By Steve Williams
It’s been a football season like no other for Karns High.
The Beavers made history in two categories in their dramatic 27-25 Class 5A playoff win over a talented and speedy Walker Valley team Friday night at the R.T. Everette Sports Complex.
First-ever home playoff game, check.
First-ever playoff win, check.
From here on, it will be icing on the cake.
“I’m feeling great right now,” said junior star running back De’Sean Bishop, who carried the football 50 times in Karns’ latest victory. “Seeing that clock hit double zero in a playoff game means so much to me, and it means a lot to the team, too. Making history, we preached it all week and we made it.
“To host a playoff game was the biggest shock of anything,” added Bishop. “We got the runner-up plaque in the region and that just means a lot, too. Even coming out here tonight, (our mindset was) we’ve just got to set the tone. They’re coming to our field and we’ve got to make a statement.”
The game turned into a nail biter. After leading most of the way, Karns fell behind 25-21 midway through the third quarter. But the Beavers showed a lot of heart and determination as they took the lead back and held on down the stretch.
Karns’ go-ahead drive started at the beginning of the final quarter. Bishop carried the ball 11 times in a 16-play, 80-yard touchdown drive that ended with his 3-yard run up the middle. A high snap led to a missed PAT attempt and left the Beavers with a precarious two-point lead to protect.
‘Big hits on defense by Kareem Ellis and Chris Hunter in the final two minutes stopped Walker Valley and sealed the win.
Next up for Karns (7-4) will be a second-round game at Region 4 champion Rhea County (9-2) Friday. The Golden Eagles advanced with a 51-29 win over Campbell County.
“No. 8,” answered Walker Valley Coach Drew Akins, referring to Bishop when asked what impressed him most about Karns. “And they moved us offensive line-wise. They moved us better than I thought they were going to be able to.
“And obviously, No. 8 is a great talent and they are going to give him the football.”
Bishop, who already has an offer from UT, gained 244 yards on his 50 carries and scored twice from the 1-yard line. The second time, on fourth and goal, he looked like Superman as he took off and flew over the goal line to give the Beavers a 21-12 halftime lead.
“Luckily, we did just enough and were able to get it done,” said a happy Karns Coach Brad Taylor. “Walker Valley is a talented team and very well coached and that quarterback; he’s a heck of a quarterback. I thought they did a great job on defense, but we were able to score just enough.”
Karns’ second TD came on QB Cassen Huffaker’s 37-yard pass to Walker Lockhart. Jace Harvey kicked three PATs, but a high snap created a costly miss on his fourth try.
“I felt like we were very focused and played solid,” added Taylor. “We didn’t shoot ourselves in the foot. We stayed mentally into it in all phases.”
Senior quarterback Ryan Lay led Walker Valley with three touchdown passes and a 48-yard TD run up the middle. Spencer Jackson caught a 39-yard pass to trim Karns’ lead to 7-6 early in the second quarter. Lay added his TD keeper later in the quarter. Kade Tjaarda’s two TD catches (18 and 10 yards) in the third quarter pushed the Mustangs ahead 25-21.
Left-footed sophomore kicker Eli Wilson missed two PATs before making his last one and Walker Valley also failed to convert a two-point run.
Walker Valley, which is located in Cleveland, brought with it a reputation of being much better than its 5-5 record. The Mustangs knocked out Powell 21-16 in the first round last year and won at Carter 42-14 this season,
The Mustangs also had a quarterback with good wheels and a strong arm plus several receivers with breakaway speed.
But Lay made a costly mistake with his team threatening to take the lead in the closing minutes. On a third-and-11 play at the Karns 14, the Walker Valley QB got up and shoved Ellis after being tackled hard by Ellis at the 12-yard line. Their helmets also collided on the play but no foul was ruled.
A personal foul, however, was called on Lay for his reaction and the penalty moved the ball back to the Beavers’ 27 and out of field goal range.
“We had every intention of kicking a field goal there at the end and the personal foul backed us up,” said Coach Akins.
On Walker Valley’s ensuing fourth down play with 2:01 remaining, Lay was hit by Hunter and the ball was fumbled and recovered at the Karns 26.
Bishop carried three straight plays and on fourth-and-one with 20 seconds to go the Mustangs were flagged for encroachment, giving Karns a first down. Huffaker took a knee to end it.
The post-game atmosphere ended with cheers and celebration on Karns’ side and tears and disappointment across the way.