Blount Press Row

Thursday Night Rewind: Alcoa

Tornadoes ‘really good’ front four delivers dominant showing in rout of CAK
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Alcoa’s Ryan Clark gets to Christian Academy of Knoxville quarterback Cole Smith for one of Clark’s three sacks during Thursday’s region championship game at Goddard Field. Tornado teammate Jonathan Decker (56) is at right. Photos by Brandon Shinn

By Kyle Yager
Blount Press Row

Alcoa’s military-grade aluminum curtain put a hurtin’ on Cole Smith and previously unbeaten Christian Academy of Knoxville Thursday night.

Taylen McNear bulls into the end zone for one of his two scores.

Alcoa’s Taylen McNear bulls into the end zone.

The Warriors entered averaging better than 40 points per game but were held to a suffocating seven by the Tornadoes in Alcoa’s 33-7 victory.

The win clinched the Region 2-3A championship for the No. 1-ranked Tornadoes (9-1, 5-0), along with home field throughout the Class 3A playoffs.

Alcoa hosts Unicoi County (5-5) in a first round game Friday at 7.

Alcoa set the tempo early. It’s first drive chewed over 11 minutes of clock, but the Tornadoes were forced to settle for a Ben Smith 30-yard field goal.

Smith crushed one from 40 yards seconds before the quarter change, a boot that had the air for 50-plus.

Alcoa went up, 13-0, after a double reverse touchdown pass from Larry Hodge to Caleb Woody. On a failed two-point conversion try following the score, Tornado quarterback Jaylen Myers was helped off the field with an injured ankle. Myers did not return, X-rays Friday morning revealing a sprain.

Freshman Walker Russell performed ably in Myers’ absence, directing a trio of Alcoa scoring drives.

The Tornadoes got a pair of 5-yard scoring runs from Taylen McNear, with fullback Malik Salter barreling in from 4 yards.

On the other side of the ball, the Tornado defense was stifling throughout.

The Tornadoes sacked Smith four times on the night.

The Tornadoes got to Smith for six sacks.

The story was the defensive line. The Tornadoes rushed only four, which saw man-child defensive tackle Jonathan Decker double teamed on just about every play. Despite the attention, Decker was still able to pressure Smith.

The Tornadoes recorded six sacks, three by defensive end Ryan Clark, each aided by Decker’s ability to beat the double team.

“I can flush the pocket, and, if they want to double team me, they have to deal with Ryan and everyone else,” Decker said.

The constant pressure created four turnovers. The Tornadoes’ ability to put Smith under duress led to three Alcoa interceptions.

Overall, the performance lifted the Tornadoes into the No. 2 spot among the state’s best defenses, regardless of classification. Alcoa’s 8.1 points per game trails only Greeneville (6.5) at the top.

Creating pressure with just four enabled the Tornadoes to drop linebackers into coverage to assist the secondary. Smith was able to scramble for big yardage early, especially on third down. Alcoa took note, using linebacker Garrett Livesay to shadow Smith, cutting off the escape routes.

A lot of the credit is due defensive coordinator Brian Nix.

Matthew Mcclure anchors the left side of a dominant Tornado defensive front.

Matthew McClurg anchors the left side of a dominant Tornado defensive front.

“Phenomenal job,” Nix said, “great group effort. Feels great to watch your kids execute.”

Asked how the foursome of Matthew McClurg, Tristan Woody, Clark and Decker was able to create so much pressure, Nix said: “Because they’re really good.”

The Tornado offense, Nix said, had a lot to do with how the defense performed Thursday.

“Our offensive coaching staff does such a great job with our scout team,” he said, “having them run the routes the way (the Warriors) run them, and protect the way (the Warriors) protect. I couldn’t prepare without our offense.”

Alcoa has now positioned itself exactly where it wants to be for postseason.

“We get to set our table the way we want it,” Decker said. “We get the next four games at home so it’s a perfect situation for us.”

The playoff layout sets up a potential rematch in three weeks against Christian Academy, right back at Alcoa.

“We’ll play CAK again,” Nix said. “This is the first round of the playoffs. It’s halftime of an eight-quarter game.”

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