Plenty of fireworks are expected Friday night at Bear Stadium both during and after the cross-county rivalry game.
Although the first eight meetings between Bradley Central and Walker Valley have all gone the Bears way, this year’s gridiron clash is anybody’s game as the squads are off to similar starts.
Both teams have fallen behind early in every one of their seven combined games so far this season, and have fought back to claim victory in all but one game each, with both losses coming to state-ranked squads.
The Bears are 2-1 on the season with victories over Riverdale (39-35) and Hixson (14-13) after a stunning 29-27 loss to ninth-ranked (3A) Polk County in season opener.
The Mustangs bring an impressive 3-1 mark into the contest with wins over East Ridge (21-3) and Sequoyah (24-21) before second-ranked (5A) East Hamilton broke open a tied game late in the third quarter for a 56-35 final in the District 5-AAA opener for both schools. Walker Valley bounced back with another rally last week with 17 points in the final quarter for a 24-17 win over previously unbeaten Rhea County.
“I’m glad we’ve been able to come back like we have, but I don’t like getting down big that way and having to claw our way back,” declared Mustang head coach Glen Ryan. “That’s going to bite us one day. We’ve got to come out strong and score early against Bradley and not let them get a quick lead on us.”
Bradley head coach Damon Floyd echoed his counterpart’s sentiment. “Both teams have shown they can come back, but we don’t need to let ourselves get in that situation. We can’t make mistakes or let up for one play. They are 3-1 for a reason. They are a good team with good players.”
Both offenses have scored 80 points this season, while the defenses have given up 77 (Bradley) and 80 (WV) points, albeit the Bears have played one less game.
Bradley has leaned heavily on its passing game, having gained 627 of its 878 through the air, with senior signal caller Brett Standifer boasting a 62 completion percentage (39-of-63) for 591 yards and eight touchdowns.
The Bears have spread the ball to seven different receivers with senior Cal Pickel (6-foot, 175) leading the way with 14 catches for 27 yards and a trio of scores. Classmate Dee Crisp (6-foot-2, 185) has also found the end zone three times in eight catches for 173 yards (21.6 average). Junior Daniel Clark (6-foot-2, 175) has also past the century mark with 119 yards on a half dozen receptions, including the game-winner last Friday in Hixson.
“Bradley likes to spread it out and they have several good targets they like to go to,” remarked Coach Ryan. “Standifer makes good throws and these guys are dangerous after they catch the ball, so that poses some problems for us. We have got to be sound in the secondary and get pressure up front.”
The Mustangs have been able to do that so far this season with 10 takeaways, five interceptions and five fumble recoveries, in the first four games. Senior Colton Morrow, who has been in on 24 tackles, has had a hand in half of those turnovers, causing a pair of fumbles, recovering two plus taking an interception back 30 yards for a “Pick 6” against East Hamilton.
Freshman Cooper Melton has picked off a pair of enemy aerials, plus pounced on a fumbled pigskin, while classmate Bryce Nunnelly also has a trio of takeaways with two fumble recoveries and an interception.
The Mustang defense is led by junior linebackers Jake Johnson and Reed Jacobs. Johnson has a dozen solo tackles among his 36 total hits, has a pair of tackles for loss, a sack and broken up a pass.
Jacobs has been in on 28 tackles, including seven behind the line of scrimmage, plus has a sack and a pass break up. He was injured late in the first half against East Hamilton, and has missed the last game and a half. “We don’t expect to have him back for another week,” related Coach Ryan.
Offensively, the young Stallions are perfect (10 TDs, 2 FGs) on a dozen trips into the Red Zone this season, having gained 732 yards. With four of the top 10 rushers in the Bradley/Polk counties area, 460 of the yards have come on the ground.
Senior Tanner Dillard (6-foot-2, 230 pounds) is averaging just under six yards per carry, gaining 208 on 36 rushes, two for scores. He also has eight receptions for 44 yards. “Dillard’s a stud runner,” proclaimed Coach Floyd. “He’s a load to bring down.”
Senior Chandler Hunt (6-foot, 190) has helped out with 239 yards on 28 carries a trio of receptions (30.3 average) and a touchdown, while junior Holt Spencer (5-fot-10, 170) has found the end zone four times with 41 rushes for 136 yards, plus a pair of catches for 18 yards.
Morrow has added a trio of scores and more than 200 yards of total offense with four catches for 121 yards (30.3 average), plus 20 carries for 82 yards. Melton has caught five passes for 94 yards, including a pair of spectacular TD catches.
Junior QB Cory Cook (6-foot-1, 180) has completed 26-of-54 passes for 397 yards and four scores. He has only been sacked twice this season and thrown just one interception. “Cook is a good quarterback and Melton is a threat on the edge,” assessed Coach Floyd.
While the return of defensive standout Eduardo Trevino, who has yet to play this season due to injury, will be a game-time decision, the Bears will counter with senior linebacker Jordan Timmons (6-foot, 200), who has 11 solo take downs in 39 total tackles, including 4 1/2 tackles for loss and three fumble recoveries.
Junior defensive end Dalton Cooley (6-foot-1, 190) has been in on 29 tackles, including a team-leading seven for loss and two of Bradley’s four sacks this season. Junior linebacker/defensive back Warren Crisp (6-foot, 185) has helped out with 25 total tackles, including a pair behind the line.
Both teams also have excellent kicking games with Bear senior Clayton Steels perfect on nine extra-point attempts, plus booting a 37-yard field goal earlier in the season and just missing a 33-yard attempt last week He is also averaging 36.7 yards on 10 punts this season.
Junior Kevin Sabany has nailed both of field goal attempts for the Mustangs, plus has 10-of-11 PATs. Cook handles the punting duties, averaging 30.5 yards on 17 kicks so far.
Having faced a Ryan-coached Mustang squad the previous three years (the first two he was the offensive coordinator), the Bradley coaches have prepared to counter his “trick plays.” “We have to be able to handle what he throws at us and get in a few trick plays of our own,” expressed Coach Floyd.
In two of the three meetings, Walker Valley has pushed Bradley to the final whistle, including a 27-21 outcome last year at “The Corral” and a 40-33 barn-burner in 2010.
“We’ve been able to give them a game the in two of the games, but those were both at home,” related Coach Ryan. “The last time we went down there (Bear Stadium) we got embarrassed (42-0). So we’ve got a lot to prove. We’ve got to go down there, be ready to play from the opening whistle and play our hearts out.”
“I’m proud of how these young guys have overachieved so far this season,” he added. “They don’t quit. They may make some mistakes, but they don’t ever quit. They’ve exceeded my expectations and have raised the bar for what we know they are capable of doing.”
“I don’t care that we’ve beaten them ever time we’ve played them. That doesn’t matter. Last week doesn’t matter, it’s what we do out there Friday night that counts,” declared Coach Floyd. “Walker Valley believes they can win and are playing with a lot of passion. If our players can’t get excited about this game, then they don’t need to be playing football.”
“It all boils down to pride,” continued Floyd. “These kids all know each other, play ball together, go to church together, but this game is about who wants it more on the field Friday night.”
While it will be the District 5-AAA opener for Bradley, Walker Valley is looking to even it league mark after the loss to the Hurricanes. Kickoff is set for 7:30 with gates to open at 5:30 Friday evening.
The postponed July 4th fireworks display, sponsored by Mt. Olive Ministries and Larry Hill Ford will highlight the post-game activities.