Walker Valley defense shines in home win over Cleveland

Staff photo by Patrick MacCoon / Walker Valley receiver Roman Eulo (6) celebrates his 59-yard touchdown catch on a pass from Evan Schwarzl with the Mustangs' band early in Friday night's home game against Cleveland.

CHARLESTON, Tenn. — For just the second time in program history and first time since 2012, the Walker Valley Mustangs are 3-0 to start a football season.

The calling card for the Mustangs has been a rock-solid defense, and it showed up once again as senior linebacker Deundre Hinton (15 tackles) was all over the field from the middle linebacker position in Friday night's 20-14 home win over Cleveland.

"This is a big milestone for my team," said Hinton, a transfer from Central who has been a crucial part of a defense that has allowed just 22 points this season. "This team has been through a lot of trials and tribulations. We listen to our coaches and do our jobs and what we are supposed to do. We continue to dig deep and have a lot of will power."

Walker Valley ended a four-game losing streak in what has been a lopsided series against Cleveland, which had outscored them 115-3 in their previous three meetings.

The Mustangs erupted in celebration when junior Zeke Garrison intercepted a pass over the middle in the final seconds to seal a huge victory for the Class 5A program. Garrison, a team captain, also had an 8-yard touchdown reception to help his team take a 14-7 lead into halftime.

(READ MORE: Final scores and photos from Friday night's Chattanooga-area prep football games)

"I am just so proud of our everyone," said Walker Valley head coach Drew Akins, whose team has outscored opponents 112-22 this season. "Everything we did to get to this point has been worth it. We really put our kids through a lot. All the hard work has been for moments like this. Our kids went our there and made the plays they needed to in order to win against a really good 6A team."

Senior quarterback Evan Schwarzl had some big-time moments in what was the Mustangs' fifth win in the all-time series in 21 tries.

On Walker Valley's second play of the game, Schwarzl unleashed a bomb down the left sideline to streaking sophomore receiver Roman Eulo for a 59-yard touchdown.

Another key moment came with 2:37 left to play in the fourth quarter when Hudson Makuch made an incredible diving catch down his home sideline for a 40-yard gain on third-and-11 from the Mustangs' 43 as they held a slim 17-14 lead.

Senior kicker Eli Wilson made a pair of field goals in the second half and also had a 63-yard punt in the victory.

Cleveland (2-1) was penalized for more than 100 yards in the first half on a night when quarterback LJ Adams broke the century mark in rushing yards and had a game-tying touchdown run in the first half.

The Blue Raiders cut the deficit to 17-14 with 5:29 left to play on junior Lucas Szymborski's 5-yard run out of the wildcat formation as he dragged several defenders into the end zone. Dylan Harrold starred in the defeat with three tackles for loss.

While Walker Valley's last win in the series previously was a 68-36 victory in 2016, a stingy defense continued to shine.

Mustangs senior safety Tyran Forte also broke up a trick play pass in the end zone in the first half.

"Our defense played unbelievable, like they have all season," Akins said. "LJ Adams kept them in the game scrambling, but I thought Leundre did a fantastic job along with our defensive staff."

Contact Patrick MacCoon at pmaccoon@timesfreepress.com.