WALKER - The Chad Mahaffey-era got off to a winning start.
But it wasn’t without a little bit of drama.
After building a three-score lead in the third quarter, the Wildcats had to withstand a late charge from visiting Madison Prep, but did just enough to survive their season-opener with a 38-30 victory Friday.
Walker (1-0) built a 38-16 lead after running back Demetri Wright burst up the middle for a 34-yard touchdown with 8:28 left in the third quarter.
But the Chargers (0-1), who were plagued by turnovers and penalties, mustered two fourth-quarter touchdowns, both thanks to the right arm of quarterback Zeon Chriss.
Chriss’ final touchdown pass came with 2:51 left in the game, forcing the Wildcats to return their starters for another series. But Walker managed to pick up a first down and run out the clock, giving Mahaffey his first win as head coach of the Wildcats.
Mahaffey praised his team’s effort after the game, especially for how they responded when the Madison Prep stormed back and made it close.
“I think what I liked most was when (Madison Prep) started making plays and making the game tight, we didn’t panic,” Mahaffey said. “We came back and responded and did enough to win, and that’s positive. I was proud to see us gut it up.”
Running back Keondre Brown carried the load for Walker, finishing with 223 all-purpose yards and three total touchdowns. He rushed 21 times for 123 yards and added five catches for 95 yards before injuring himself late in the fourth quarter and not returning to the game.
Quarterback Ethan McMaster tallied 224 yards through the air and two touchdowns for the Wildcats and running back Demetri Wright carried six times for 55 yards.
Walker finished with 412 yards on 57 plays (7.22 yards per play) and committed only one turnover. Though the Chargers outgained the Wildcats (469 yards on 57 plays), they turned the ball over five times and committed 17 penalties that cost them 146 yards — something Mahaffey said should’ve helped his team more than it did.
“I thought we came out hot and had opportunities to separate a little bit, but we didn’t do that,” he said. “It was a really gutsy effort out of Madison Prep. They made some plays, and their quarterback was tough to tackle all night.
“When we got some turnovers early, we didn’t capitalize, which would’ve helped us separate some more.”
The game got off to a wild start.
After taking the opening kickoff, the Wildcats marched 65 yards on five plays before McMasters found Brown uncovered down the left sideline. The bulky running back took care of the rest,
racing away for a 44-yard touchdown that gave Walker an early lead.
The Chargers went three-and-out on their first possession, and a muffed punt gave the Wildcats the ball at the visitors 12-yard line. But the Wildcats could only pick up seven yards on the series and had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by kicker Bradley Cain to extend their lead to 10-0.
That’s when Chriss got cooking.
The sophomore quarterback found receiver Major Burns, an LSU commitment, down the left sideline for a 30-yard gain on the first play of his team’s second series. On the next play, Chriss scrambled through and around the Walker defense, scampering 46 yards to the endzone to make it a 10-7 game.
An ill-advised kickoff return had forced the Wildcats the start their third possession on their own 1-yard line. Two plays later, Madison Prep’s defense swarmed Brown in the endzone for a safety, trimming Walker’s lead to 10-9 with 6:37 left in the opening quarter.
A fumble on the Chargers’ second play after the safety gave the ball back to the Wildcats, who needed only two plays to go 62 yards.
Most of that came from star wideout Brian Thomas, who hauled in a pass from McMasters, picked up a key block, and stiff-armed a defender on his way to a 58-yard score, giving Walker a 17-9 lead.
But the first quarter scoring wasn’t over yet.
Chriss, who finished with 458 total yards of offense, hit receiver Maleak Palmer on a 4-yard fade in the left corner of the endzone. The score narrowed the Wildcats’ lead to 17-16 game entering the second quarter.
The scoring slowed down a bit in the second quarter, but not for the Wildcats, who put another touchdown on the board when McMasters took it in himself on a 1-yard sneak. The drive was set up after Madison Prep lost a fumble, one of five turnovers for the visitors in the first half.
McMasters’ touchdown gave Walker a 24-16 lead it would take into halftime.
Then the third quarter came, and the Wildcats’ offense exploded again.
Walker racked up another pair of touchdowns after halftime. The first came when Brown burst through a hole up the middle for 18 yards into the endzone with 9:25 remaining in the third quarter, and the second came on Wright’s run less than one minute later.
But Walker took its foot off the gas in the fourth quarter, while Madison Prep turned up the heat.
After the Chargers blocked a 21-yard field goal attempt from Cain, Chriss drove his team 81 yards down the field on eight plays, culminating in a 27-yard pass to Marlon Smart that made it 38-22 with 7:44 to go.
The Chargers forced Walker into a quick three-and-out on the next series, setting up another eight-play drive that ended with Chriss finding receiver Joel Williams for a 31-yard touchdown.
Chriss then hit Palmer on a two-point conversion to make it a one-score game, 38-30.
But after burning two timeouts earlier in the game, the Chargers were unable to stop Walker from running out the clock, which the Wildcats ultimately did to survive their season-opening challenge.
While his team sang the alma mater in front of the student section, Mahaffey didn’t need many words to describe how his first game — which lasted nearly three hours and 20 minutes — as Walker head coach felt.
“It felt like a marathon,” he said.
Walker 38, Madison Prep 30
Score By Quarters
Madison Prep 16 0 0 14 - 30
Walker 17 7 14 0 – 38
WHS – Keondre Brown 44 pass from Ethan McMasters (Bradley Cain kick)
WHS - Cain 22 FG
MPA - Zeon Chriss 46-yard run (Marquise McKnight kick)
MPA - safety
WHS – Brian Thomas 58 pass from McMasters (Cain kick)
MPA – Maleak Palmer 4 pass from Chriss (McKnight kick)
WHS- McMasters 1 run (Cain kick)
WHS - Brown 18 run (Cain kick)
WHS - Wright 34 run (Cain kick)
MPA – Marlon Smart 27 pass from Chriss (Kick failed)
MPA – Joel Williams 31 pass from Chriss Williams (two-point conversion)
First downs 17 13
Rushes-yards 23-98 31-188
Passing yards 371 224
Passes 18-34-3 11-26-2
Fumbles-lost 5-4 2-1
Penalties-yards 17-146 8-45