The Alcoa football team often enters a game with a list of offensive weapons on which the Tornadoes’ defense knows to focus.
Defensive coordinator Brian Nix said Alcoa won’t have that luxury this afternoon in the Class 3A state championship against Pearl Cohn.
Very similar to Alcoa (13-1), the Firebirds (14-0) boast the kind of depth on offense that can prove dangerous no matter what team is on the other side of the ball.
“You just have to play really disciplined,” Nix said. “You have to tackle, and you have to try to limit big plays as much as you can and, hopefully, you get some big plays on defense.”
Alcoa is looking to win its fifth straight state title and 18th overall while Pearl Cohn will try to end its 22-year championship drought and notch its first undefeated record in program history. The first meeting between the two programs will kick off at 4 p.m. ( 3 p.m. CST) today (Friday, Dec. 6) at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said Alcoa hasn’t seen a team as good as Pearl Cohn since its 17-3 loss to 6A powerhouse Maryville in September. Nix said it will be one of the best teams the Tornadoes have faced in the last decade.
“I think it came down to the best teams in 3A playing the state championship game, and that’s what everybody would like,” Rankin said. “There’s a lot riding on it. I’m sure their kids are hungry. They didn’t get to a state championship game without a lot of hunger so we’ll see. It will be a battle.”
Pearl Cohn boasts a lot of speed and is averaging 33.5 points and more than 245 yards. The Firebirds can also stretch the field with the deep ball. Their quarterback, Martino Owens, has 1,929 yards and 27 touchdowns through the air. His main target is Cedric Watkins (51 receptions for 789 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns).
They can also run the ball effectively. They average 113.5 rushing yards per game and 5.5 per carry. Juniors Kyndrich Breedlove and Iven Dayton lead the ground game. They have combined for 1,324 of Pearl Cohn’s 1,702 rushing yards and 19 of its 26 rushing touchdowns.
“Their quarterback is a great thrower,” Rankin said. “You play a team this late in the year that’s undefeated, it means they’re well-coached and they’ve got a lot of good players.”
The Firebirds will have to take care of the ball against Alcoa’s highly-touted defense, which has forced 27 turnovers this season. Defensive end Grey Carroll has accounted for 7.5 of Alcoa’s 44 sacks. The Mr. Football finalist also leads the team in total tackles (79.5) as well as tackles for loss (13) while free safety Caden Tollett anchors the backfield with a team-high seven interceptions.
It’s no secret Alcoa boasts plenty of offensive weapons. The Tornadoes are averaging almost 45 points and more than 344 yards. They have scored at least 56 points in all four of their playoff games.
But Rankin said Pearl Cohn’s defense is the second best Alcoa will face behind only Maryville’s. The Firebirds have forced 24 turnovers and notched 37 sacks while limiting opponents to fewer than 13 points.
“Our offensive line is going to have to do an unbelievable job,” Rankin said. “I think it’s going to rattle them how good we are on offense. We’ll definitely have our work cut out for us.”