All week long, Spencer Jackson and the rest of Walker Valley's defense did their best to prepare for East Hamilton in hopes of halting the Hurricanes' high-flying offense.
Class 5A's Mustangs did just that, intercepting three passes in the first half and recovering a fumble early in the third quarter to ignite a 40-12 road victory over Class 4A's fifth-ranked Hurricanes, who lost for just the second time in eight games this season.
"Our team has overcome a lot of adversity, especially our seniors who had a record of 1-19 over their first two years," said Jackson, a junior strong safety who provided a spark early in the second quarter, cutting across the middle as he read the receiver's route perfectly and made an impressive interception.
"We are together as a team, and we love Coach (Taylor) Harvey, who has helped us grow a lot defensively. We stopped the run all night, and our defensive backs did their job, too, to help set our offense up to roll."
Lane Miller had two interceptions of Haynes Eller, who had not been picked off this season until Friday. On Miller's second pick, he read a crossing route and turned the home team over in the red zone to preserve a 20-6 halftime lead.
Senior quarterback Tucker Pope was a bright spot once again as he completed 13 of 20 passes for 182 yards and three touchdowns. The 6-foot-3 dual threat had 14 carries for 73 yards and two touchdowns. Pope has 27 touchdowns this season.
The Mustangs (5-2) refused to let up and showed they had learned after giving up 21-point and 15-point second-half leads in losses this season to Bradley Central and Rhea County.
"We let those games teach us instead of break us," coach Drew Akins said. "It has been so much fun to see our guys grow and for them to celebrate on the sidelines tonight. We have big goals and want to make history at Walker Valley."
Pope started the second half with a quick throw to Daniel Denton, who broke away from a tackle attempt for a 42-yard gain. Denton had a one-handed touchdown grab at the back left pylon earlier in the game.
The play after Denton's 42-yarder, Pope's top target, Brody Swafford, ran a crisp stop-and-go route that left the defender with no chance on a 25-yard touchdown for a 27-6 lead.
"We went out tonight and struck the No. 5 team in the state in the mouth and had relentless pursuit all night," said Swafford, who has scored 13 touchdowns (nine catches, four kick returns) as a senior. "This is a program-defining win, and we will use it to fuel us going forward."
Walker Valley's defense held East Hamilton to 66 yards on the ground, and on offense the Mustangs kept a clean pocket for their quarterback and created a strong push for a ground game that included Heath Tanksley breaking a 30-yard touchdown run to put a bow on the decisive win with 8:35 to play.
Tanksley rushed for 104 yards on 11 carries, and Kade Tjaarda had a 27-yard touchdown catch in the first half.