CLEVELAND, Tenn. — Walker Valley coach Glen Ryan has called the 2012 Mustangs a special team, for persevering although they entered the season on a 16-game losing streak.
So it makes perfect sense that Friday's home opener against Red Bank would come down to just that — special teams. Walker Valley won 33-22 despite being outgained 381 yards to 211.
Each team had three turnovers, but the hosts dominated special teams in their first-ever win over Red Bank.
Gabe Cartwright rushed for a touchdown and put the Mustangs ahead for good with a 68-yard kickoff return in the fourth quarter. and Brad Hoffner booted a third-quarter field goal.
"We could tell that they weren't hustling on kickoff returns," Cartwright said. "I knew if I got the ball, I was going to do whatever it took to get into the end zone.
"We had one goal coming into tonight, and that was to go 3-0. We're not looking forward and not looking back, and we weren't losing at home tonight. This just feels great."
Reggie Mills also had a long return after the Mustangs had forced a safety when a punt snap sailed over the head of Lions punter Tyler Phillips. It was the second bad snap of the game for the Lions — the first resulting in a 19-yard loss that set up the Mustangs' first touchdown.
"We didn't deserve to win this game," Red Bank coach E.K. Slaughter said. "You can't do what we did and win. We made some bad mistakes. Our defense played lights out and gave us a chance, but we just couldn't get it done."
Red Bank quarterback Hagan Wilkey threw for 243 yards, going 23-for-44 passing with two scoring tosses to Chris Tucker, but he had three interceptions. Tucker had nine catches for 111 yards, and Michael Robinson had five for 71.
Red Bank took a 7-0 lead on a run by Demetrius Williams and the teams went into halftime tied, but the Mustangs took a 12-7 lead after Hoffner's field goal and the safety. The teams traded touchdowns; then Mustangs quarterback Garrett Wallace hooked up with Caleb Longley for some insurance.
Justin Ware finished with 96 yards rushing, including a 50-yarder for the game's final score. Jerry Shaw made two interceptions, returning the second 77 yards.
"I wasn't sure about our chances for awhile, but we didn't quit and kept plugging away," Ryan said. "We brought our hard hats and lunch pails, because we knew that was the only way to have success. We don't have stud players, and each week someone steps up and does what it takes to win."