As the third-ranked Class 5A East Hamilton Hurricanes blew into “The Corral” Friday night for its first-ever District 5-AAA, they got strong taste of the strength of their new league.
Despite being picked in the pre-season polls to finish sixth in the seven-team league, Walker Valley came into the contest unbeaten and proved they were more than capable of weathering the eye of the storm. Unfortunately for the young Stallions, they were overwhelmed by the storm surge that followed.
The 56-35 final score was deceiving as the Mustangs proved they could hang with the big dogs by rallying to even the score late in the third quarter, but then their tanks hit empty down the stretch as a pair of 81-yard scoring passes helped put the game out of reach.
“They (the Mustangs) played their hearts out and that’s what I’m most proud of,” Walker Valley head coach Glen Ryan said. “As long as we keep progressing every week, by the end of the season I think we will shake some things up and make people stand up and take notice a bit.”
For Walker Valley, the storm briefly cleared late in the third quarter as they were able to tie things up with the Hurricanes 35-35, but the evening was to be effectively rained out by the visiting powerhouse.
“These kids keep fighting and I’ll take that. It’s a young bunch and they made some young mistakes tonight, but they fought and never quit. Everybody had counted them out and then near the end of the third quarter we had tied it up. We’ve just got to be able to finish and that’s part of a growing process,” Ryan said.
Now 2-1 on the season, Walker Valley will play its third-straight home game Friday evening when former 5-AAA member Rhea County flies across the river.
The game against the Golden Eagles will kick off at 7 p.m. as Walker Valley will celebrate homecoming ceremonies during halftime. Rhea County is off to a 2-0 start with victories over Coffee County (55-20) and White County (33-6).
East Hamilton (3-0, 1-0 District 5-AAA) will travel to Murfreesboro this week to face a struggling Riverdale squad, which dropped its third straight game Friday, falling to Blackman 35-0.
The Hurricanes got Friday evening’s laundry list of mistakes started out by fumbling the ball twice and each time losing possession to Walker Valley.
Late in the first quarter, the Mustangs were able to capitalize on the Hurricanes’ second fumble as it resulted in QB Cory Cook’s smooth sailing 19-yard pass to Cooper Melton in the end zone. The extra point was blocked, leaving Walker Valley with a 6-0 lead to start the second quarter.
The Hurricanes emerged in the second and made quick work of demonstrating why they have earned such a high state ranking.
Only 11 seconds in, Hunter Moore got a 57-yard touchdown pass to Tony Francois, which was followed up with an extra point.
The Moore-to-Francois passing rhetoric would be commonplace in the second half.
After losing 20 yards due to three consecutive penalties, Moore was unfazed and threw a 75-yard touchdown pass to Francois with 6:46 remaining in the half.
A fumble recovery by the Hurricanes gave the QB the chance to get another touchdown pass, this time a 22-yard toss to an awaiting Francois just 16 seconds after their last.
Walker Valley’s offense was able to chip away at the East Hamilton defensive line, and with 3:39 remaining Holt Spencer made a short 4-yard run into the end zone.
Not wanting to be outdone, the visitors got one final touchdown before the first half was over, as Matt Milita ran the ball in from nine-yards out with 46 seconds left.
Despite trailing 28-12, the Mustangs, who were notoriously strong in the second half, came out riled up and rearing to go in the third quarter.
Just a minute and 44 seconds after the intermission, Cook completed a 40-yard pass to Colton Morrow for the third Walker Valley touchdown of the game. Having already one failed two-point conversion on the books for the night, Cook was able to successfully run the ball in.
East Hamilton soon made it 35-20 with Milita’s 4-yard touchdown run at 8:12.
With 2:18 remaining in the third, Morrow scampered 30-yards back to the end zone on a “Pick-6.” Walker Valley completed another successful two-point conversion, this time ran in by Chandler Hunt.
The Mustang drive was further aided by a pass interference call against the visitors on a fourth down play, which bumped them to first down on the Hurricanes’ 12 yard line.
Morrow reached the paydirt once again, and Kevin Sabany’s kick for the extra point tied up the game 35-35 with 1:22 left in the third.
The final 17 seconds of the quarter was all it took for East Hamilton to get the tie-breaking touchdown off of an 81-yard pass to an unguarded Milita.
“We had some shots but kind of let it slip through our fingers. When you play a good football team you don’t get many opportunities, you’ve got to slam the door when you get the chance and we didn’t do that,” Ryan commented. “You like to think that 35 points is enough, but we had some breakdowns at our secondary and some poor tackling up the middle.”
The Mustangs were unable to recover in the fourth quarter, as the Hurricanes added two more touchdowns, one coming from another huge 81-yard pass, before the game finally came to a close.
“We had too many big mistakes right there at the end of the game. We can’t afford to let a team like East Hamilton get big plays like that,” Ryan said. “I think it’s a combination of youth, the mental game and maybe getting overexcited at times. There’s a lot going on in these kids’ heads. The best thing we can do is take this game and learn from it. We were this close and they were unanimously selected as the best team in the district and we were in the ball game up until the fourth quarter.”
Cook completed six of his 11 pass attempts Friday night, for a total of 113 yards. He also rush for 12 yards on 10 attempts, his longest being nine yards.
Tanner Dillard led the Mustangs in rushing, with a total of 34 yards in nine attempts. Hunt had a total of 26 yards in his seven attempts.
In Spencer’s 10 rushing attempts, he finished the night with 25 yards total.
Morrow had four attempts for 15 yards and led his team in receiving with 40 yards.
Elijah Haynie had 29 yards with one catch and Cooper Melton had 19 yards with his one catch.
“Cory Cook did a nice job throwing the football and the line did a pretty good job, minus a few letdowns toward the end. We’re a constant work in progress, we fixed one part and now we have another part to fix until we get it all together,” Ryan commented. “To be the complete football team that we want to be we have to cut out the mistakes.”
Reed Jacobs had a total of 12 tackles for the night, which consisted of five solos and seven assisted.
Morrow had eight assisted tackles, with Melton getting three solo and three assisted.
Josh Jones had three solo and two assisted tackles and Jake Johnson had one solo tackle and four assisted.