The Walker Valley defense will try to stop a very potent offense that fourth-ranked (3A) Loudon will bring to "The Corral" this evening. (Photo: Jeff Carson)
Walker Valley is jumping from the frying pan into the fire this week, before facing an inferno in the regular season finale.
"We've got a good football team coming in," first-year Mustang head coach Drew Akins said earlier this week in a bit of an understatement, referring to unbeaten and fourth-ranked (3A) Loudon. "We knew these last three games (East Hamilton, Loudon and Soddy-Daisy) were going to be tough.
"It's always fun to play against good football teams. You have a tendency to see where you are at and how far you have to go, so we're excited about the challenge."
After falling to the Hurricanes 38-7 last Friday, another type of storm has cut this week's preparations a day short as the Redskins will invade "The Corral" this evening at 7. The game was moved up a day due to expected heavy rain showers moving in tomorrow and through the weekend.
Loudon comes into tonight's contest having outscored their first eight opponents 340-62, and looking forward to next week's Region 3-3A championship showdown at third-ranked Red Bank, who is also 8-0.
"They've got Red Bank for their region championship next week, but we don't expect them to overlook us, because they want to go into that game undefeated," stated Akins, who faced the Redskins the last three seasons as the Offensive Coordinator at Red Bank.
"Loudon has a dynamic running back in Drew Jackson. He's a really good player. He's strong. He's fast. He's a track kid. It takes two or three players to bring him down," Akin said of the 5-foot-10, 185-pound senior.
"They have a defensive end, No. 16 (Tyler Whitfield, 6-foot-4, 250, senior), as good as any defensive end you'll find around," he assessed. "Their secondary is talented.
"Coach (Jeff) Harig is an outstanding coach. He is always going to put them in a position to win ball games.
"They are a really good football team and have the mentality that they are coming here to win a football game. They have no thoughts that they could lose the game, which is a great mentality," Akins commented.
"We are going to have to change their minds if we are going to win. We have got to come out strong from the very beginning. When we've started strong, we've had success, but sometimes we've waited and just tipped our toes in at the beginning to see how things were going to be and we got in trouble. We can't do that this week.
"It's all about how we start games," he related. "When we come out of the gate fast, it makes it easier to put a whole game together. We are talking about controlling, what we can control — attitude and effort."
As it has been the last several years, Walker Valley's offense has been strong again this season, putting 272 points (34 average per game) on the scoreboard, but have had trouble slowing down opponents, who have scored 240 points (30 apg).
Coming into tonight's game with a 4-4 overall record, the Mustangs feel good about the season and are looking to finish strong.
"We're trying to learn from some of the mistakes we made against East Hamilton last week," explained Akins.
"We have a small region, but we have some teams — Rhea County and Soddy-Daisy — that are very good programs. Playing teams like East Hamilton and Loudon will help us to be more competitive against our region teams.
"You don't get better in big-time blowout wins. You get better by battling with better teams, where the game is tight and you've got to make critical decisions," he assessed.
"We're excited about the progress we've made. When you're in the midst of the storm, it's tough to see the positives to having just four wins, which is four times as many as they had the last two years. It's hard for us as a coaching staff to focus on that while we're in the middle of getting ready for the next opponent."
Despite the daunting numbers Loudon has put up this season, the Mustang wrangler feels confident.
"We're expecting to win. We're expecting to compete. That's what we've done the last eight weeks. It's no longer an expectation to get beat. Rather it's to show up on Friday nights expecting to compete and find a way to win. Winning changes your expectations.
"We've got to be able to keep our focus and our spirits up to do that," he added.
Akins said his Herd will use this week's game to better prepare them for next week's Region 4-5A showdown at Soddy-Daisy.
"Knowing we were already in the (TSSAA) playoffs coming into the season because of the size (four teams) of our region, one of our goals has been to earn a home playoff game. To do that we have to beat Soddy," he explained as the Trojans are 5-3 overall and 2-0 in region play heading into tonight's game against ninth-ranked (6A) Bradley Central.
"If we can knock them off, then we'll be second in the region (behind Rhea County) and get to host an opening round game. That's what we want."
A No. 2 seed would mean the Mustangs would probably get to entertain Oak Ridge (5-3), which they claimed the program's lone playoff victory over three years ago.
A third-place finish will probably mean a trip to sixth-ranked Knoxville West (7-1) to begin the postseason.