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Balance In The Force

Tornadoes, Rebels both more than simply run, pass

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Ask anyone.

Alcoa runs the ball. Maryville throws it.

Then there’s what really happens.

Alcoa junior Walker Russell has blossomed into a genuine dual-threat quarterback this season. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

Blount County plays host to a pair of TSSAA playoff semifinals tonight. No. 1-ranked and two-time defending state champion Alcoa (11-2) welcomes No. 6 Red Bank (11-2) to Goddard Field in a Class 3A semi.

Across town, No. 2-ranked Maryville (12-1) hosts No. 1 Oakland (13-0) in a 6A clash for the right to advance to next week’s BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech in Cookeville.

Both kickoffs are 7 p.m.

Maryville is powered by University of Alabama-Birmingham commitment and Mr. Football finalist quarterback Dylan Hopkins. The Rebel senior ranks with the finest passers area high school football has ever known.

Hopkins has completed 130 of his 178 passes — 73 percent — for 2,156 yards and 17 touchdowns with three interceptions as Oakland hits town.

Seventy-three percent.

That’s just insane!

Walker Russell is no ham sandwich, though.

The Tornado junior has quietly reeled off one of the best season’s ever for an Alcoa signal caller. Through 13 games, Russell is 100 of 165 for 1,544 yards and 15 scores. He’s been picked only twice.

Man coverage against either quarterback, and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to dress out your defensive secondary in flame-retardant suits. It’s going to get awfully hot back there.

A big part of the reason Hopkins and Russell have proven so effective this season — a big part of the reason any quarterback at any level puts up the numbers they have — is the strong running game each has at their back to balance things out.

Maryville senior and Mr. Football finalist Dylan Hopkins has completed 73 percent of his passes this season.

Backs Isaiah Cobb and kid brother Tee Hodge have made the Rebels genuinely formidable on the ground this season.

Cobb, a senior and Chattanooga commitment, has rifled defenses for 982 yards and 18 touchdowns on 121 carries, averaging 8.1 yards per rush.

Hodge, a sophomore, is fast on his brother’s heels, entering with 646 yards and 10 scores on 97 rushes. He’s pushing 6.7 yards per rush.

Did we mention earlier the Tornadoes like to run ball?

Well, they still do, but it’s in no way one-dimensional or based around a single, all-powerful back.

Junior Jalen McCord (71 carries, 531 yards, five TDs, 7.4 yards per rush) champions a veritable Pony Express stable of backs at Alcoa’s disposal. Fellow junior Kareem Rodriguez is right on his six with 529 yards and six scores, averaging 7.3 yards per carry. Fullback K’Vaughn Tyson has roughed up defenses for 369 yards and a team-best 13 touchdowns.

Five others have amassed at least 200 yards, all for a ground game that’s run for an astonishing 3,182 yards and 47 touchdowns this season.

Yes, Alcoa runs the ball. Maryville can throw it.

That’s just not all they do.

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