CENTRAL – Should Walker High go on to close out a remarkable run to the District 4-5A championship, the Wildcats will look back favorably at Friday’s come-from-behind 26-24 victory over previously undefeated Central.
Walker (6-2, 3-0 in 4-5A) twice trailed on the road, and in rain-soaked sloppy conditions, by 10 points in the final 10 minutes with the second occasion taking place with 5 minutes, 33 seconds remaining in the game.
“Every win this year’s been a team win,” Walker quarterback Ethan McMasters said. “We battle every play, every snap no matter what the score is because we feel like we can come back and win. We know what each other can do.”
McMasters connected on a 54-yard flea-flicker to wide receiver Peyton Richard, who broke a tackle at the 20-yard line, to make it 24-20 with 5:17 still showing.
Defensive lineman Jovun Myles’ sack of Central quarterback Sam Kenerson helped give the ball back to Walker’s offense and McMasters coolly drove the Wildcats 55 yards in six plays in just over two minutes for the game-winning score.
With Central haven taken away his top target – Brian Thomas – for the majority of the game, there wasn’t any hesitation from McMasters on where he was going with the game on the line.
Thomas, who had four catches for 32 yards going into his team’s final series, had two receptions on the winning march – highlighted by a 19-yard scoring grab against man coverage near the corner of the end zone with 1:13 remaining.
In the back-and-forth fourth quarter, where the two teams combined for 33 points and five touchdowns in the last 10:12 of the game, it was Walker’s only lead of the game.
“When my number was called, I just wanted to come out and make the play,” Thomas said. “Even though I wasn’t getting what I usually get, when my number was called, it was a matter of going out and making a play.”
Central (7-1, 2-1) crossed midfield to WHS’ 36-yard line, but a holding penalty pushed them back, and from near midfield Kenerson’s final heave was broken up by Thomas near the sideline at the 10.
Defensive backs Jesse James and Aubrey Womack broke up passes from Kenerson on the previous two plays.
“I told our guys this is probably the biggest team win we’ve had this year,” said Walker coach Chad Mahaffey, whose team won its fifth consecutive game and is tied for the league lead with Zachary (5-2, 3-0). “I felt a lot of different guys. … offense, defense, special teams …. A lot of different guys were making plays to contribute.
“I’m just proud of these guys,” Mahaffey said. “I feel like we’re making a lot of great strides. It’s hard to beat undefeated people for a reason. For seven weeks they hadn’t tasted it (defeat) and they’re confident, they’re at home and well coached and it’s not just going to come easy.”
Walker, which found itself trailing 10-7 at halftime and following a scoreless third quarter, hadn’t scored since midway in the second quarter on the first of two rushing touchdowns from Demetri Wright.
The Wildcats wound up scoring on their final three possessions of the game, gaining 159 of their 393 yards.
“I think both teams were probably trying to get a feel of each other and the conditions,” Mahaffey said. “All rain games aren’t the same. Sometimes you go out and it doesn’t necessarily play a big factor, but you could tell some guys were slipping around. It took a bit to get adjusted.”
Walker outgained Central 393-320 in a game where there was only one turnover.
McMasters completed 14 of 18 passes for 214 yards with an interception and two touchdowns. Thomas wound up with five catches for 51 yards, Kevin Brady three receptions for 29 yards, Keondre Brown three for 32 and Richard two for 88 yards and a score.
Walker had both Brown and Wright, who returned from an injury, available to play together in the same game with Brown leading the way with 18 carries for 91 yards and Wright adding 64 yards and a pair of TDs on 15 attempts.
Central, led by Isaiah Rankins’ 127 rushing yards and two TDs, scored on its first two possessions for an early 10-0 lead when Walker answered with Wright’s 21-yard touchdown run at the 5:55 mark, leaving the visitors facing a three-point halftime deficit.
After yielding 119 first-quarter yards, Walker’s defense forced three punts in the second quarter and Wright made his first appearance in the game. He carried five times on his team’s 9-play scoring drive, totaling 43 yards on the 81-yard march – the final 21 coming on a run up the middle when Thomas motioned across the defense.
“Hats off to our defense,” Mahaffey said. “They gave up that one big one early (Isaiah Rankins’ 80-yard TD in the first quarter) but really came up with some answers in the first half when we were struggling. We popped a few plays in the second half. That was a big win.”
Walker’s offense had only produced a touchdown through the game’s first 40 minutes, having come up empty on four straight possessions that included a turnover at Central’s 28 and a failed fourth down attempt at midfield.
Central scored on consecutive series, each time increasing its lead to 10 points, when Walker’s offense came to life and scored touchdowns on three straight possessions to close the game – including a 3-yard run from Wright and two passing TDs from McMasters in the last 5:17.
“We had been struggling all night,” McMasters said. “It was sloppy, but we just had to come out and fight like we always do. I love my brothers. It’s a team effort. Every night’s a team effort. We had to come out and play as one and whenever we do that, we can go all of the way.”
Walker 26, Central 24
Score By Quarters
Walker 0 7 0 19 - 26
Central 10 0 0 14 - 24
CHS – FG. Andrew Medine 28
CHS – Isaiah Rankins 80 run (Medine kick)
WHS – Demetri Wright 21 run (Bradley Cain kick)
CHS – Jonathan Swift 1 run (Medine kick)
WHS – Wright 3 run (Cain kick)
CHS – Rankins 4 run (Medine kick)
WHS – Peyton Richard 54 pass from Ethan McMasters (no kick)
WHS – Brian Thomas 19 pass from McMasters (No kick)
First Downs 19 11
Rushes-Yards 41-179 37-238
Passing Yards 214 82
A-C-I 14-18-1 3-17-0
Punts-Avg. 3-33.3 5-35.4
Fumbles-Lost 3-0 0-0
Penalties-Yards 4-35 7-75