. Swafford kick), 2:05
First Downs RC 20 WV 19
Rushes-Yards RC 48-366 WV 26-38
Passing RC 27 WV 346
Total Yards RC 384 WV 393
Comp-Att-Int RC 1-2-0 WV 30-41-1
Punts-Avg. RC n/a WV 2-25.5
Fumbles-Lost RC 0-0 WV 0-0
Penalties-Yards RC 9-73 WV 8-86
Jackson Langley 21- 205 2 TDs
Dalton Hampton 18-124 TD
Kole Hall 8-35
Griffin Broome 6-17 TD
Tucker Pope 11-7
team 1- -21
team 1-2-0 27
Tucker Pope 30-41-1 346 TD
Brody Swafford 8-143 TD
Daniel Denton 9-73
Griffin Broome 6-48
Noah Duprey 3-39 TD
Reid Gibson 2-27
Kole Hall 2-16
Skyy Craig 9 solos, 2 asts
Dylan Jenkins 8 solos, 3 asts, 1 TFL
Garrett Noble 5 solos, 5 asts, 1 TFL
Kellar Carson 6 solo, 3 asts
Rhea County 3-0, 1-0 Region 4-5A
Walker Valley 1-2, 0-1 Region 4-5A.
Walker Valley defenders Lane Miller (12) and Spencer Jackson (26) get ready to help a teammate bring down a Rhea County ball carrier, while Mustang Kellar Carson is tied up with an Eagle blocker, during Friday's Region 4-5A action at "The Corral." (Banner Photo: Nikki Swafford)