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Tornadoes become state’s No. 1 defense with blanking of CAK
Alcoa defensive back Larry Hodge rips the ball free from Christian Academy of Knoxville receiver Phillip Nichols on Friday. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Tristan Woody is often the forgotten man in Alcoa’s super-sized front four.

Fullback Malik Salter put the game away in closing minutes.

Fullback Malik Salter put the game away in closing minutes.

Larry Hodge is the smallest defender in an equally impressive — and, again, sizable — Tornado secondary.

Both played giant roles on Friday in earning Alcoa, after a season-long chase, the distinction as the state’s No. 1-ranked defense.

The Tornadoes became the first team to shut out Christian Academy of Knoxville in almost a decade as Alcoa blanked the Warriors, 24-0, in a Class 3A quarterfinal at Goddard Field.

Alcoa blanked the Warriors, 42-0, in the second game of the 2006 season.

The win vaulted the Tornadoes into the top spot among the state’s stingiest defenses at 7.8 points per game.

Alcoa (12-1) hosts Notre Dame (10-3) in a Friday semifinal, the winner advancing to the Dec. 4 BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.

“Everybody knows about the front four,” Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said. “I think the rest of the defense has stepped it up too. I don’t think people know much about (linebackers) Garret Livesay and Mitchell (McClurg). The secondary has come along too.”

Alcoa limited the Warriors to 91 yards of offense and four first downs for the duration.

Greeneville opened the door for the Tornadoes to become the state’s top defense with a 35-21 loss to Catholic in a Class 4A quarterfinal on Friday. Christian Academy twice had opportunity to slam that door shut, were it not for a pair of game-changing plays from Hodge and Woody.

Jonathan Decker, left, and Ryan Clark close on CAK quarterback Cole Smith.

Jonathan Decker, left, and Ryan Clark close on CAK quarterback Cole Smith.

With Alcoa holding a 14-0 lead in the early minutes of the second quarter, Warrior quarterback Cole Smith put up a beautiful deep toss downfield to wide out Phillip Nichols. Hodge had one-on-one coverage on the Christian Academy ace.

At the last second, Hodge got in the air to rip the ball from Nichols’ grasp. A Ryan Clark sack on third-and-18 forced a Warrior punt.

“Great defensive play,” Rankin said. “It was about the only time they went deep.”

With time waning in the third, Woody denied what proved Christian Academy’s last, best hope to break the shutout.

The Warriors marched to first-and-goal at the Alcoa 10-yard line, where, after a procedure penalty on first down, Clark collected his second sack of the evening. Smith remained motionless on the turf for several minutes before being taken from the stadium by ambulance.

Reports earlier today said the Christian Academy junior is expected to make a full recovery.

Three plays later, Christian Academy went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 4, with Tennessee commitment Austin Pope taking the direct snap out of the wildcat.

Woody, 5-foot-10, 190 pounds, was the first to reach the 6-4, 217-pound Pope and slow the surge, with Tornado linebacker Mitchell McClurg quickly there for support.

Tight end Matthew McClurg makes a first half touchdown catch for the Tornadoes.

Tight end Matthew McClurg makes a first half touchdown catch for the Tornadoes.

To either side of Woody along the Alcoa front are Mr. Football finalists Jonathan Decker (6-4, 255) and Matthew McClurg (6-4, 240) and the speed rush end Clark (6-7, 210).

“He (Woody) is a tough little kid,” Rankin said. “He’s strong and gets around the ball. He’s standing in there with three All-State players.

“We knew he was a good football player, but we didn’t know he’d be ready to step in there as a sophomore.”

Decker recently announced a verbal commitment to Chattanooga, with Clark (Virginia Military Institute) and McClurg (Appalachian State, along with twin brother Mitchell) committing earlier this season.

With the ball turned over on downs, Alcoa took over at the 1 and turned the game over to fullback Malik Salter, who pounded away at the Warrior defense on a time-consuming drive resulting in a Ben Smith 36-yard field goal.

Alcoa had all the points it would need early. Quarterback Jaylen Myers was a crisp 7-of-10 passing for 138 yards and a 35-yard touchdown toss to sophomore wide out Tykee Kellogg.

The other two scores came on a 5-yard pass from receiver Dustin Clabough to tight end Matthew McClurg as the Tornadoes opened a 6-0 lead with two minutes to play in the opening quarter.

Running back Karim Shereef, 10 carries, 95 yards, made it 14-0 Alcoa on a blistering, 69-yard cutback run with nine seconds to play in the period.

Myers delivered a textbook strike to the 6-5 Kellogg over the right side with eight minutes to play in the third, the 35-yard score extending the Alcoa lead to 21-0.

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