Blount Press Row

The Art Of Football

Tornado rout of A-E conjures one of history’s all-time great wins

Alcoa junior Jalen McCord rockets to the end zone for the game’s first score against Austin-East. Photos by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

When last we were with the Tornadoes, it was Hannibal at Cannae.

Austin-East subbed in for the Romans.

Cannae is viewed by many the most severe trouncing in recorded military history. Forty thousand Romans never went home again after a single day’s battle. Forget all that crossing the alps stuff.

Taking a page from Hannibal’s playbook, Alcoa attacked Austin-East up the middle, from both flanks, on defense. No one was put to the sword, but the Tornadoes’ 28-7 triumph in a much-anticipated region championship game was plenty convincing.

Given Alcoa’s losses the last couple of seasons — including a great big one mere days before the 2017 opener — it’s hard not to be impressed with these Tornadoes (9-2) as they host Kingston (8-3) in a Class 3A second round game tonight at Goddard Field.

Kickoff is 7 p.m.

Let’s start with Andrew Coulter and Jacob Maness.

The Alcoa left guard and left tackle, respectively, blocked down and crushed the right side of the Austin-East defense on the fifth play from scrimmage. With Jalen McCord steaming toward right guard on the play, Maness and Coulter looked — at least initially — to be pushing their blocks into McCord’s path.

Hannibal Rule 1: Pack ’em in, then cut back and smoke ’em.

Kareem Rodriguez takes to the air.

The right side now jammed with Roadrunners, McCord did just that, pivoting and racing half the length of the field for a 7-0 lead with the game not three minutes old.

The initial strike in any conflict is seldom decisive. It’s what follows that more often decides things.

Which brings us to Hannibal Rule 2: Once you’ve got them where you want them, keep them there.

Characteristic of Gary Rankin-coached teams through the years is a strong running game built around beefy offensive lines and backs that will charge. It’s no different this year.

Entering the clash with the Roadrunners, the Tornadoes had piled up 2,153 yards rushing on the year, with a bevy of ball carriers sharing the load. Kareem Rodriguez entered with a team-best 417 yards on 54 carries (7.7 per rush), with seven others — McCord, K’Vaughn Tyson, Ahmauud Sankey, quarterback Walker Russell, Nick Robinson, Austin Richardson, DiAndre Johnson — totaling at least 100 yards.

Tyson entered with a team-best 10 rushing scores.

So, at them they went. The Roadrunners had little choice but to bring more defenders to the line scrimmage.

Hannibal Rule 3: When the moment is right — and not before — drop the hammer.

The dismissal of major college prospect receiver Tykee Ogle-Kellogg from the team the morning of the jamboree was a huge blow to Alcoa’s hopes of mounting a defense its back-to-back state titles.

An air game with the potential to do some serious damage?

Walker Russell is upended after a big gain.


Well, maybe not.

Russell has quietly compiled some of the best passing statistics you’ll find anywhere. Entering the clash with the Roadrunners, he’d completed 80 of his 135 passes for 1,105 yards. Here’s the thing, though.

His touchdown-to-interception ratio was a most impressive 11 scores against two picks, with Johnson (13.3 yards per catch), Ty Boyd (11.2), Conner Canfield (21.9!), C.J. Armstrong (11.7) and Tyson (18.8) his top targets.

With each plunge by McCord, Tyson, Rodriguez and Russell into the Austin-East line, Roadrunner linebackers and safeties crept that much closer to the point of attack. The jet sweep with receivers was particularly effective.

“It’s part of our offense,” Rankin said. “There were some things we hadn’t put out on the table yet (this season).”

Kareem Rodriguez shows how to defeat a stiff-arm.

The running and sweeps soon had a telling effect. On the opening play of the second quarter, Russell faked the handoff and slipped a soft toss over the top to tight end Grey Carroll for 21 yards and 14-0 Alcoa lead. The running game returned in force on the next Tornado possession, Tyson bulling in from 2 yards with three minutes to play in the half for a 21-0 advantage at the break.

The touchdown toss to Carroll was “just part of the game plan,” Russell said. “Throw the ball, and they’re going to back off.”

A resounding victory on all fronts, Hannibal’s one mistake at Cannae would cost him dearly years later. With Rome, now defenseless, his for the taking, he didn’t finish them off. He chilled.

The rise of Scipio Africanus is a tale for another day, though, one the Tornadoes, hopefully, will have no need to learn.

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