Blount Press Row

Friday Night Rewind: Alcoa

Tornadoes put new twist on scoring defense to reach title game
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Alcoa’s Garrett Livesay pursues a Notre Dame ball carrier during Friday’s Class 3A semifinal at Goddard Field. Photos by Jenifer Clark

By Chris Cannon
For Blount Press Row

The Alcoa offense found only 10 total yards in the first quarter against Chattanooga Notre Dame.

Senior Caleb Woody gets in the air to make the catch.

Senior Caleb Woody gets in the air to make the catch.

With those 10 yards, the Tornadoes carried a 14-2 lead into the second quarter.

They would only extend that lead, taking away a 42-2 victory over the Irish to advance to Friday’s BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech.

No. 1-ranked Alcoa (13-1) meets No. 2 Christ Presbyterian Academy (13-1) for the third consecutive year in the Class 3A championship game at Tucker Stadium.

Kickoff is 3 p.m. CST.

Alcoa and CPA split the last two championship meetings, the Tornadoes runners-up last season.

Along with their No. 1 ranking in the state media poll, the Tornadoes also enter the title game with the state’s No. 1-ranked scoring defense, regardless of classification, at 7.4 points per game.

“Our moniker for the playoffs has been being a great teammate,” Alcoa defensive coordinator Brian Nix said. “We did the book on the hard hat about the 21 rules of being a great teammate. Part of that is if one side of the ball is struggling, the other side needs to pick it up.

“You’ve got to give an offense time to find some stuff. That’s why everybody uses the old adage, ‘Defense wins championships.’ Defense gives your offense some time to find some plays and find what’s working.”

The Tornado defense took Nix’s words to heart in the closing minutes of the first quarter, recovering a blocked punt, a fumble and coming away with an interception. Those three turnovers put Alcoa inside the 15-yard line each time, leading to two eventual scores.

“They stepped up,” Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said. “We just weren’t good at all during the first quarter on offense, and I don’t know why. They’re pretty good. They’re not a bad football team, or they wouldn’t be in the semifinals. I thought they were probably a little better defensively that what I expected. They were athletic and quick up front, and we couldn’t handle it at first.”

Linebacker Mitchell McClurg deflects an Irish pass.

Linebacker Mitchell McClurg deflects an Irish pass.

Alcoa needed only 159 yards of offense in the blowout win on the night.

Last season, running back Jaquez Tyson tallied 51 carries in the victory over the Irish. This year, the Tornadoes could find only 56 yards on 33 attempts. Alcoa managed seven first downs.

Notre Dame, which entered one of the state’s best offenses, fared little better.

The Tornadoes held Irish quarterback Alex Darras to 6-of-21 passing for 92 yards with three interceptions. Notre Dame tallied 118 yards on the ground, Darras finishing with 48 yards, Akil Sledge 39.

“I didn’t know those numbers, but I guess, for us, we’re just working hard to be the best Alcoa defense that’s been put on the field,” Mr. Football finalist and defensive end Matthew McClurg said. “I’m not sure we’re there yet, but hopefully by next week we’ll achieve that goal. We want to get that state championship.”

They aren’t far off. In 14 games this season, Alcoa has surrendered 97 points.

With the Notre Dame points coming by safety, the Tornado defense shut out its fifth opponent this season.

“Obviously, it’s a big deal,” linebacker Mitchell McClurg said. “We actually have a goal every game to lower that point average and get a shutout every game. We haven’t gotten that every game, but as a first defense, we’re averaging like three points a game. We take pride in it.”

Notre Dame started the scoring Friday with the safety, Alcoa quarterback Jaylen Myers taken down in the end zone after the Tornadoes were pinned deep with a long punt. It was the first time this postseason Alcoa has trailed, although it wouldn’t last long.

Sophomore Tykee Kellogg hauls in a Tornado touchdown.

Sophomore Tykee Kellogg hauls in a Tornado touchdown.

T.J. Mchee’s punt sailed off a teammate’s helmet, Mitchell McClurg recovering for Alcoa at the Irish 5-yard line. Four plays later, the Tornadoes turned the ball over on downs, the Irish taking over at the 1-yard line. Soon after, Notre Dame gave it right back.

Matthew McClurg recovered an Irish fumble at the 5. Three plays later, Mitchell McClurg put the Tornadoes on the board with a 4-yard run behind a big block from Caleb Cooper, and Alcoa led, 7-2, with 1:49 remaining in the first quarter.

Three plays into the ensuing series, a Darras pass was picked off by Tornado linebacker Terran Cox at the Irish 39-yard line Cox returned the ball to the 12. Myers connected with Tykee Kellogg on a 12-yard fade route to give Alcoa a 14-2 lead with 40 seconds showing on the clock.

With 7:08 in the second, the Tornadoes mounted their first long drive. The seven-play, 63-yard march ended with Malik Salter following Cooper from a yard out to give Alcoa a 21-2 advantage, its lead at the half.

To open the second half, Dustin Clabough, with a key block from Larry Hodge, used an electrifying 90-yard kick return to set up the Tornadoes at the Irish 6-yard line. Salter followed Jack Warwick the final 6 yards for a 28-2 lead with 11:36 showing.

Four plays later, Mitchell McClurg pressured Darras into an errant throw picked off by linebacker Garrett Livesay, the senior returning the interception 28 yards for the score and a 35-2 lead with 10:32 left in the third.

A seven-play, 52-yard drive early in the fourth was capped by a Taylen McNear 6-yard run to conclude the scoring.

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