Eighth-ranked Walton (9-0, 5-0) controlled the line of scrimmage on both sides of the football from beginning to end, and, as coach Rocky Hidalgo put it, played Walton football.
“We want to be physical,” he said. “We want people to try and match our physicality and challenge other teams to do it. I think our kids really accepted the challenge here (Friday). This was a game that we wanted to come out and dominate.
“We didn’t want to come out and win. We talked about dominating this football game physically at the line of scrimmage and forcing this team to play our style of game, which is some head crunching and some teeth rattling.”
Walton has won its last 13 regular-season games dating back to a loss to Etowah last in Sept. 24, 2010. That loss also was the difference between the Raiders winning and losing a region championship.
This year, however, the Raiders beat Etowah 34-17, in what has been Walton’s closest margin of victory all season.
“It’s always nice to win something,” Hidalgo said. “We like to play when something is on the line. We preached from the moment this team came out in July. We talked about winning a region title. We returned 16 starters and felt like we had a great football team coming in.”
Walton outgained Marietta (4-5, 4-1) by a 418-118 margin in total yardage, which might have been worse if not for a modified running clock in the third quarter, and then a true running clock in the fourth. At the end of the first half, the Raiders had outgained Marietta 357-72.
Walton running back Tyren Jones finished with 157 yards on 17 carries for four touchdowns — three rushing and one receiving. Quarterback Parker McLeod finished with only five pass attempts, but he completed four, and two went for touchdowns. He finished with 132 passing yards, all in the first half.
“I feel like this is, probably, the most versatile offense we have had here,” Hidalgo said. “Our quarterback is as good a quarterback as there is out there. A lot of people don’t realize that, because we don’t throw the ball a lot, but he is one of the most poised kids I have seen in the pocket. He can make all of the throws, and he’s a really tough kid.
“If you want to come down and take our running game and put eight or nine guys down there (in the box), then it’s going to be a long night because of the things he can do with the football.”
Although Walton certainly controlled the line of scrimmage, Marietta may feel that the game’s momentum changed completely on one play early in the first quarter.
On the Blue Devils’ first play from scrimmage, quarterback Anthony Jennings found wide receiver Tyree Harris on a 40-yard screen pass down the far side of the field. The Blue Devils earned another 15 yards for a late hit on Jennings, but the result of the play was damaging for Marietta. Jennings hobbled off the field favoring his right leg, and didn’t return to the game.
“It doesn’t change anything for us,” Hidalgo said. “At the end of the day, we don’t worry about that. We have to go out and play and execute. It’s unfortunate that he got injured, and I know that was the first or second play of the game.
“I’m sure that (Marietta) coach (Scott Burton) is disappointed because he felt like he would change the game, but he doesn’t play defense. (On Friday), it was all about our offense and our running game, and that’s what we wanted to make it about.”
It wasn’t all bad news for the Blue Devils. In the second half, they shut out Walton 14-0. Harris returned a blocked punt for a touchdown, and Ro’Mello Porter ran 22 yards to complete a five-play drive.
“I love our kids so much because of the resolve and fight that they have,” Burton said. “Obviously, we didn’t expect this, but we asked them to fight in the second half and win the second half. And I was proud that our family came together in the second half and came out and won the second half 14-0.”
Though the loss snapped Marietta’s four-game winning streak, and left the Blue Devils with the region’s No. 2 seed, they will still hold home-field advantage when the playoffs begin in two weeks.
For Walton, it wasn’t all good news. Senior Jim Hogue, a two-way player at linebacker and running back, was injured on a carry in the third quarter and could be seen favoring his left ankle coming off the field.
“Hopefully, it’s just a high ankle sprain, and he will be back with us in a couple of weeks,” Hidalgo said. “Two things I am disappointed about were getting him banged up and the blocked punt.”