Walker Valle receiver Reid Gibson (30) makes the catch across the middle on a pass from Tucker Pope in the third quarter of a Region 4-5A matchup against Lenoir City Friday, at Lenoir City High School. (Banner Photo: Richard Roberts)
LENOIR CITY — The band played, and the Mustangs celebrated.
For the first time since a five-game run in 2016, Walker Valley scored back-to-back victories on the football field, and the post-game excitement reverberated throughout the team, band and fans with cheers, shouts and hugs.
“There is nothing like winning. Our kids have fought so hard, and they've come so far. Anytime you get to celebrate we're going to let them celebrate. We are not going to take for granted where we've come from,” said smiling first-year Mustangs coach Drew Akins after the 49-14 drubbing of Lenoir City in a huge Region 4-5A contest for Walker Valley.
Snapping a dozen-game conference skid, the victory is the second in a row for the Mustangs, who are 3-3 on the year and 1-1 in Region 4-5A football. They will be on the road this week in a non-region matchup against Marion County.
“I'm really proud of our guys," Akins said. "But I told them our backs are still against the wall, and we've still got to keep pressing forward.”
Mustangs quarterback Tucker Pope blistered the Panthers' defense through the air for 257 yards and four touchdowns to four different receivers over the course of the evening.
Lenoir City (1-6, 0-3) controlled the first quarter, holding possession for close to 10 minutes before taking a 7-0 lead early in the second. The Panthers continued to set the pace until a defensive stand on fourth-and-6 marked the turnaround for the Mustangs at their own 22-yard line.
“For us it's all about energy and effort. It's almost like we have to feel it out to kind of feel what the game is going to feel like, what the speed of the game is,” said Akins. “Out of halftime we came out with energy and effort. It's all about finding a way to push that earlier. We need to bring that earlier and earlier. What forms that is confidence. We're riding some confidence right now.”
Aided by a roughing the passer call, Walker Valley over nine plays moved to the Lenoir City 12-yard line, where Kole Hall tied the score at 7-7 with the first of the Mustangs' three rushing touchdowns.
After Brody Swafford picked off a Panthers pass at the Lenoir City 27-yard line, Pope found Griffin Broome open for 21 yards and a TD that gave the Mustangs the lead for good with eight seconds left in the first half.
The Mustangs came out in the third quarter with the energy Akins had been looking for, beginning with a Swafford 53-yard kickoff return to the Lenoir City 35. From there it took only one play as Pope covered the distance on a quarterback keeper to make it 20-7 after a missed extra point.
The Mustangs kept the pressure on after a Panthers punt with a three-play scoring drive highlighted by a 40-yard TD pass from Pope to Daniel Denton. Pope connected with Reid Gibson for 30 yards with just over two minutes left in the third quarter to give the Mustangs a 35-7 lead.
The Panthers opened the fourth with a touchdown to make it a 35-14 game, but the Mustangs quickly went back up by 28 points on a 1-yard run by Groome.
Walker Valley's Brian Criddle set the Herd up for a final score with an interception at the Mustangs' 37-yard line. From there it took only one play to put a cap on the night as Pope found an open Noah Duprey for a 63-yard scoring strike, closing the door on the 49-14 win.
The Mustangs will be looking for win No. 4 and their third in a row on the road in Jasper against Marion County (1-5) Friday.
“We've got a long road trip to Marion County, and they are a historically great program. Again, we just can't take anything for granted, ever. We've got to remember where we came from. When we remember where we came from, it keeps you pressing forward,” said Akins.
“I'm really proud of our guys. They show up every day, and they are starting to get the rewards from that."
Walker Valley-Lenoir City
at Lenoir City
Friday, Oct. 4
Walker Valley 0 14 21 14 — 49
Lenoir City 0 7 7 0 — 14
LC — Jonah Rittenhouse 22 pass from Stanley Mason (Maddie Williams kick), 9:27
WV — Kole Hall 3 run (Charlie Swafford kick), 1:07
WV — Griffin Broome 20 pass from Tucker Pope (Swafford kick), 0:08.8
WV — Pope 35 run (kick blocked), 11:38
WV — Daniel Denton 40 pass from Pope (Hall run), 6:20
WV — Reid Gibson 30 pass from Pope (Swafford kick), 2:37
LC — Mason 2 run (Williams kick), 11:24
WV — Broome 1 run (Swafford kick), 8:09
WV — Noah Duprey 63 pass from Pope (Swafford kick), 6:03
First downs WV 14 LC 15
Rushes-Yards WV 17-97 LC 34-93
Passing WV 257 LC 134
Total yards WV 354 LC 227
Comp-Att-Int WV 13-26-0 LC 17-27-2
Punts-Avg WV 2-46 LC 2-38.5
Fumbles-Lost WV 0-0 LC 2-0
Penalties-Yards WV 4-26 LC 3-32
Ryan Lay 1-2
Josh Mejia 13-29
Dusty Clevenger 3-12
Pope 13-25-0 257, 4 TDs
Mason 17-27-2 134, TD
Zane Ward 5-18
Zane Knieser 2-16
Walker Valley 3-3, 1-1 Region 4-5A
Lenoir City 1-6, 0-3 Region 4-5A.
Walker Valley's Griffin Broome (2) fights his way for yardage through the Lenoir City defense in the third quarter Friday, in Lenoir City. (Banner Photo: Richard Roberts)