Price Wilson sparked the Walton offense with a string of eight consecutive completions, K.K. Brooks added two second-half rushing touchdowns and helped the Raiders roll to a 28-5 victory over Etowah on Friday night at Eagle Stadium.
Walton (5-4, 4-2) squandered several early chances on offense, but it was able to lean on a stout defense that stifled the Etowah ground game and forced quarterback John Oliver into three first-half turnovers, including an interception that Ryan Roegge returned 36 yards for the game’s first touchdown
The Raiders had allowed fewer than 21 points only twice in their first eight games of the season, but the defense tightened down the stretch, forcing the Eagles into three-and-outs in each of their final three possessions.
“Defensively, 95 percent of our plays this year have been really good,” Walton coach Rocky Hidalgo said. “We had to cut big plays, and we cut big plays (Friday). That’s the defense we expect to have all year, and I think that’s the defense we’re going to have the rest of the season.”
Turnovers and missed opportunities dominated a low-scoring first half that finally opened up with 3 minutes left in the second quarter, when both offenses were able to put together their first scoring drives of the night.
Etowah running back Raishod Devezin burst through the right side for a 67-yard run that set up a short field goal, but the Walton stormed back with an 80-yard drive capped off by a 37-yard touchdown pass from Wilson to D.J. Smith, who eluded his defender and tight-roped the final 5 yards into the end zone.
Wilson found Smith behind the secondary again for 56 yards on a third-and-22 to extend Walton’s first drive of the second half, which ended in Brooks’ first score of the night. After he was stuffed behind the line by Chandler Steele for a safety in the first quarter, the sophomore running back wore down the Eagles’ defensive front, finishing with 111 yards on 26 carries.
Playing from behind and out of its comfort zone in obvious passing situations, Etowah never mounted a serious comeback threat.
Oliver finished 4-for-18 through the air for just 25 yards.
“They played exceptionally well on defense,” Etowah coach Dave Svehla said. “I thought that we struggled, obviously, to move the football, and we did some things offensively that we haven’t done this year. We haven’t really turned over the ball very much, and we did. You just can’t do that against Walton.”
For Etowah (7-2, 4-2), the loss set up a trip to Lassiter next week that will serve as a valuable test against the region leader. Depending on the fates of the region’s other top teams, a loss next week could potentially drop the Eagles out of postseason contention altogether.
“We’re filing it away, and next week’s game is huge,” Svehla said. “We can’t spend a bunch of time worrying about what happened (Friday). I’m disappointed, and my players are disappointed, but we can’t dwell on it because we play Lassiter next Friday, and that game means a lot in terms of the playoffs. So we have to go back to work.”
Meanwhile, Walton maintained control of its own destiny ahead of next Friday’s regular-season finale against Roswell. After struggling with inconsistent play all year, it’s one win away from the state playoffs thanks in part to a perfect 3-0 record against their Cherokee County region opponents.
“They’re a really good football team, and we handled them easily (Friday),” Hidalgo said of Etowah. “We played really well, did a lot of good things, and we beat a really good football team pretty handily. Hopefully, we can come back and have that same type of effort defensively for 43 minutes and carry on that throughout the playoffs.”