WALKER – Seven weeks ago Walker High returned from a trip to Fontainebleau where the Wildcats suffered a 54-34 setback, dropping their record to 1-2.
Walker, which was locked in a 21-all game at halftime, surrendered 33 second-half points and allowed 571 total yards – including an eye-popping 337 on the ground.
Three days later, after the first practice for a game at Landry-Walker, a team meeting was called where after the coaches filtered out of the locker room, several players – not just seniors – spoke for about 10 minutes on their disappointing loss to Fontainebleau, their sub-.500 record and the future.
It was obvious the leadership of the team believed enough in the potential of the team, along with their first-year coach Chad Mahaffey, to gather everyone long enough to refocus and get everyone on the same page.
The Wildcats haven’t been the same since.
Walker has gone on to reel off six consecutive victories, including the last four in District 4-5A play, where the Wildcats (7-2, 4-0) travel to league staple and No. 7 Zachary (6-2, 4-0) at 7 p.m. Friday with the league’s championship on the line.
The Wildcats, which have never won a district championship in Class 5A, last claimed a league title in 1990.
“We just wanted to set everything straight, we weren’t going on a good path,” Walker quarterback Ethan McMasters said of the meeting. “We shouldn’t have lost that (Fontainebleau) game. We should have started 2-1 if not 3-0. After that, everything started rolling and we hadn’t looked back.”
Mahaffey, who guided University High to three state championships before leaving for Walker in March, said it’s been a common trait of his successful teams where they’ve held each other accountable for their actions.
“The best teams that I’ve been around, if the coaches are the only ones that make you do things, you’re always going to have a certain ceiling,” he said. “It’s got to be player driven. It’s got to be wanting to do good things and not let the other person down. Teams that get along well and play for each other, whether you’re the most talented or not, are going to get closer to reaching their ceiling.”
Since their Week 3 setback against Fontainebleau, Walker has gradually worked in that direction, having won six straight games in a variety of ways.
Three of those wins have come on the road where the Wildcats will face Zachary.
In two of the three road wins Walker trailed at halftime, bt were able to rally in the second half, including a memorable comeback from a pair of 10-point deficits at Central for a 26-24 victory to remain on a collision course with Zachary for a chance at the league crown.
“Coach is always talking about playing every play like it’s fourth-and-six,” Walker senior cornerback Kerry Flowers said. “He talks about it being a championship game with everything on the line. It’s a mental thing.”
That’s part of the challenge facing Walker, which lost 38-9 at Zachary last season.
“There have been games where we could have put games away sooner than we did,” Mahaffey said. “Credit to our team. They’ve done enough to get the job done.”
Not only are the Wildcats looking to secure a district championship for the first time since nearly their entire team was born, but they must do so against the reigning two-time defending Class 5A state champions where the Broncos are riding a 16-game district win streak dating to 2016.
“There’s a lot of excitement,” said Flowers, who has 36 tackles. “We just had to keep on working and not be satisfied with our success and just progress every day.”
Zachary’s last home loss was last season against U-High (49-27) which was coached by Mahaffey.
“The mental part is a huge part,” Mahaffey said. “Programs like what Zachary’s achieved in the last few years, a lot of teams are beat before they step foot on the field and those guys don’t need a lot of help because they are really good and well coached.”
The biggest tangible difference in Walker since the loss to Fontainebleau has been the play of its defense where the Wildcats have only twice allowed more than 15 points.
Senior safety Aubrey Womack is the team leader in tackles 79 and interceptions with four. Senior linebacker Roger Brooks has added 50 tackles with 11 stops behind the line of scrimmage.
Walker’s improved unit gets its biggest challenge to date, trying to contain Zachary’s All-State MVP quarterback Keilon Brown (Memphis commitment) and junior wide receiver Chris Hilton – the state’s top-rated player at his position in the Class of 2021.
“You don’t have to do more than what your assignment is,” Mahaffey said. “Can you do it consistently over four quarters? You have to withstand the storms that are going to come your way and if you can do that, then I think you give yourself a chance.”
Walker counters with an explosive offense that’s averaged 33 points during its six-game win streak.
McMasters has been a constant this season, having completed 111 of 186 passes for 1,681 yards with 19 touchdowns and seven interceptions. His top target – Brian Thomas – is the second-rated wide receiver prospect behind Hilton next season and leads the parish with 57 catches for 939 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Walker’s gotten closer to featuring a more balanced attack with the return of injured running back Demetri Wright to go along with Keondre Brown, who’s also missed time with an injury this season.
In last week’s 35-13 win over Denham Springs, the Brown and Wright combined for more than 300 yards rushing and four touchdowns.
Brown leads the team with 124 carries for 676 yards and 9 TDs, while Wright has 101 attempts for 670 yards and 9 scores.
“We’ve fought back and kept progressing every week and we’ve gotten better and better,” McMasters said. “It feels awesome that we get to play for a district title.”