The venue for next week’s BlueCross Bowl might be new, but Alcoa playing in it is a tale as old as time. At least nearly a decade old.
The Tornadoes punched their ticket to the Class 3A state championship for the eighth straight time on their home turf at Goddard Field on Friday in emphatic fashion, jumping out to a commanding first half lead and putting up 459 total yards en route to a 42-12 win over Giles County.
“I thought we played extremely well,” Alcoa coach Gary Rankin told The Daily Times. “Our guys were jacked up, fired up, ready to go and it showed. We got all over them in the first half, offensively, defensively and our kicking team were just excellent. I’m very proud of our coaches. They do such a nice job on both sides of the ball. Those guys did a great job. It was a complete game that first half.”
The Tornadoes (13-1) path back to the state title game started with a 95-yard kick return touchdown by junior running back Jordan Harris to put Alcoa up 7-0 just 15 seconds into the first quarter.
That score was the first of six first-half touchdowns. Freshman kicker Bacon Lauderback hit a 32-yard field goal on the Tornadoes’ second possession — the only drive that didn’t end in the end zone during the first half.
Junior running back Elijah Cannon scored twice on runs of one and 11 yards while Harris and Itty Salter notched also found pay dirt on a night where the Tornadoes’ backfield accounted for 221 yards.
Quarterback Caden Buckles punctuated the half with four minutes, 59 seconds left when he rolled to his right and hit Isaiah Bryant in the end zone to extend the lead to 42-0 at halftime.
Buckles, who finished 12-of-15 passing for 238 yards, didn’t take a snap in the second half due to the scoring advantage he helped put up, setting his sights early on capturing his second state championship as Alcoa’s starting quarterback.
“Last year obviously wasn’t the season that I expected,” Buckles said. “This year, I got a full season to really show what we can do as a team. We really banded together tonight. You know, it was a very highly-anticipated game. (Giles County) was talking a lot of smack and so were we. We came out here and scored with the football and stopped them from doing it.
“When it comes down to it, when you play Alcoa you don’t know what you’re getting into, well that’s what you’re getting into.”
Despite giving up their first points in over two months, dating back to a 21-20 win over West back on Sept. 23, the Alcoa defense was just as dominant forcing five turnovers and holding the Bobcats to seven passing yards while most of the 254 rushing yards came in the second half against the Tornadoes’ backups.
Bubba Williams made sure to reassert that dominance in the fourth quarter when Giles County tried going for a two-point conversion after a Chaye McElroy 4-yard touchdown run, storming into the backfield and bringing McElroy down almost as soon as he took the handoff.
For players like Williams and Buckles, the performance was an appropriate sendoff for the seniors on Alcoa’s roster who had just played their final home game.
“Our kids were fired up,” Rankin said. “We just played extremely, extremely well. We talk about that all of the time, you set your table and getting everything you can get where you can get it. We said that at the first of fall, you know that if we won our region that we have the chance to play three, possibly four playoff games at home so that was big. Playing in the semifinals at home is a big deal.”
The next field that those seniors will play on will be at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga next Friday at 11 a.m. against East Nashville (10-4).
The Eagles beat Dyersburg, 20-7, to set up the grand finale with the Tornadoes.
“It’s a fight for all four quarters,” Buckles said. “I’m just proud of everybody tonight, and I’m excited to go to Chattanooga next week.”