“The guys are starting to see what we are talking about. They are playing their guts out. They are playing hard. Unfortunately, they have fallen just a little bit short the last two weeks — four points to Red Bank and a touchdown to Cleveland — but you can’t fault their effort. They have really gotten after it. There have just been a couple costly turnovers and some things there that have meant the outcome of the game,” said Mustangs (0-4) coach Ted Lockerby.
Lockerby’s assessment was not lost on Wildcats (4-1) coach Derrick Davis, who said last week’s win over Sweetwater was another example of how every game is going to be a fight to the finish. Davis said what he has seen on video is enough to let him know the Mustangs will be arriving in Benton ready to take care of business.
“We’re happy that we won another district game, but we had better put that out of our mind because we are moving on to this week, and this week is Walker Valley. They played Cleveland tough and played Red Bank extremely tough. People may look at their record and say this is going to be an easy game, but I’m a little smarter than that. I know it’s going to be another tough one,” he said.
Farther west down the Hiwassee River, Lockerby also has been pouring over video looking for weaknesses to exploit in Polk County’s offensive and defensive schemes. He said what he has found is no surprise, but the Wildcats do what they do very well.
“Polk County is always traditionally a physical run team. They do an excellent job with their powers, their buck [or dive], their counters and their traps in the running game. That really opens up a lot for a passing game. It’s very similar to our offense, especially last week against Cleveland,” he stated.
“They are going to be a run-first, physical football team come Friday night,” he added.
Davis, on the other hand, has been concerned as of late about the Wildcats’ running game and concedes Polk’s ground attack has been lacking with the exception of a quarter and a half last week against Sweetwater. His biggest frustrations, however, come from lack of fundamental concentration on the line on both sides of the ball.
“I thought the fourth quarter (against Sweewater) and part of the third was kind of more what we expected and what we want. It was just the start of the game last week, starting at the kickoff at the 45-yard line, jumping offsides and then letting them execute a fake punt — we are making it tougher than what it should be early in the game. That’s the frustrating thing. I think we showed a spark with the last drive just before halftime, but that was about all Al (Akins). We are just making things harder than what they should or can be,” he said. “These mistakes will cost us if we don’t cut some of them out.”
It is a sure bet that Lockerby and his staff have seen every weakness Davis has acknowledged, and more than likely some the wily Wildcats coach hasn’t admitted. Rest assured the Mustangs are looking at Polk as if they are visiting Lambeau Field and will prepare for the expected physical game accordingly.
“We are just trying to be as physical as we can while we prepare for Polk. It’s hard to mimic their offense when we are preparing for them on the defensive side of the football. Friday night will be the first time we get to see it live and at full speed. That’s always the hardest thing when you’re trying to emulate your opponent’s team, weather it’s a passing team or a running team,” Lockerby acknowledged.
Davis said he is still looking for solutions to the problems Polk has inflicted on itself during the first five weeks of the season. Again, he referred to fundamentals as a sore point and one unusual statistic not generally associated with Wildcats football — a lack of caused fumbles by the defense.
“I was disappointed in our tackling against Sweetwater. I don’t know how many yards they had after first contact, but it was a whole lot. We never knocked No. 15 back. Those little things are adding up to making us struggle a lot more than we should. We are halfway through the season and some of this is going to have to start kicking in. It doesn’t get any easier from here on out. Walker Valley, Signal Mountain and then South Pittsburg,” he said.
“One disappointing thing I would like to see us start doing — we are not knocking the ball out on defense. Here we are five games into the season and we have zero caused fumbles on defense. That is not what we are about. I don’t want to compare years past, but a fact is a fact. I don’t recall a time where we have had zero caused fumbles, knocking the ball out either after a catch or raking it out on a hard hit. But, we have zero up to this point. We’re missing something right there. That puts your defense and offense as well in a bind when you are not causing fumbles. But zero caused fumbles in five games, that’s disappointing.”
Don’t think for a minute the Mustangs are unaware of this statistic coming from Benton. The Mustangs’ ground attack, as well as the aerial assault, have improved considerably since the opening kickoff of Game 1. Walker Valley threw for nearly 130 yards against Cleveland and recorded two touchdowns. Look for quarterback Garrett Wallace and company to establish a run game and challenge Polk defensive leader Akins and crew through the air.
“When you have success running the football like we have had the last couple weeks it opens up the passing game, especially the play-action passing game off our Wing T. It’s pretty similar to what Polk runs. They will run, run, run and then the next thing you know the play action looks just like another run and once people start loading the box with nine or 10 guys to stop the run it opens up that aspect of the passing game,” said Lockerby.
“We are continuing to work hard throughout the week and prepare for Polk County this week.”
The suddenly two-dimensional Mustangs have only added to Davis’ worries about how to get the Wildcats focused on a very dangerous Walker Valley football team. Instead of concentrating on stopping the run, Polk will have to keep a wary eye out for footballs coming over the top.
“You can’t just say, ‘Hey, they are just going to run the ball.’ Their quarterback looked very good throwing the ball. That had to give him confidence coming into this game. It will be an intense ballgame. I think Friday night will be one of those games where turnovers and the least amount of mistakes is going to give one team a big edge, if not a win,” said Davis.