The strength of 10 men

Tornadoes to face deep Goodpasture backfield

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

The Goodpasture Christian School football team doesn’t follow the running-back-by-committee approach.
It’s more like both houses of Congress.

The top-ranked Cougars will field a wing-T offense that rotates as many as 10 backs when they meet second-ranked Alcoa in the Class 2A state championship game on Friday at Middle Tennessee State University. The clash is rematch of last season’s title tilt, won by the Tornadoes in a romp, 55-13.

Kickoff is 8 p.m. EST.

Alcoa coach Gary Rankin, then head coach at Riverdale, watched last year’s title game from the stands. The Cougars (14-0) bear little resemblance to the Goodpasture team the Tornadoes (12-2) blasted a year ago.

They’re older. They’re bigger. Senior Mark Fisher, a finalist for 2A Mr. Football lineman, is coveted by every Southeastern Conference school on the list. The Cougars — a wing-T team, mind you — enter averaging 43.5 points per game, limiting opponents to a measly 11.0.

"Nobody’s played them close at all," Rankin said. "They’ve beaten everybody and beaten them very soundly."
Plus, there’s all those backs.

"There’s no way you can defend just one guy," Rankin said.

Shantz Medley, a 6-foot-2, 215-pound senior halfback, is the show pony in the Cougar stable, entering with a team-leading 863 yards and 16 touchdowns on 75 carries. Fellow senior Reece Lovell has rushed 101 times this season for 585 yards and six scores. Three others — Tracy Mayes, Dwain Harris and Benjamin Cunningham — have amassed better than 400 yards. A fourth, junior Thomas Goodloe, is a 10-yard run from joining them.

"They’re just a solid mature football team," Rankin said, "and they’ve got a lot more speed than people give them credit."
Quarterback Coleman Stroud is more than a competent passer out of the wing-T, completing 43 of his 83 throws for 1,082 yards and 14 touchdowns. Goodpasture has crossed up opposing defenses this season, striking from the air for an opening score on more than one occasion.

The Tornadoes will counter with one of the hottest backs in the state these days in senior Chris Shiverdecker. The Class 2A Mr. Football ripped host Smith County for 238 yards and five touchdowns on nine carries in last week’s semifinal.
"The last few games, he’s been as good as any back I’ve ever been around," Rankin said.

Alcoa must first get last year’s BlueCross Bowl Offensive Most Player the ball, though, and that means getting it away from the Goodpasture offense.

Defending the wing-T is largely assignment football, with linebackers playing a prominent role. The play of the guy in the middle is critical, and, in senior Bart Hicks, the Tornadoes possess a merciless tackling machine who’s ranks with the best.
Hicks came away with nine tackles, five of them solo, in earning BlueCross Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player a year ago. These aren’t the same Cougars the Tornadoes swept from the Floyd Stadium turf last season, he said.

"They’re big boys," he said. "You’ve always got to worry about getting blown off the ball."

If Alcoa is to claim its third consecutive state crown and eighth overall, Hicks, Mr. Football finalist Rae Sykes and the rest of the Tornado defense must avoid just such an occurrence.

"Bart is going to have to have great game this week," Rankin said. "There’s no stopping them, but we’ve at least got to slow them down."

Hicks, as are many of the Tornadoes, are especially motivated for the rematch. The team that routed the Cougars a season ago saw three players sign with major colleges — tight end Brandon Warren (Florida State), running back Dustin Lindsey (Tennessee) and quarterback Joei Fiegler (Chattanooga).

While Warren (suspension) didn’t play in last year’s contest and Lindsey was limited to largely a defensive role because of injury, their legacy cast a huge shadow. A painted bridge near the school asked of Hicks and his classmates this week: "What will be your legacy?"

"It’s our turn to get there and do it ourselves," Hicks said.

Alcoa journeys to Murfreesboro with more than enough firepower for the job. Quarterback Randall Cobb has a receiving trio to die for in senior Kyrus Lanxter, a West Virginia commitment, junior Brian Sommer and sophomore Sam Thompson. Sommer has offers on the table from Tennessee and South Carolina.

Running backs Darrell Tate and Troy Hodge teamed with Shiverdecker and Hicks on Alcoa’s region champion track relay this spring.

Friday will be the second homecoming for Rankin in as many weeks. The Smith County native is a former Owls coach. While head coach at Riverdale, he coached the Warriors to four state crowns and was named a national coach of the year.
Guiding the Tornadoes back to Murfreesboro has been a motivating factor all season, Rankin said.

"I thought about that a little bit," he said. "When we left there, our children talked about how neat it would be to get back there for the state championship."

The Tornadoes, who’ve all but blown their last 12 Class 2A opponents from the field, last year’s title game included, are going in confident.

"I think we’ve played awfully well," Rankin said. "I think we’ve been able to roll up some points because we haven’t had a lot of turnovers."

Having led the Tornadoes back to the title game, the pressure’s off, he said.

"I’m maybe a little more relaxed in the championship game than I am in the semifinal," Rankin said. "I think a championship
game is a player’s game. I really think it’s the kids’ game in the championship."

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