Alcoa head coach Brian Nix had one thing at the front of his mind ahead of the Tornadoes’ matchup with Pigeon Forge: stop the run.
Last week, Maryville’s star running back Noah Vaughn rushed for 170 yards and a touchdown, and Pigeon Forge’s Ayden Littles presented a similar threat.
Alcoa’s run defense was inconsistent during its 47-20 win over Pigeon Forge Friday night at Goddard Field. The Tigers tested Alcoa on the ground all night — they ran only one passing play the entire game — and at times, Alcoa did what it needed to.
The Tornadoes punched the ball out of Littles’ hand and recovered the fumble on their second defensive play of the contest. Alcoa held Pigeon Forge to a pair of three-and-outs on its next two drives, but it was when the Tornadoes went up three scores that Nix noticed a difference in his defense’s play.
Pigeon Forge ran right at the Tornadoes in a 10-play, 82-yard scoring drive, and they did not have an answer. Pigeon Forge, which had run nine plays and had yet to gain a first down before that drive, converted five first downs en route to its first touchdown of the night, an 18-yard rush from Aiden Howard.
The Tigers had success both running the football in the middle of the field and on the outside, and seven of their runs on the drive went for eight yards or more.
“That drive was a letdown in physicality,” Nix told The Daily Times. “It was a 21-0 drive. I told them, ‘I want to see us put the hammer down and finish that out. We have to get them off the field and have that killer instinct to finish off a drive.’
“I think we just need to continue to focus. I saw us put four quarters together against Maryville, and I don’t know that I’ve seen that in any other game. We still ride the rollercoaster too much. We play great defense and get up 21-0, and then we give up a 70-yard drive. And I think a lot of people are relaxing. No team is that good, we’re definitely not that good.”
The lack of consistency in defending the rush marked a greater issue of Nix’s concern: the Tornadoes, still feeling the emotions of a rivalry win over Maryville, did not take Pigeon Forge as seriously as they needed to.
The Tigers played clean football for the majority of the game and forced Alcoa to be at its best. The Tornadoes did that to start each half, but their focus waned as each quarter went along. The results were Pigeon Forge’s hard-nosed scoring drive in the first half and a pair of rushing touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
“You’ve got to understand, they (Pigeon Forge) get coached, too,” Nix said. “They come in here and want to play and want to compete. (Pigeon Forge head coach) Scott (Meadows) always does a good job, his teams always play hard. I thought they did a really good job of not just laying down.
“You’re going to get everybody’s best game. For us to understand that, you can’t afford to be soft and make those mistakes. In critical situations, it can cost you a game.”