Alcoa readies for playoff push with tough final two weeks
By Grant Ramey | (firstname.lastname@example.org)
For Gary Rankin and Alcoa, the playoffs might as well start two weeks early.
The last two schools on the Alcoa schedule — Fulton Friday night and CAK next Thursday in Week 10 — are playoff caliber and then some.
Fulton, No. 3 in the Class 4A polls at 7-1 overall and already with a District 3-AA title already clinched, is on the short list of 4A state title contenders. CAK, at 8-0 and tied with Alcoa for No.1 in the Class 3A polls, is another favorite for the first weekend of December in Cookeville.
“I don’t know if we’ve gone in, since I’ve been here, and had two games like this, the ninth and tenth game on the schedule,” Rankin told The Daily Times after his team’s practice Wednesday.
“It’s two of the better teams in the state, any classification.”
Fulton clinched its district championship with 53-0 dismantling of Carter last week.
“You see it on film, you see it in the stats, their defense, they have’t given up anything all year, basically,” Rankin said. “And offensively they’re making big plays everywhere.
“They’re certainly one of the better 4A teams in the state. There’s no doubt about that.”
Alcoa will make the trip to Fulton for the first time since the “Sinkhole Bowl” in 2009, when a sinkhole opened on the playing surface at Fulton, causing the game to be put on hold until the next day, where it was played at Alcoa.
“They’re well coached, they got players,” Rankin said of Fulton. “They’ve got it going, they’re playing good.
“It’s a tremendously tough game before the CAK game. No doubt.”
If Fulton isn’t enough in Week 9, defending Class 3A state champion and hated rival CAK awaits six days later when a trip to Alcoa will determine the District 4-AA champ.
Alcoa quarterback Peyton Wall said he’s seen plenty of film of Fulton.
If he watched last week’s win over Carter, Wall had plenty to see of the Falcons.
“On defense, their aggressive, they’re real aggressive, I’ve seen that on film,” Wall said Wednesday. “I’ve watched them a lot.”
Fulton was aggressive to the tune of four first-half interceptions — which the Falcons turned into four touchdowns — on its way to a 40-0 lead after two quarters against Carter.
Tailback Dary Rollins ran for 148 yards and three scores in the 40-point first half. He finished the night with 179 yards and four scores.
If that sounds familiar, it’s because Alcoa has put up plenty of the same stats.
While Fulton was rolling through Carter last Friday, Alcoa was running over Stone Memorial in a 56-7 win.
Both teams are 7-1, suffering their only losses in Week 1 — Alcoa’s was a 42-24 loss to Maryville, the No. 1 team in Class 6A, while Fulton lost 27-26 against Knoxville West, the fifth-ranked team in Class 5A.
Alcoa’s defense has shutout the opponent four times this season. Fulton has three. Alcoa has given up 68 points over eight games. Fulton has allowed just 57.
And neither team lacks offensive weapons. Fulton averages 43.5 points per game. Alcoa averages 40.8.
Spread the wealth
Alcoa doesn’t have a superstar in the backfield. It has a stable of them.
“We try to spread the wealth a little bit,” Rankin said. “We don’t have a superstar, and we don’t want a superstar. We got kids we try to get the ball to.”
Among those, senior Ezekial Koko leads Alcoa with 50 carries for 550 yards and seven touchdowns. Jarod Crenshaw has 285 yards and four scores on 40 attempts and Jaquez Tyson, Alcoa’s sophomore goalline back, has 10 touchdowns and 273 yards on 51 carries.
“We certainly don’t want that back that’s carried it 200 times already, because the wear and tear of 14 or 15 games gets to anybody,” Rankin said.
“But we’re pretty fresh, I think, pretty healthy. No one has had to carry a big load for us, we’ve spread it around. Which is good for a team.”
Wall, who’s kept the offense balanced with 1,112 passing yards and 10 touchdown passes, said his team’s mindset has changed despite the pick up in schedule strength over the final two weeks.
“Every game we go into is the same,” Wall said. “No matter who it is. We have the same mindset every game.”
Rankin said he’s seen a change in his seniors as the playoffs approach, but it’s nothing to do with the opponents on the schedule.
“You can see a little bit in the seniors, because it’s coming to an end, anyway you want to look at it,” Rankin said.
“They basically got one more week of their senior then the playoffs start — and then you’re not guaranteed anything.”