Walker Valley football coach Glen Ryan was noticeably more excited with the Mustangs' 44-12 victory over host Hixson on Friday night than he was a week earlier, which is saying a lot.
After all, the season opener had broken a string of 16 consecutive losses for Walker Valley (2-0), but as joyful as it was, game two was more validating.
"I don't think anyone gave us much of a chance despite what we did last week," Ryan said. "I told the kids you should make the most improvement between your first game and your second game, and we definitely did that tonight."
Senior Justin Ware got the Mustangs off to a fabulous start, racing 72 yards on the game's third play, and Walker Valley dominated in the second half to spoil the debut of new Hixson coach Jason Fitzgerald.
Ware wound up scoring four TDs on only nine carries, rushing for 150 yards as Walker Valley stuck to its blueprint of gash and slash running and hard-nosed defense.
"We've been down a long time. It feels really good to get off to this start, but it's just two games. We'll take them one at a time," said Ware, whose scoring runs covered 72, 15, 6 and 31 yards.
After two Ware scores in the game's first seven minutes, Hixson seemed to find itself on the arm of quarterback Gil Brown. Brown found a streaking Allante Novene for an 80-yard touchdown toss.
Brown was gutsy against a stout rush all night and led an impressive 65-yard drive just before halftime to slice Walker Valley's lead to 28-12. It also served as a wakeup call for the Mustangs defense.
"I told them at the half we needed to come out and take control in the third quarter, that we were lackadaisical at the end of the half, and they responded," Ryan said in lauding the defense.
Walker Valley outgained the Wildcats (375-278) after holding them to 81 yards in the final half. Walker Valley's Reggie Mills got 59 of his 67 rushing yards, with a 5-yard TD run, in the second half, and quarterback Garrett Wallace completed a 27-yard toss to Dustin Swafford for a score.
"We have a lot of good players on this team, and our offensive line was spectacular. We enjoyed tonight," Ware added.
Coach Ryan certainly did.
For Hixson, Brown was 10-of-20 for 173 yards with two interceptions.
Walker Valley is off next week and then hosts Red Bank, while Hixson opens its district schedule against Howard.