Times Free Press: Region 4-5A 2016 preview and predictions:

Championship wide open, Possible champs include experienced Mustangs, Owls, Eagles

Published in Times Free Press by Ward Gossett

The race for Tennessee’s Region 4-5A football championship may be more open than it has been in a while.

“It could be any of four or five teams and, yeah, I think we’ll be one of those,” Rhea County coach Mark Pemberton said Thursday. “You’d have to think maybe Walker Valley (is the favorite) because they return more starters than anybody else.”

Walker Valley coach Glen Ryan is looking beyond the top of the depth chart, though.

“Yeah, we have some talented starters returning,” Ryan said, “but there’s quite a drop-off between our number ones and number twos, and our number twos haven’t quite shown the desire to push the number ones like I would love to see and which we have to see if we’re going to reach our goals.”

Quarterback Kolton Gibson is the Mustangs’ catalyst, but the dual-threat junior also has a veteran offensive line, running back Alex King and receivers Bryce Nunnelly and Cooper Melton.

Like Ryan, Soddy-Daisy coach Justin Barnes has a dual-threat quarterback, Justin Cooke, but Barnes is seeking to replace his top receivers from 2015 and running back Christian Bell. Barnes said Bell’s spot likely will be the hardest to fill and the Trojans probably will do so by committee.

“I know Ooltewah will have the athletes and that Rhea County will be hard-nosed and well-coached. They always are,” Barnes said. “Like us, Walker Valley is going to be well-coached with good players and experience coming back. Cleveland will be better. But this may be the first year since I’ve been here that somebody besides Ooltewah or Rhea County takes (the championship).”


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Contact Ward Gossett at wgossett@timesfreepress.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him on Twitter@wardgossett.

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