WALKER – All it took was one big play to give Albany the momentum it needed to go 3-0 on the first day of 7-on-7 football league action Wednesday at Walker High.
Quarterback J.J. Doherty hit Rhett Wolfe on a 45-yard TD pass to close out Albany’s session with Walker to open the day, helping the Hornets to an 18-14 win over the Wildcats.
“I’m just proud of the way the players competed today,” Hornets coach Mike Janis said. “They wanted to go 3-0 more than I did. I wanted to come out here, I want to get some good work in, and they want to win, which is an attitude we’ve been trying to instill for a while. We want them compete like that, and that’s the biggest takeaway – they just had fun and competed the whole time.
“It is the first one (7-on-7 session), and we wanted to come out and see some early success, which was definitely a challenge against a really skilled Walker team," Janis said. "But it’s fun getting to play them in the first game and getting to really taste some success against a really good squad, and I think that built the confidence early on, and we were able to run with it today.”
First-year Walker coach Chad Mahaffey said he was pleased with his team’s effort as well.
“We were able to get a lot of reps out of some different guys, guys in different spots,” he said. “The big thing for me is it’s a chance to put your schemes into practice and get some reps against people who aren’t as familiar with you, things like that. We saw some good things. Some guys competed and made some plays on both sides, and obviously some offensive situations where we didn’t take advantage and need to be sharper, and defensively probably a couple of busts that we need to get better on.”
Albany got rolling with Doherty hitting Trey Yelverton on a 42-yard TD pass over the middle on its first possession.
Walker responded on its second offensive series when quarterback Ethan McMasters, who went 4-for-5, connected with Brian Thomas on an 8-yard TD pass. Thomas also snagged the conversion after it bounced off the hands of Wildcat receiver Peyton Richard.
According to league rules, conversions are worth a point.
Albany regained the lead on a 26-yard TD pass from Doherty to Wolfe.
McMasters went 4-for-6 on the Wildcats’ ensuing possession, hitting Kerry Flowers on a 15-yard TD. Richard caught the conversion, putting Walker up 14-12.
With roughly 30 seconds remaining in the session, Doherty hit Wolfe on the go-ahead TD strike.
“I had a little jitters at first, but (it was us) going out saying they’re no different than us,” Doherty said. “We just came out and believed in each other and capitalized. Just believe. That’s all you’ve got to do is believe in each other, and then you can do anything.
"Walker, they threw a lot of stuff at us,” Doherty continued. “It was a lot more (than I was expecting), but we played good. We’ve got a lot to work on. You can always improve.”
Mahaffey said the Wildcats will work to improve their communication on defense.
“On defense, you could play 10 good snaps in a row, and if you give up one big one, it’s still six points,” Mahaffey said. “That’s kind of the challenge of any defense is you’ve got to be playing play-out ready, try and make them earn their way down the field. That’s just something that we’ll work on and get better at.
“I thought guys did well. I think the few times where maybe it was a communication issue is where we gave up some plays. Talking and communicating is a big part of defense. As you’re learning a new scheme, we’re going to get better and better at that hopefully and hopefully those plays are few and far in between.”
Albany also got it done on defense, shutting out Northeast and St. Helena, with Dae Dae Doherty notching an interception against Northeast.
Rhett Wolfe, Justin Coats and Reese Wolfe had interceptions for the Hornets against St. Helena.
“Four interceptions on the day – two shutouts in a 7-on-7 is pretty impressive,” Janis said. “Definitely proud of the way our defense responded. It just goes back to that competing thing. Defense in 7-on-7 is largely base on hustle and just going out trying to make plays, and our guys were doing that today.”
J.J. Doherty connected with Michael McCahill on a 10-yard TD and a 15-yard TD to Yelverton against Northeast.
Avery Bergeron had a long reception to set up a J.J. Doherty TD pass to Rhett Wolfe against St. Helena. J.J. Doherty and McCahill also hooked up on a 35-yard TD strike.
“Offensively, I don’t think that’s going to be our game,” Janis said of the Hornets’ long passes. “I think we’re going to live in the short-to-intermediate range, but it is something we have to work on. We’ve got to be able to take shots, and we’ve got to be able to be successful in that. The further you throw the ball down field, the lower the chance of success is, so to have success doing that today was good to see, and it’s good to see that we’ve got some playmakers out there that can go get the ball when we throw it down the field.”
Against St. Helena, McMasters had a 10-yard TD pass to Jalen Cook and connected with Richard on the conversion.
Thomas out-jumped the defense in the end zone on a 15-yard TD pass from McMasters against Northeast, and Marcus Dukes hauled in the conversion.
“I what you’re working on a lot in the 7-on-7 is QB-receiver timing and that relationship,” Mahaffey said. “With Ethan being a returner, Brian and Jalen, he’s very familiar with. I think that’s big. For some guys, it’s a little easier, and then for the other guys that are newer, we’re trying to just help develop that relationship with everybody.”
Keon Baylock hit Richard on a 45-yard TD pass against Northeast, and Richard caught the conversion.
Northeast scored once against the Wildcats.
Laban Duffy hauled in an interception against St. Helena, while Flowers had an interception against Northeast.