When Walton lost starting quarterback Austin Kirksey to an injury with just over eight minutes remaining in the third quarter, the game was still very much in doubt. Visiting Lassiter was still within one possession, and its offense was regularly starting its drives in or near Raiders territory.
A stellar defensive effort and a breakout second half on the ground by running back D.J. Soyoye, however, was more than enough to allow No. 3 Walton to hold the Trojans at bay in a 42-19 victory.
The win preserved the Raiders’ spotless record, moving them to 8-0 overall and 3-0 in Region 4-AAAAAAA play.
“They did a great job of controlling their emotions all game,” Walton coach Daniel Brunner said after the win. “They overcame a lot of their own mistakes and overcame some other adversity in the game. I’m proud of them. They just kept chipping away.”
Walton only led the game 21-13 at the half despite outgaining the Trojans 268-99 before the break. Each time the Raiders began to take control of the game, the Lassiter offense, playing with favorable field position on nearly every drive, was able to respond.
After falling behind 7-0 on a 38-yard touchdown run by Raiders wide receiver Dominick Blaylock, the Trojans (5-3, 1-2) fired back with a 26-yard touchdown pass from Bradley Riopelle to Chase Branch. And when Blaylock, a highly-touted recruit from the 2019 class currently committed to Georgia, hauled in a 37-yard touchdown pass early in the second quarter, Branch notched another touchdown pass from Riopelle, this time for 24 yards.
But Walton faced its toughest test of the night when Kirksey ran for 5 yards on a quarterback keeper on second-and-24 from his own 6-yard line. Kirksey took a hard hit to his non-throwing shoulder and stayed on the ground. After being looked at by the trainers, he left the field and spent the rest of the night on the sideline with his left arm in a sling. Brunner had no update on his starting signal-caller after the game.
“We’ll find out more tomorrow,” he said.
What Brunner did have plenty to say about, though, was the performance of his defense, which consistently started drives with its back up against the wall, and running back Soyoye, who he referred to as “Baby Beast Mode.”
“That’s Baby Beast Mode right there,” Brunner said with a smile. “He had a fumble earlier in the game, but he didn’t let that get him down. He kept pounding away.”
After rushing for only 16 yards in the first half and 21 before Kirksey’s injury, Soyoye put the offense on his back. He carried eight more times after losing his quarterback, notching 121 yards and two scores on those runs. His last two runs of the game, a 20-yarder and a 58-yarder, both went for touchdowns.
The latter essentially put the game out of reach. With his team leading 28-19 with seven minutes left, Soyoye ran up the middle on the first play of a drive that began at the Raiders 42-yard line. A good run that appeared to go for 10 yards turned into a stunner, as Soyoye was swallowed up by a host of tacklers and came out the other end to go the rest of the way for the score.
He finished the game with 16 carries for 150 yards and two scores on the ground and added a 46-yard touchdown reception through the air.
The defense was equally responsible for Walton’s success, allowing just 233 yards in the entire contest and consistently coming up with stops despite playing most of the night in its own territory. In the second half, Lassiter had three of its five drives start at its own 45-yard line or closer. It failed to score on any of those opportunities.
“Our defense played a complete game,” Brunner said. “That’s a great offense we played. They’re a good team. We made too many mistakes that bit us, but we made up for it.”
Lassiter’s Riopelle was a bright spot for his team in the loss, completing 18 of 25 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns.
Walton plays at Etowah next Friday, while Lassiter hosts Cherokee.