Trevon Ware scampers toward the End Zone
by JOE CANNON Banner Assistant Sports Editor
A pack of crazed, wild monkeys were last seen searching through northern Bradley County for a new home after being cast off the backs of the Walker Valley football team.
"It's not really a rivalry until you are able to get a win," explained the veteran coach of the "signature" victory. "We have been looking for this (win) to help establish ourselves with the great programs at Bradley and Cleveland."
Claiming their first football victory in 10 meetings with the school from which many of their students came when it opened in 2001, Walker Valley has a pair of wins (2004, 2008) in 13 battles against Cleveland. The Mustangs (3-2, 1-1 District 5-AAA) and Blue Raiders (2-3, 1-1 District 5-AAA) will play each other this season on Oct 17 at Benny Monroe Stadium.
Walker Valley will host Polk County (0-4) Friday evening for its annual homecoming festivities, while Bradley (2-2, 0-1) will travel to fourth-ranked (4A) Signal Mountain (5-0) to face former BCHS coach Bill Price's high-flying Eagles.
Playing a fast-paced, no-huddle offense, it took the Mustangs just a little over two minutes to run seven plays and find the end zone Friday evening.
Returning the opening pooch kick to its own 39, Walker Valley's new "hurry-up style" saw running back Alex King gain two and three yards on his first two tries before busting loose on a 25-yard scamper. The sophomore Stallion gained 160 yards on 28 carries in the victory to push his area-leading season total to 510 yards.
Junior Avery Jones got the first of his 71 yards on the evening with a 22-yard dash on the next play to move the ball into the Red Zone at the Bear 9 yard line.
Three plays later, King bulled over from three yards out with 9:47 left on the opening quarter clock. Senior Kevin Sabany added the extra-point kick to push the lead to 7-0.
Not to be outdone, the Mustang defense came out just as strong as their teammates from the other side of the ball. They forced the Bears to go three-and-out after a tipped pass and a near interception on the first play, a tackle by senior linebacker Corey Castello for a four-yard loss on the second and another incomplete aerial on the third play.
After a short punt rolled dead at the Bear 39, the Mustang offense went right back to work. Using just six plays to get back in the Red Zone, but this time the Bradley defense rose to the occasion, stopping the hosts cold on back-to-back plays at the 5 yard line to force the ball to be turned over on downs.
After using 14 plays to go 36 yards, the Bears had to punt once again, but after a high snap and quick kick the ball only went 14 yards, setting up the Mustangs on their own 40. Three plays later, the Black-and-Gold took the ball back when junior Trevon Ware pounced on a fumble.
Bradley was able to penetrate WV territory, but a half dozen plays later gave the ball back with the first off its three turnovers on the night, this one a pass tipped by Castello and picked off by classmate Reed Jacobs.
Being able to pick up just one first down, on a 31-yard jaunt by King, The Mustangs had to punt the ball away with David Thompson pinning the Bears back on their own 10 yard line. Four plays later, the visitors coughed up their second turnover as Mustang senior Jake Johnson recovered a fumble on the sideline at the Bear 29 with 2:38 to go in the opening half.
Keeping the ball on the ground on all but one play, WV needed nine plays to cover the yardage to paydirt, with freshman quarterback Kolten Gibson faking the ball to King and then scooting around left end for a 12-yard touchdown in his first varsity start.
Sabany tacked on his 15th extra point in as many tries this season for a 14-0 Walker Valley lead at the intermission.
After the entertaining band performances, the second half didn't appear to start any better for the visitors, before an odd play swung the pendulum the other way.
The first offensive play resulted in an 18-yard loss when the opening snap sailed over the 6-foot-3 Bear quarterback's head. Another near interception, this one by senior Eldridge Johnson, plus a tackle for loss at the 5 yard line by Brendan Gilbert, forced another Bradley punt.
Standing at the back of his end zone, 6-foot-2 senior Daniel Clark had to leap to save the ball from going out of the end zone for a safety. When he came down and made a quick kick, a Mustang got a hand on the ball, knocking it into the pile at the line of scrimmage. Ware came away from the scrum with the ball and broke loose for a 59-yard gain to retain possession for the Bears at the Mustang 37 yard line.
Five plays later sophomore signal caller Cole Copeland hit Clark with a 29-yard touchdown pass. The PAT kick by Logan Snyder cut the deficit in half with 7:47 left to play in the third frame.
Riding the wave to the momentum shift, the Bear defense came up big on the ensuing possession when sophomore Hunter Duggan stopped a Mustang ball carrier short of the first down marker on a fourth-and-2 play at midfield.
Two plays later, Bradley found paydirt again, this time on a 59-yard hookup between Copeland and junior Tyler Carpenter, the area's leading receiver with 328 yards on 13 catches for a better than 25 yards per reception average. However, the extra point attempt slipped wide left, allowing the hosts to maintain a one-point edge with 4:50 on the third quarter clock.
Undaunted by its opponent's two scores within three minutes, Walker Valley regained its composure after the ensuing kickoff and drove inside the Red Zone once again behind the strength of a 26-yard run by Gibson and King breaking free for a dozen before Clark made a TD-saving tackle.
After the march stalled at the Bear 15, Coach Ryan sent Sabany onto the field and the senior booted his third field goal of the season, this one from 32 yards out for what turned out to be the game's final points with 2:28 left in the third quarter.
Walker Valley finished with 298 yards of offense, including King adding a seven-yard reception to his 160 rushing yards, while the Bears posted 238 yards with 140 of it coming on three plays — the 59-yard scoop and run by Ware, plus the two TD tosses to Clark (29 yards) and Carpenter (52 yards).
Along with the three takeaways, the Mustang defense had 10 tackles for loss, including sacks by senior Dallas Kuykendall and Gilbert. The Bradley "D" made a half dozen tackles behind the line of scrimmage.
"Cooper Melton has been out for two weeks with mono, but when he got the OK to play today, he wanted to be in there and be a part of this tonight," the coach said of the sophomore wide out's two catches for 31 yards, plus his blocking, which included a key block to help spring Gibson into the end zone.
"Give Walker Valley credit. They out coached us and out played us," assessed Bear head coach Damon Floyd. "My guys weren't ready to play and that's on me. We're not executing and making way too many mental mistakes."
"We've got to do a better job of playing the whole four quarters. We haven't done that yet this year," he added. "Our schedule only gets tougher (playing sixth-ranked Ooltewah and then Cleveland after going to Signal Mountain this week), so we've got to go back to the drawing board and get ready for next week."
Recently retired Walker Valley teacher and athletic supporter Rudy Felton was honored before the game with a No. 41 Mustang jersey to commemorate his years of service in the Bradley County school system. Felton, who helped coach girls' basketball at Bradley Junior High, began his teaching career in 1973 at Bradley Elementary (now Ocoee Middle School).
Read more: Cleveland Daily Banner - Stangs stampede to milestone win