Blount Press Row

Pistol Creek Shootout

Monday Film Study: Tornado defense holds in thriller

The 93rd meeting between Alcoa and Maryville went the way of the Tornadoes Friday night at Shields Stadium. Photo by Jolanda Jansma

By Stefan Cooper
Blount Press Row

Ty Boyd lived the dream Friday night.

Long minutes after the game ended, long after the Alcoa junior’s fourth-quarter touchdown catch proved the difference in a 34-28 win over Maryville, Boyd lay on the Tornado bench receiving stitches for a deep cut above his left eye.

“I tackled a guy, and his cleats came up and hit me,” he said.

As he lay there, his mom, Jama, pacing nearby, it was impossible not to notice the smile beaming from Boyd’s face. It was gigantic. It reached from ear to ear:

You beat Maryville. YOU having the winning touchdown catch. Your mom has to watch you get stitches.

Does it get any better for a high school football player?

The contest itself was every bit as good as the epilogue. Maryville junior Ashton Maples blistered the Tornadoes for a 61-yard touchdown catch on the game’s opening possession, and a raucous, back-and-fourth shootout ensued in the 93rd renewal of the Battle of Pistol Creek.

Alcoa quarterback Walker Russell calls the signals as running back Kareem Rodriguez (6) leans in. Photo by Wallace Bowden

Great American Rivalry Series MVP Walker Russell threw for 207 yards and three touchdowns — two of 53 and 34 yards to Conner Canfield to go with the game-winner to Boyd. Russell also ran for 51 yards.

Tornado sophomore Ahmaudd Sankey was in afterburner right from the start, finishing with 73 yards and a touchdown on five rushes.

“We knew coming in he was going to carry the ball and had to have a great night,” Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said.

Alcoa ran for 172 yards and a pair of touchdowns as a team on 32 attempts. Fullback K’Vaughn Tyson (1 yard) and Sankey (7) accounted for the scores.

“Alcoa is a great team,” Maryville coach Derek Hunt said. “I thought that third-and-long (late) was huge. We had our chances, but you can’t turn it over four times against Alcoa and win.”

Canfield — three catches, 104 yards and the two touchdowns — delivered the night’s most eye-popping stats … until you switch screens.

Touchdown passes to Maples, tight end Brody Sloan (14 yards) and feature wide out A.J. Davis (27) helped the Rebels overcome the nightmare scenario of the four fumbles. Maryville junior Tee Hodge tacked on an 8-yard rushing score. It’s there, though, the Rebel ground game, where any real analysis of this one begins.

Maryville running back Tee Hodge and Alcoa’s Ty Boyd get locked on. Photo by Jolanda Jansma

Hodge is rapidly becoming, and deservedly so, one of the nation’s most talked about high school running backs. The 6-foot-1, 210-pound Achilles received an offer from Louisville over the weekend. He received an offer from hometown Tennessee over the summer.

That said, the Rebels had very little success at all moving the Tornadoes out of the way to create running lanes for Hodge and backfield mate Bryson Teffeteller. Thirty-three rushes from Hodge and company yielded 113 yards total, an average of 3.4 yards per carry.

The touchdowns from Maples, Sloan and Davis withstanding, Alcoa’s dominance up front defensively was also telling in the Maryville passing game. Translation: Rebel quarterbacks Braden Carnes and Cade Chambers often simply didn’t have time to throw, even on the most abbreviated routes.

“Our D-line played lights out,” Alcoa defensive coordinator Brian Nix said.

A steady diet of Adonis Salter, Grey Carroll, Landon Ray, Tristen Blankenship and others poured through, resulting in numerous hurries and sacks. A Tornado sack produced a fumble on the Rebels’ final possession with seconds to play, putting Alcoa in victory formation deep in Maryville territory.

Alcoa’s Adonis Salter wraps up as a host of Tornadoes converge. Photo by Jolanda Jansma

“It shows the character of the those kids,” Nix said, “their determination to work hard.”

Offensively, the Tornadoes collected a two-touchdown advantage with seconds to play in the half that proved pivotal as the game wore on.

Facing fourth-and-2 at midfield, the Rebels decided to go. Salter popped through to drop Teffeteller for no gain. Russell quickly connected with Canfield racing behind the Rebel linebackers for a 27-14 lead at the half.

“The score right before the half was huge,” Rankin said. “When we got it back at midfield, we decided we were just going to attack.”

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