Secondary?

Tornado defensive backs a big part of the show

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

How good is Patrick Sanders?

How good is the Alcoa defensive secondary whose task it is to contain the Smith County quarterback Friday night?
The Owls have a solid running game, with senior Jonathan Evans having rushed for better than 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns this season. It’s Sanders, though, that is of greatest concern for the Tornado coaching staff entering the Class 2A semifinal at Smith County.

"He’s a good thrower," Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said. "They’ve got a bunch of receivers, and they throw and catch the ball well."

The clash between the Tornadoes (11-2) and Owls (11-2) is one of two games involving Blount County teams looking for a berth in next week’s BlueCross Bowl. Maryville’s top-ranked Rebels (13-0) host Morristown West (13-0) in a much-anticipated Class 4A semifinal at Shields Stadium.

Both kickoffs are 7 p.m.

Sanders, who played sparingly in a season-opening, 23-6 loss to Knoxville Catholic after suffering a broken, non-throwing hand, has burned defenses for 1,648 yards and 19 touchdowns this season. The 6-foot-1, 165-pound senior has been intercepted on only four occasions.

"He’s a good quarterback," Tornado defensive backs coach Jason Brooks said. "I think they do a good job of putting their receivers in spots. They sit in those holes where they can complete passes. They’re going to get underneath you."

Sanders has a pair of receivers — seniors Jacob Bass and Tez Hembree — with better than 400 yards receiving on the season. Hembree, out of the backfield, is averaging 26.7 yards per catch.

Evans further complicates things, Brooks said.

"We can’t get caught up in play-action," he said. "They’ve got a really balanced attack."

The Tornado secondary has faced collection of great arms this season, Maryville junior Brent Burnette and McCallie senior and University of Tennessee commitment B.J. Coleman among them. Seniors Kyrus Lanxter and Alex Green, junior Brian Sommer and sophomore Sam Thompson have weathered the storm to collect 27 interceptions this season.

Sommer, with Tennessee and South Carolina among his suitors, leads with seven. The versatile star intercepted a state-record 12 only a season ago. Lanxter, who’ll sign with West Virginia in February, has six picks this fall, equaled by Thompson. Green, one of the Tornadoes top tacklers at one of the corners, has a pair.

"We think our secondary is very good," Rankin said. "We haven’t been killed by the pass one time this year."

Friday’s championship game qualifier is a homecoming for Rankin, a Smith County native. The Owls were his first high school coaching job. Smith County coach Jimmy Maynord is a longtime friend, having served as Rankin’s defensive coordinator at Riverdale.

The Owls like mix things up, Rankin said.

"They do a lot of stuff on offense," he said. "They’re right up there with McCallie with the number of things they do."
Equally impressive, Rankin said, is a Smith County defense that’s yielded better than 20 points in a contest only once this
season.

"They really take care of business on both sides of the ball," he said.

Alcoa seeks the chance to play for a third consecutive state crown with an offense averaging 51.9 points per game during its current 10-game win streak.

Morristown West at Maryville
The Trojans enter with a ground game that’s muscled opposing defenses for 3,079 yards rushing this season. Burnette and senior Derek Hunt co-direct a Maryville passing attack that with a pair of University of Tennessee commitments as its primary targets.

Senior receiver Tyler Maples and junior tight end Aaron Douglas are both finalists for Class 4A Mr. Football. Maples needs less than 60 to reach 1,000 yards receiving for the season. The future Vol has found the end zone 14 times. One of the state’s most dynamic players, the versatile Maples has a touchdown each returning punts and kicks, adding a pair of interceptions returned for scores at safety.

With senior Adrian Baker closing on 1,000 yards rushing, the Rebels, seeking the school’s third consecutive crown and record-tying ninth, field a balanced offense that can strike from all sides.

Tailback Quentin Greenlee sets the tempo for the Trojans, with better than 1,200 yards rushing at an average of 12.3 yards per carry this season. Fullback Wesley hale has beat on opposing defenses for 6.3 per rush.

How well the West ground game fares against a Rebel defense that crushed fourth-ranked Red Bank only a week ago will tell much.

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