“Price is as good a kicker as there is in the state of Georgia,” Walton coach Rocky Hidalgo said. “We were lining up for that and I was just smiling and grinning because I knew he was going to make it. I’ve got a lot of faith in him and he’s a tough nut.”
It was a game, like Walton’s season opener at the Corky Kell Classic, that stretched into the wee hours of the morning.
As he did against Brookwood, senior running back Tyren Jones took over the Raiders’ offense.
“If you have a player like Tyren, as great as he is, you have to give him the ball, put the team on his shoulders and give him a chance to win the game,” Hidalgo said. “And here we are.”
Walton (2-0) finished with 423 yards of total offense, with Jones tallying 329 yards on 47 carries — both team re-cords — and four touchdowns. Through the air, he caught two passes for 25 yards, bringing his total offense to 354 yards.
Over the last two games, Jones has carried the ball 79 times for 634 yards and nine touchdowns.
Jones was not only able to avoid defenders, creating gains out of losses and creating bigger gains out of smaller ones, but also he was able to battle back from what would have taken many players out of a game completely.
At the end of the first half, with fewer than 30 seconds to play, Walton was at McEachern’s 36 down 20-10. The Raiders put Jones in the slot as a receiver and threw him the ball on a seam route down the middle. Jones caught a 20-yard pass at the McEachern 16 and was immediately hit by the Indians’ Kell Parham.
Parham lunged into Jones and was called for an illegal hit, penalized with a personal foul penalty and ejected from the game. Five plays earlier in the drive, Walton tight end Brad Green was hit across the middle on a helmet-to-helmet hit by Parham. Green didn’t return to the game after sustaining the shot to the head.
“Like I said on TV, in this day and age, any high hit — whether it’s with the shoulder or the elbow, they are call-ing it,” McEachern coach Kyle Hockman said. “I understand that. It’s not the NFL. They don’t have the rules written that way, but that’s how they are calling it. I understand that, but we’ve got to grow up in a lot of ways and I think we will.”
Although Jones was taken out of the game following the play, Price hit a 28-yard field goal to bring the Raiders within a touchdown. In the locker room at halftime, the team doctor and coaches looked after Jones to see if he could return to the game. Jones’ nose was bloodied and swollen from having his face mask smash into his face, but was cleared to play.
“I was mad more than anything,” Jones said. “(The team doctor and coaches) were making sure that I was all right. I thought that I had a concussion there because it was a big hit.And, normally, big hits like that lead to concus-sions. But I told them I was good and I was going back in no matter what.”
As much as Jones was able to find running room, Hidalgo also lauded Jones for his toughness.
“(Jones) got the fire knocked out of him early in the game and came back,” he said. “He’s a tough kid. He’s a competitor and he wants to win.”
Jones’ toughness would be necessary, especially late in the game to help Walton earn the win.
After McEachern (0-2) scored with 2:07 left in the game, the Indians went for the 2-point conversion and were successful when quarterback Ty Clemons dove for the near pylon on a play-action rollout to his right. McEachern led 35-34 after the conversion.
“We had talked about it already,” Hockman said of deciding to go for the 2-point conversion rather than settling to tie game. “That was something that, as coaches, we prepare for. We had decided that if it was inside of near two minutes (to go) that we were going for the win. We were already banged up on defense and felt that was our best opportunity to win the game, as opposed to going for overtime. Ty made a great play. It wasn’t textbook, but he made a great play.”
After a squib kick, Walton took over at its own 33-yard line. After a long pass intended for D.J. Smith was broken up by McEachern’s Jalyn White, the Raiders took to the ground. Of the next seven plays, including a third-and-1 at the McEachern 24, Jones was handed the ball five times.
On the final carry, McEachern’s defense was able to blitz through the offensive line and stop Jones’ momentum for a 2-yard loss, but the ball was set up on the right hash. After Walton burned a timeout to stop the clock with 31 seconds left, and McEachern used a subsequent timeout to try and ice the kicker, Price hit the go-ahead field goal.
On the ensuing drive, McEachern started at its own 22. After an incomplete pass to the far sideline, Clemons completed a pass over the middle to running back Mike Sherman, but he gained only 8 yards, and the clock ran out before the Indians could run another play.
McEachern was able to keep pace with Walton because of its quick strike offense and special teams. Sophomore running back Taj Griffin showed an extra burst of speed for the Indians. In the second quarter, Griffin took a kickoff 99 yards, beating out several Walton players who had the angle on him around midfield, for a touchdown.
Griffin also rushed for two touchdowns, carrying the ball 10 times for 121 yards. In all, the Indians ran for 240 yards on 32 carries.
“Taj has some special abilities, and it’s very evident,” Hockman said. “There is still a lot he can learn. He made several mistakes going the wrong way once on a pass play and things like that. But He’ll learn things like that be-cause he’s a young guy. He’s got a lot of talent.”
But, more importantly, than finding a key player or winning a non-region game, Friday’s game provided a chance for both McEachern and Walton to improve or find things to improve upon moving closer to the region schedule.
“Normally, we say in the coaching circles that the most improvement is between Game and Game 2,” Hockman said. “We have a bye week. August was a grind with two-a-days, then school starting and playing probably the top two teams in the state and fighting our (butt) off with them and competing with them.
“We’re going to go back and assess and rest a little bit, and try and get better and get ready for region.”
Although Walton picked up the win, its game with the Indians showed where even the Raiders have room for im-provement.
“We have a lot of work to do,” Hidalgo said. “Defensively, we have a lot of work to do. Our kids are playing hard, but we just have to get better. Hopefully, when region time comes around, we will have improved enough to get in there and compete for a region championship.”