WALKER – At this point in the season, the challenges of the road aren’t slowing down for the Walker football team.
The Wildcats are 3-0 and coming off a 35-32 win over Mandeville in a game played at Fontainebleau High.
Up next for Walker is Class 1A No. 4 Kentwood, which is also 3-0 heading into the game. The teams square off at 7 p.m. Friday in Kentwood.
“I told the guys you really can’t say you can win on the road until you prove that you do it,” Walker coach Chad Mahaffey said. “Last week, they got that done kind of with an asterisk, not in the home stadium of that team, so it was a little different environment for everybody, but as far as handling the road trip and those kind of things, I thought we did a good job with that. This week will be different. You’ll feel that it’s that home crowd and it’s their field and their comfort level’s going to be high, so I’m sure they will try and make us uncomfortable. We’ve got to be able to block all that out and just play football.”
Mandeville scored twice to take a 32-28 lead before Walker picked up the win on a 53-yard touchdown pass from Hayden Price to Jamari Evans with 1:54 to play.
“I think you saw in Mandeville a good team that played some good people at the start of the year with a new coaching staff and a lot of transition,” Mahaffey said. “Sitting at 0-2, they’re going to come out swinging. They’re desperate, and I thought we were going to get their best effort, and I thought they were ready to go. I think that was something that our guys hopefully kind of learned – you’re going on the road, and these guys are ready, and they’re a good team, good program.”
Last week’s game went back-and-forth, with Preston Hill returned a blocked field goal 85 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to help put the Wildcats up 28-20 before the Skippers came back to claim the lead.
“I thought Mandeville played really well, and I think there were certainly some good things that we did,” Mahaffey said. “I thought offensively, we created some big plays, which was good. I thought defensively, when we got in some bad situations, I thought we responded really well, didn’t hang heads. I thought special teams created some obviously huge plays, but we had some breakdowns in there too that were very costly. I think our big thing is … we’re doing a good job in all three phases of making some plays to give us a chance to win, but when you play a good team like that, that margin for error’s just small. I think we did enough things to hurt ourselves that put in kind of a desperate position at the end on top of them being good and playing well, so it just makes it a challenge.”
CJ McClendon rushed for 112 yards and two touchdowns on 18 carries, while Hayden Price went 10-for-17 for 175 yards and two touchdowns, while Ja’Cory Thomas led the Walker receiving corps with five catches for 104 yards, including a 56-yard touchdown reception with no time left in the first half which helped put the Wildcats up 21-20.
“I think our o-line is definitely playing better and playing with more confidence, and I thought CJ again had a really good night running the ball,” Mahaffey said. “He’s listening to the things we’re asking him to work on that will help him get better and help our offense be better. He was creating some extra yards there, and really making it tough to tackle him, which is important. I thought Ja’Cory had a phenomenal game with some really critical plays and played really fast out there. I don’t think we had our passing game. I think we’ve had better ones so far, so I look to get that back on track, but I did think it was good that we ran the ball well offensively.”
Mahaffey said the Wildcat defense has some room for improvement after its effort against Mandeville.
“I just felt like we didn’t look like we were playing as fast as we were capable of in the back half and the underneath stuff,” Mahaffey said. “Mandeville was running things at a good pace and looked crisp. I thought their quarterback’s a really good player. They did a good job running him and just converting some tough third downs. We’d like to get off the field more.”
Mahaffey said the Wildcat defense was on the field for 94 snaps last week.
“That’s not all on the defense,” Mahaffey said. “Some of that is us on offense. Some of that on special teams. We gave away a possession with a turnover and things like that, but at the end of the day, that’s just too many plays. It’s hard to win a game with the defense on the field that much. Because they were on the field that much, all that considered, I thought that they gutted it up and played pretty strong at the end, but we just can’t be out there that many snaps.”
It will be Mahaffey’s first time coaching a game at Kentwood and said there’s not much history between the programs. Still, he’s got an idea of what to expect from the Kangaroos.
“Just tons of respect for (Kentwood) Coach (Jonathan) Foster and just the program,” Mahaffey said. “Historically, they’ve always been good and always had good teams. I think it’s a really unique environment, and so our kids, (we’re) trying to prepare them for that. They’re undefeated. They’re going to have a great crowd, so it will be a challenge going there and come out on top.”
The Kangaroos have wins over Loranger (32-8), Sumner (28-14) and East Feliciana (32-26).
“There’s speed out there in a lot of places,” Mahaffey said. “They’ve got some track kids that are pretty special, and I think the quarterback is very dynamic. Defensively, I see a lot of skill in the secondary. They mix up looks and stuff. They can certainly get up there and press, but they can play off and keep things in front, so they’ve kind of done a lot of that, and they’ll give you some different looks with their front. I think that presents a challenge always. Offensively, o-line, you’ve got to be really good about communicating what you see and trusting your rules and just executing (against) the different fronts that you may see.”
“I think until you see it, it’s just going to be what it is,” Mahaffey said of Kentwood’s speed. “It will probably take a little bit to adjust to, but one thing that is a good thing about our team, especially on defense, I think we have decent speed in the back end. Man-for-man, they may not have many guys that can run with some of their top guys if you lined them up and raced, but as a unit, I think we have pretty good team speed back there if we’re communicating and playing fast and playing fresh, and I think hopefully that can be an advantage.”
Mahaffey is hoping the Wildcats put together the right formula to notch a win.
“I think the big challenge for our d-line (is) to hopefully create problems up front to where we don’t get those guys going out in space as much,” Mahaffey said. “Offensively, obviously, if we can maintain drives running the football some, I think that helps keep the defense off the field too. I just think complimentary football is hopefully something we can do better this week.”