Special teams? More like spectacular teams.
How fitting that on the night it should have faced its toughest challenge to date from a fellow Class 3A opponent, Alcoa found a way to outdo anything the greatest champion in Tennessee high school football history ever could have imagined.
The Tornadoes scored two special teams touchdowns in the first quarter and two defensive touchdowns in the second quarter on their way to a mind-bending 56-0 victory over visiting Loudon in the state semifinals.
At one point midway through the second quarter, Alcoa (13-1) had a five-touchdown lead and had scored as many non-offensive touchdowns as it had run offensive plays.
On the heels of one of their most elite performances, the Tornadoes head to Cookeville where they will face Pearl Cohn for the state championship at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium Friday at 3 p.m. CT.
In the finals for the seventh year in a row, Alcoa is will try to win its fifth consecutive state title and extend its TSSAA record of 17 overall.
“It’s an expectation around here,” Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said. “We’ve been very, very fortunate. We have great coaches. We have a great community, great support, great facilities. We have good players. We work them. We don’t cut them short a day’s work ever.”
That approach immediately paid off when Alcoa forced Loudon (13-1) to punt on its first series. Junior defensive end Grey Carroll rushed hard off the end, noticed the punter taking his time to get the ball ready and got home in time to block it. Carroll picked it up on the 15-yard line and ran into the end zone for the game’s first points.
The Tornadoes weren’t done. In the last minute of the first quarter Isiah Cox returned a punt 73 yards for a touchdown. More Alcoa scoring plays followed quickly after that.
Senior safety Caden Tollett ripped a pass from a receiver’s grasp just as it got to him and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. Running back Ahmaudd Sankey scored on a 58-yard run on the first play of Alcoa’s second possession, and Cam Burden intercepted a screen pass and returned it 48 yards for another touchdown.
The rest of the half was more of the same. Quarterback Sam Vaulton scored on a 12-yard run and connected with Brayden Anderson for a 6-yard touchdown to give Alcoa a 49-0 halftime lead.
Especially because the first one came so early in the game, the non-offensive touchdowns set the tone and gave the Tornadoes what Carroll said was a “dream scenario.”
“All my years of playing football — I’ve been playing 10 years — that’s the craziest thing I’ve probably experienced in my life,” the Mr. Football finalist said. “That was awesome.”
Alcoa has come to expect awesome things from itself throughout its history.
The Tornadoes won seven-straight state titles from 2004-10 and are currently riding their third streak of at least three consecutive state titles. This season the Tornadoes shutout all six region opponents during the regular season.
Alcoa has done it with a workmanlike approach to practice that never takes a step back. Against Loudon, one of the Tornadoes’ biggest goals was to prevent the Redskins from milking the clock.
Once Alcoa got a big lead, Loudon had no prayer of executing that game plan. Running back Drew Jackson had some good gains early and finished with 55 rushing yards on 13 carries, but in the long run he was no match for an Alcoa defense that was determined to get the last laugh against a Loudon offensive line that billed itself as “The Wall.”
Loudon mustered 110 yards on 45 plays and never ran a play in Alcoa territory.
If momentum counts for anything, the Tornadoes will have a leg up in its quest to win an 18th state title.
“It was a great performance,” Rankin said. “If we duplicate something like that next week we’ll be hard to beat.”