CLEVELAND, Tenn. - The biggest positive for the Walker Valley football team this season is the young Mustangs' desire to keep plugging away regardless of the circumstances or the deficit. That was evident again Friday night as they fell behind by double digits early to Rhea County, but for the third time this season, they proved that no lead is insurmountable.
At least for them.
The Mustangs (3-1) scored 24 unanswered points and shut down Rhea in the final three quarters for a 24-17 nondistrict victory.
Quarterback Cory Cook threw for 120 yards, with 109 coming in the second half. He completed his final six passes, including a 70-yarder to Chandler Hunt that set up the Mustangs' second touchdown -- a 10-yard run by Tanner Dillard that trimmed the Golden Eagles' lead to 17-14 in the fourth quarter.
Rhea (2-1) fumbled the following kickoff, and the ball was recovered by Walker Valley. On the next play, Cook found Colton Morrow for the go-ahead score on a 33-yard completion. After stopping Rhea on downs, the Mustangs milked six minutes off the clock before getting a field goal by Kevin Sabany with 38 seconds remaining.
Rhea fumbled again on its next possession, and Walker Valley's Dallas Kuykendall recovered to seal the win.
"We know we're young and there are a lot of guys playing new positions," said Hunt, who scored the Mustangs' first touchdown. "We're just trying to prove ourselves; we're tired of being on the doorstep to Bradley and Cleveland in this county. We want to be on top."
Rhea wasted no time jumping on top, scoring on its first three possessions. Jacob York plunged into the end zone from 8 yards on the first drive, and quarterback Austin Dotson and Noel Patterson hooked up on an 87-yard catch-and-run late in the first quarter. The Golden Eagles added a field goal by Wyatt Maerki early in the second quarter, but after a 168-yard first quarter, they totaled 137 in the next three and only 94 in the second half.
"How about our defense?" Walker Valley coach Glen Ryan said. "Coach [Scotty] Smith and Coach Craig [Ryan] really did a great job of attacking them on defense.
"It was a big win for us against a very good Rhea County team, and hopefully this will start an upswing for us going forward."
The Golden Eagles rushing attack, which came in averaging 347.5 yards per game, was limited to 182 Friday night. York led them with 57 yards, while Patterson had two catches for 100 yards, but the team was riddled by costly penalties at crucial times, finishing with 12 infractions for 90 yards.
"We didn't have a good second half," Rhea coach Mark Pemberton said. "We couldn't control the momentum swing. We knew coming in they'd be the best team we'd seen, and we'll learn from this. One game doesn't define our season."
Contact Gene Henley at email@example.com or 423-757-6311. Follow him at twitter.com/genehenleytfp.