An intense preseason paid off for the Mustangs. As East Ridge fought heat cramps throughout the night, Walker Valley looked fit and ready for action.
That might have been just the edge Walker Valley needed, as several miscues and turnovers helped to keep the Pioneers in the game.
While three lost fumbles and an interception stalled Walker Valley drives, they gave the team a chance to display another new trait of the Glen Ryan regime.
In previous season, the ‘Stangs have let close games slip away after a costly turnover or a shift in the game’s momentum confronted them, but Friday night the horses held strong and overcame their mistakes.
“We bounced back. We refused to lay down. We refused to hang our heads. We just kept fighting, and that shows our senior leadership. This team has something to prove this season. We are a blue-collar football team that has a bunch of guys who come to work and believe in each other,” said a pleased coach Ryan after the game.
Play got off to a good start for the Mustangs as their opening defensive stand resulted in an East Ridge punt after the series was highlighted by a big sack from Colton Morrow.
The resulting punt put Walker Valley in great field position when the Pioneers were flagged for fair catch interference, putting the first Mustang drive of the 2012 season on their own 43-yard line.
A pair of big runs looked to have the boys on track, but the train came off the rails with a fumble deep in East Ridge territory, the first of four dropped balls.
“We have some fumble drills we are going to be running this week. We have got to take better care of the football. We had chances to really put them away, but ended up hurting ourselves several times,” Ryan expressed.
During their next offensive drive the team displayed resilience by going back to the run game and carrying the ball with power and confidence. The end result was a 31-yard physical run by Morrow for the first Walker Valley touchdown of the young season with 4:58 remaining in the first quarter.
East Ridge responded though, and on their ensuing drive displayed some of the speed that Ryan had warned his team about coming into the game.
“They have some fantastic speed out on the field. We managed to chase some guys down and prevent some touchdowns. We have stressed all preseason about that never-quit attitude, and we want to keep working on that and building on that,” he explained.
The Pioneers’ first play from scrimmage went 40 yards downfield, and was only kept out of the end zone by a Gabe Cartwright shoestring tackle. Two players later East Ridge aired it out for a 31-yard completion to put the Pioneers on the Mustang 4-yard line. Two plays after that, the Pioneers broke through the line to tie things up at 7-all with 2:41 left on the clock.
An interception stalled the next Walker Valley drive, giving East Ridge the ball on the Mustangs’ 32-yard line.
The resulting Pioneer drive finished off the clock in the first quarter and they opened the second quarter with field goal, but only after Ryan’s team orchestrated a red-zone stand to keep their opposition out of the end zone.
Despite losing the lead, Walker Valley came out on its next drive with intensity and put together a 13-play drive that tallied 67 yards and four first downs on the way to a Cartwright 1-yard touchdown run to put the ‘Stangs back in the lead, 14-10, with 4:59 left in the half.
One play was all the Pioneer offense was able to call after the next drive ended abruptly with the team’s only turnover of the game. But, with the clock quickly running down, neither team was able to find its way back on the scoreboard in the first half.
To start the second half Walker Valley gained big chunks of yardage with a 15-yard pass interference call and a 10-yard run by Justin Ware, but the offense stalled and the ‘Stangs were forced to punt the ball away.
In their first play of the third quarter East Ridge looked to break the game back open when the Pioneer running game found open field. Cartwright was able to once again save a touchdown, but not before the run ate up 54 yards.
But once again the Mustangs showed their new, resilient nature by holding their opponents and eventually forcing a turnover on downs.
“Our defense stepped up big for us every time they were on the field. I could not be more proud of these young men. Our defense had a hard time stopping anyone last year, but these guys are buying in, swarming to the football and making things happen,” said Ryan.
Both squads battled back and forth through the third quarter, but neither was able to offensively get off the ground.
Walker Valley did display some trickery late in the quarter, though. Facing a fourth-and-short on the 50 yard line, the team lined up in punt formation, but snapped the ball directly to senior linemen Alexander Hooper who proceeded to “truffle shuffle” downfield. The play resulted in a 20-yard gain, a first down and a much-needed shot of electricity on the sideline.
Unfortunately, the electrifying run ended up amounting to nothing as the Mustangs tallied their third turnover on the very next play.
East Ridge opened the fourth quarter with a pair of 8-yard quarterback scrambles and a 10-yard pitch and catch, before a charging Mustang defense caught the Pioneers in the backfield to quickly shift the game’s momentum.
The ensuing drive saw a physical Mustangs’ run game travel 63 yards on a dozen plays to put them knocking on East Ridge’s door, but another fumble, this time in the red zone, looked to give East Ridge one last chance.
Posting their first four-and-out of the game the Pioneers didn’t move the ball a single yard thanks to good Walker Valley pass coverage and heads up play by the defensive line.
Punting from the back of its own end zone, East Ridge could only muster booting the ball to its own 19-yard line, and with than less than two minutes left on the clock Walker Valley looked for one last chance.
It took a single play for the ‘Stangs to find pay dirt. Starting quarterback Garrett Wallace handed the ball off to junior Chandler Hunt, who did the rest, weaving in and out of the defense for a 19-yard scoring run to put Walker Valley up 20-10 with 1:39 left on the clock.
All East Ridge could muster was running out the clock. Four snaps later the buzzer sounded, closing what many hope is a new chapter in Walker Valley football history.
When asked where the team goes from here, Ryan responded, “Here’s how we are going to do this; we are going to go celebrate tonight, but when we leave this is all over. Starting tomorrow we are preparing and focusing on Hixson.”
Walker Valley 7 7 0 6 — 20
Home team 7 3 0 0 — 0
WV — Colton Morrow 31-yd. run (Brad Hoffner kick), 4:58
ER — Torrey Hughes 3-yd. run (Tad Whitaker kick), 2:41
ER — Whitaker 26-yd. field goal, 10:28
WV — Gabe Cartwright 1-yd. run (Hoffner kick), 4:59
WV — Chandler Hunt 19-yd. run (kick failed),1:36
Team stats WV ER
First downs 12 9
Rushes-yards 46-326 32-178
Passing yards 10 69
Total yards 336 247
Comp-Att-Int 4-6-1 5-12-0
Fumbles-Lost 4-3 1-1
Penalties 6-36 6-50
Rushing: Cartwright 19-103 1 TD, Reggie Mills 5-51, Morrow 6-49 1 TD, Hunt 6-44 1 TD, Justin Ware 5-38, Alexander Hooper 1-20, Garrett Wallace 2-11, Caleb Longley 2-10 (WV); Hughes 11-122 1 TD, Tillery 3-16 (ER).
Passing: Wallace 4-6-1 10-yds (WV); McCurty 4-12-0 58-yds, Tillery 1-10 11-yds (ER).
Receiving: Dustin Swafford 2-6, Cartwright 2-4 (WV); Johnson 1-31, Washington 2-20 (ER).
Records: Walker Valley 1-0; East Ridge 0-1.