By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
Walker's season came to a screeching halt the exact same way it began — with an embarrassing defeat to Cullman.
The Bearcats thrashed the Vikings at home in Week 1 and had no problem doing so again Friday night on the road, advancing to the third round for the first time since 2009 with a 30-0 shutout against their bitter rival.
Senior Michael Skinner was the biggest playmaker on Cullman's dominant defense with two interceptions and a touchdown, while the offense held up its end of the deal with three scores and a field goal.
The Black and Gold (10-2) quickly rushed to the locker room when the final seconds ticked off the clock, leaving their opponent to lament the devastating defeat on their home turf.
“We started Walker's season with a loss, and we ended it with a loss,” Skinner said. “We couldn't have done anything any better than that. That's what we've wanted to do all year long.”
The Vikings (8-4) forced Cullman to punt on its first possession of the night, but that turned out to be one of the last times the Walker D had any luck containing the Bearcats' potent offense.
Garrett Crider put the Black and Gold on the board with a 17-yard touchdown up the middle early in the second quarter. Quarterback Zac Crocker and Houston Turner later connected on an 11-yard score to give Cullman a 13-0 cushion heading into halftime.
With only a two-touchdown advantage at that point, the Bearcats didn't waste any time shutting the door on any thoughts of a Walker comeback. Alex Martin plowed into the end zone from a yard out early in the third quarter, and Chris Grey nailed a 22-yard field goal exactly four minutes later to put the ballgame out of reach.
Crocker finished a near-perfect 16 of 19 with 176 yards and the score. He also had four crucial scrambles for 31 yards.
Troy Forrest was the biggest benefactor of Crocker's accurate performance with six receptions for 81 yards. Many of the big-man's catches came on perfect routes in traffic, where he proved he simply wanted the ball more than his defender.
Running back Garrett Crider hauled in four passes for 22 yards, including a one-handed, 17-yard showstopper in the third quarter to go along with 49 rushing yards. Houston Turner wound up with three receptions for 35 yards and a touchdown.
Drew Johnson was phenomenal in the ground game for a second straight week, closing strong with 63 of his 76 rushing yards in the second half.
While the Black and Gold's contributions on offense were extremely valuable, the real story of the night was their defense. The unit made Viking quarterback Bryant Atkins look like the freshman he is, while also managing to keep Walker's running back tandem of Tyler Phillips and Michael Bridges from getting more than three or four yards on a majority of their carries.
Other than a 21-yard run by Phillips in the first quarter, the most either speedster was able to pick up was seven yards on two different occasions.
“It's just huge man. We worked on it all week, trying to prepare and do everything right,” senior defensive lineman Hunter Riley said. “We wanted to come out and play our game, not do anything more.”
With injured teammate Andrew Winfrey on the sideline cheering on the Bearcats, Riley said the players had all the motivation they needed to vanquish the Vikings for a second time.
“We do this for Andrew. Everything is for him,” the fiery defender said. “This season is dedicated to him.”
After spending the entire 2011 campaign on the bench with a broken arm he suffered right before the season, Skinner was willing to do whatever it took to make his first postseason as memorable as possible. The defensive back made his first strike late in the fourth quarter, leaping sky high to snag an Atkins' pass intended for Quadrekas Key.
“I knew they were going to try to throw to No. 6 (Key) because that was their playmaker,” Skinner said. “I knew if I could pick it off, we'd have a good chance of winning. It just happened perfectly.”
The senior's second interception didn't require nearly as much work as the first, at least not when it came to pulling down the ball. Atkins sailed a throw over Key's head and directly into the hands of Skinner, who worked 47 yards through traffic for Cullman's final score of the night.
Knowing how long he waited and how hard he worked to get back on the field following his injury last season, Skinner couldn't contain his excitement on the game-sealing play, punctuating it with an authoritative spike.
“That was awesome. It couldn't have been any better,” he said. “This is what I've been dreaming about, and it's finally happening.”
With the hostile confines of Walker's Ki-Ro Gambrell Field in the rearview mirror, the Bearcats can now look ahead to next week's quarterfinal matchup with No. 5 McAdory. The undefeated Yellow Jackets walloped Russellville 27-3 Friday night to earn hosting rights versus Cullman.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 257 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.