Walker Valley quarterback Tyler Pope runs for yardage in the first half against Marion County. Pope and the Mustangs will need their best effort in Friday's battle with East Hamilton. (Banner Photo: Richard Roberts)
Coming off three straight wins, the Walker Valley Mustangs are currently riding a wave of excitement headed into Friday's game against East Hamilton.
The Mustangs will celebrate Ocoee Middle Night with free admission for all OMS staff and students wearing an OMS shirt.
“We also want their parents to come also,” said Mustangs coach Drew Akins. “We are recognizing 10 programs before the game so it should be a fun thing to acknowledge what they are doing at Ocoee.”
This week's battle will be a different one for the Mustangs (4-3) as a team very different from the last three they have faced, and will be looking to spoil the fun.
“It's nice coming off a win, it's nice coming off three straight wins. We are getting into the meat of the schedule now, so it's ramped up a little this week. But, we are excited about the challenge,” said Akins.
The Mustangs are well aware Friday night's challenge will be a bit different than those the last three weeks. The East Hamilton Hurricanes (5-2) are an experienced team with a load of talent, particularly and linebacker and the defensive backfield.
“Not to discredit the teams we've played, because we're not at a place where we can take for granted anything. I'm proud of our kids for going and playing those games, but when you watch East Hamilton on film you can see they have a different level of talent.
It will be a homecoming of sorts for Akins when the Hurricanes visit “The Corral” as East Hamilton defensive coordinator JD Dunbar and head coach Grant Reynolds. Akins played for both coaches in high school.
“He (Dunbar) is one of my best friends. He's great. I played for Grant, he was my defensive coordinator in high school. They've got a great coaching staff and their talent level is a step above. It is going to present a great challenge for us,” Akins commented.
Still, energy and enthusiasm goes a long way in helping a team further its expectations as it continues to learn to win. Akins is counting on the excitement and fun of winning to help out Friday.
“That is a big part of what we're on right now. Momentum can carry you through a lot of stuff. We're going to let the momentum to continue to carry us. I don't think it can win a ballgame for you, but I do think it can give you the confidence to win a ballgame. That's what we were lacking early in the year. The close games we had with Rhea County (six-point loss) and White County (three-point loss), I think the missing ingredient to those two was the level of confidence,” acknowledged the Mustangs' leader. “I think we have that level of confidence now, we just have to do what we're coached to do with that confidence in ourselves and look up and see what happened. We could play a great ballgame and still lose, but that doesn't stop the process we've made.”
Matchups also play a large and important role when two teams line up against one another. Matchups will be a key for Walker Valley Friday, especially on offense when the Mustangs go against one of the better ones they will see this season.
“You are always looking for ways to put your team in a situation to be successful. The problem is they present is they have a great set of linebackers and they have four defensive backs behind them that can play really good football,” said Akins. “Finding a weak spot in their defense in going to be difficult.”
The coach went on to say it is the same on offense against the Hurricanes because they also have three talented receivers and a quarterback that can spin the leather with the best of them. Defending the defensive backfield and the tackle box will present a serious challenge to the Walker Valley defense.
“He will throw it to every spot on the field. They are going to test our discipline. They are going to test our schemes,” Akins commented. “We've just got to make sure we play as hard as we can and play fast and violent on defense and play within our scheme on offense. If we do those things I think we will be competitive. If we are competitive and it gives us a chance to win in the fourth quarter that's all we can ask for against a good football team.”
But, as in every football game every week, there are matches and mismatches, give and take, give up this to gain that. It will be no different this time as Akins and staff look to find weaknesses in the East Hamilton scheme.
“I definitely think there is some scheme stuff we can do that can give them problems. J.D. Is so sound (in his coaching style). But, you've got to give away something. You can't take everything away especially when you have six to seven people touching the football on offense every week. It becomes hard to take it all away,” Akins stated. “My job within the first two or three drives is to figure out what they are trying to take away and what can we exploit. It's really hard to take away the quick-game pass and the deep ball. It's hard to take away the inside run and the outside run. It's trying to figure out what J.D. Is trying to take away and when he takes that away where do we go exploit what he's taking away?
“It's going to be a fun chess match. I am coaching against two guys on the other sideline I am very close with. I'm excited about that challenge, then going across the field when it's over and shaking their hands and hugging their necks and telling them I love them. I'm excited about the night. It should be fun.”
Akins said the keys to playing the Hurricanes is of course tackling of defense. He cited last week's win over Marion County as the best so far this season as far as flying to the ball and tackling. Offensively, the Mustangs must establish a running game to open the running game. Akins has some serious weapons in his arsenal and he and his staff must come up with a way to utilize all of them.
“I'm so proud of what (quarterback) Tucker (Pope) has done and what our receivers have done. Having five receivers with more than 200 yards and having Tucker over 1,500 yards is great,” said the coach. “But, those things can't happen if we can't run the football. Kole Hall has to have a great night. Spencer Jackson came on last week and had a really good series. He will play some running back this week. Tucker runs the football and Griffin (Broome) runs the football. We've got to be able to run the football especially if they give us the five-man box. Our offensive line has got to be able to run against a five-man box.
“Tackling the football and running the football are huge to make sure we are competitive.”
Mustangs receiver Daniel Denton puts hit shoulder into a Marion County tackler. The Mustangs face off against the East Hamilton Hurricanes Friday, inside "The Stable." (Banner Photo: Richard Roberts)