By Keeli Parkey
The Alcoa Tornadoes (10-1) showed why they are the defending 3A state champions when they took the field against the Unicoi County High School football team (5-6) on Friday, Nov. 4.
The heavily-favored Tornadoes controlled almost everything on the field from the opening kickoff on their way to a 49-13 victory over the Blue Devils. With the win, Alcoa advances to face the Scott Highlanders (8-3) from Huntsville in the second round on Friday, Nov. 11. The loss ended the season for UCHS.
“I thought our guys went out and played extremely hard,” Blue Devil head coach Drew Rice said of the game. “Alcoa is a 14-time state champion on their way to their 15th state championship. They are an unbelievable football program. I was proud of the effort and fight our guys showed against, literally, the best in the state.”
The Tornadoes held the Blue Devil offense in check throughout the first half, keeping UCHS off the scoreboard. At the same time, Alcoa’s offense was firing on all cylinders, scoring six first half touchdowns to lead 42-0 at the half.
The Blue Devils wouldn’t leave Alcoa without putting some points on the board. They scored their first touchdown in the third quarter on the legs of Nick Fender with his 42-yard run. The extra point attempt missed left for a score of 42-6.
“We talked at halftime about coming out and winning the second half, like the score was zero to zero,” Rice said. “They came out and responded very well, and we actually outscored them in the second half. I thought that showed a lot of grit and toughness on our guys’ part.”
The Tornadoes scored again to make it 49-6 in the fourth quarter. The Blue Devils scored their final touchdown of the game and the season on a 32-yard pass from senior Kendrick Williams to Michael Howell. Christian Leon converted the extra point for the final score of 49-13.
“I thought our seniors really laid it all on the line,” Rice said. “They saw that this was going to be their last high school football game ever, and they made the most out of it. I also thought Michael Smith really played well. He showed that he belonged at that level with a couple of the tackles he made against a really talented opponent.”
Rice also praised his seniors for their dedication to the Blue Devil football program.
“These seniors are a very special group of young men,” he added. “I have been with them since they started winter workouts with us in the eighth grade, and to watch them grow into the young men they are now is really special. I told them that they were laying the foundation for what we were trying to do as a program, and they bought into that and I am very appreciative of it.”
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The Blue Devil offense posted 176 total yards – 86 in the air and 90 on the ground – against Alcoa.
Williams was 8-13 passing for 86 yards and 1 touchdown.
Howell had 4 catches, including the touchdown. Dylan Lewis had 2 catches for 34 yards.
Fender had 15 carries for 87 yards and 1 touchdown.
Lewis led the Blue Devil defense with 11 tackles and 7 assists. Bradley Edwards had 7 tackles and 4 assists.
Alcoa had 465 total yards of offense. Of that 141 came in the air and 324 came on the ground.
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Playing against a team he described as the “best in the state” is good for the Blue Devil program moving forward, Rice said.
“I think playing a (team like Alcoa) is good exposure to what all is really out there, and just how much talent there is across the state,” he added. “I think sometimes people don’t realize how good a state championship football team really is. I think the experience can help be a motivator for us, to not just make the playoffs next year, but to try and host a playoff game.”
The offseason will be important for the Blue Devils, according to their head coach.
“We will take the rest of the month off, then we will get back to work as soon as December gets here,” Rice said. “We have to get stronger in the weight room, that is going to be a tremendous focus for us.
“As far as improvements for next year, we have to be able to consistently and effectively run the football on offense and stop the run on defense. We have to be able to do those two things to be successful year in and year out,” the head coach continued.
There is a lot to take away from the 2016 campaign, Rice also said.
“I think we just need to use the momentum of making the playoffs two years in a row to try and springboard us to the next level,” he added. “We lose a lot of great football players this year, and we have our work cut out for us, but I look forward to pushing these guys to see what all we can get out of this off-season as we move into next season.”