The McCallie game

Victory set loose an Alcoa storm

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By Stefan Cooper
Sports Editor
Blount Today

Bart Hicks didn’t panic when losses to Class 4A top-ranked Maryville and 3A top-ranked Fulton dropped Alcoa to 1-2 on the season.

Neither did the Alcoa linebacker discount the defeats as losses to teams who play in another classification.

"It wasn’t because they were in a higher division," Hicks said. "They were a better team on the night we played them."

In tonight’s regular season finale, the Class 2A second-ranked Tornadoes (7-2) host No. 7-ranked and unbeaten Booker T. Washington of Memphis in Blount Today’s Game of the Week.

Maryville’s top ranked Rebels visit Lenoir City on Friday in search of the school’s fifth consecutive unbeaten regular season. William Blount hosts Heritage in a contest with postseason implications.

All kickoffs, including tonight’s Tornadoes/Warriors clash, are 7:30 p.m.

Losses to the Rebels, 17-14, and Falcons, 24-21, not only brought the two-time defending state champion Tornadoes together as a team, Hicks said, it put them on edge for a game with Division II No. 1-ranked McCallie two weeks later. The Blue Tornado, quarterbacked by Tennessee commitment B.J. Coleman, already had upsets of Class 5A No. 1-ranked Riverdale and nine-time state champion Brentwood Academy to their credit. This one was big.

"We said, ‘We’ve got to win this game,’" Hicks said. "That’s about it. We knew what we had to do."

Chris Shiverdecker scored on a 24-yard hook-and-lateral from Brian Sommer with seconds remaining, and the Tornadoes knocked out the Blue Tornado, 24-21, in one of the season’s top thrillers. For Alcoa’s next four opponents, the consequences would be epic.

"It’s been a blur it’s gone so fast," Alcoa coach Gary Rankin said. "Of course it always goes faster when you’re winning. When you’re losing, time just drags on."

The McCallie win fired the Tornado offense in a big way. Shiverdecker is well beyond 1,000 yards rushing entering tonight’s showdown with the 9-0 Warriors. Quarterback Randall Cobb has thrown for better than 1,000 yards. In senior Kyrus Lanxter, a West Virginia commitment, and Sommer, a junior with offers from Tennessee and South Carolina, the Tornadoes have Division-I talent at both receivers.

Wartburg, 55-0, Rockwood, 41-0, Sweetwater, 63-20, and Oliver Springs, 62-7, were rocked by an offense really clicking in Alcoa’s last four games. It’s what Hicks and the Tornadoes have done defensively this season that may be the bigger story, though.

Alcoa surrendered some big names defensively to the next level from last season’s state championship. Defensive end/tight end Brandon Warren was off to Florida State. Linebacker Dustin Lindsey signed with Tennessee. Defensive tackle Martin White left for Austin Peay.

"That guy (White) was a force," defensive coordinator Brian Nix said.

The Tornadoes haven’t replaced Warren, Lindsey and White with three individuals. In their place have come a host if hitters, each fast, each equally interchangeable.

Senior Rae Sykes, rated among the state’s top prospects, highlights a relentless push for the Tornadoes up front. The 6-foot-4, 240-pound defensive end has offers from several Southeastern Conference schools. Opposite Sykes has come the emergence of senior Bobby Keller at the other end, with fellow senior Neil Cooper a fresh set of rush legs always at the ready.

Corey Brewer, Jeff Hickman and Cody Marsh have compensated for the loss of White as a collective, Nix said.

Senior Darrell Tate and junior Troy Hodge carry every bit the speed and pop as did Lindsey, times two. In Sommer, who set a state record for interceptions a year ago, the Tornadoes have a genuine star at one of the corners. Senior Alex Green, on the other side, if often overlooked.

"He’s a kid that comes to work and always plays hard," Nix said.

Hicks, with well over 100 tackles on the season, has performed brilliantly as the unit’s trail boss. Last year’s BlueCross Bowl Defensive Most Valuable Player, he was a known commodity and has become only more of a leader during his senior campaign.

"The second and third strings played the same minutes as the starters last year, so they were ready for those positions," Hicks said.

A player Tornado opponents knew little about entering the season was sophomore Sam Thompson. The defensive back/receiver/punter has proven the multi-threat playmaker no one saw coming, Rankin said.

Defensively, Thompson, an athletic midfielder on the school’s soccer team, ranks three spots back of Hicks and even with Sykes on tackles. As pass catcher, only Lanxter and Sommer are better. His punting this season is rivaled only by William Blount boomer Kase Whitehead.

"The one that really opened my eyes was Sam Thompson," Rankin said. "Nobody knew much about him. He’s turned into a great high school football player."

Heritage at William Blount
With a win, the Governors claim Region 2-5A’s fourth and final playoff spot outright. If the Mountaineers, winless in region this season, can spring the upset, a William Blount team that very well could have finished region champions this fall will need an Oak Ridge loss at Farragut on Friday to play on.

Ironically, last week’s Governor win at Bradley Central has done much to change the complexion of this one. Rallying from an early 13-point deficit, William Blount stormed back with a big second quarter to lead, 21-13, at the half, the game’s eventual final score. The Mountaineers gave the Bears all they could handle only the week before falling, 25-20, in a fourth-
quarter uprising that came up a score short.

Led by senior and 1,000-yard rusher Darran Walker, the Governors possess a powerful running game. Speedsters Mohamed Baskin and Darrin Garner are quick to the corners. In quarterback Tyler Burstrom, one of this season’s big surprises, and wide out Grey Clevenger, William Blount has built a deadly-when-needed passing game.

Linebackers Dominique Brown, Will Irwin and sophomore sensation Cole Lail spark a defense scary fast Governor defense.
Quarterback Dylan Morgan, receivers Bryan Wigington and Rhett Guigou and backs Justin Caines and freshman Michael Cermak have each had games this season where the Mountaineers have looked a dangerous team. Receiver Shawn Wichert just makes plays. If it all comes together in grand finale with the Governors, this one could get interesting.
Maryville at Lenoir City

The top-ranked Rebels are really flying after last week’s region-clinching victory at Halls. The Region 3-4A crown was Maryville’s sixth consecutive. Odds the two-time defending Class 4A champions will extend the school’s 39-game win streak are good.

The Rebels overwhelmed Halls with and aerial assault in which quarterbacks Brent Burnette and Derek Hunt both threw for better than 100 yards. Hunt connected with new school-record holder and Tennessee commitment Tyler Maples for one score, finding junior and fellow future Vol Aaron Douglas for another. Burnette delivered a dart to Maples to open the scoring.

Maryville needed only a combined eight carries from backs Adrian Baker and Ryan Singleton to blow by the Red Devils, 42-10, to claim the region’s top playoff seeding. Only one opponent - Alcoa - has come with three touchdowns of the Rebels this season.

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