Defending the crowns

Tornadoes, Rebels build title hopes around Robinson, Smith

Eight shutouts!

A 73-game winning streak!

Some of the numbers four-time defending Class 2A champion Alcoa and four-time defending 4A champion Maryville have compiled entering this weekend’s semifinal round are truly staggering.

The top-ranked Tornadoes (12-1) host Marion County (11-2) on Friday for the right to advance to next week’s BlueCross Bowl in Murfreesboro. The top-ranked Rebels (13-0) are on the road at Greeneville (11-2) in hopes of earning the chance to claim their fifth consecutive state crown.

Both kickoffs are 7 p.m.

It was evident Alcoa had a powerful, high-scoring team when it waxed Spring Hill, 63-3, in the season opener way back in August. Just how powerful wouldn’t be known until a few weeks later when the Tornadoes routed Booker T. Washington of Memphis, 56-0, in Week 4.

Wartburg, 44-0, and Oliver Springs, 62-0, would quickly follow. Christian Academy of Knoxville dented Alcoa’s defense for a touchdown in a 28-7 loss.

The Tornadoes next four opponents?

Sweetwater, 51-0, Rockwood, 52-0, Loudon, 37-0. In the opening round of the playoffs three weeks ago, Cumberland Gap got shelled, 68-0.

Forget the scoring. Take another look at all those zeroes.

It starts up front. Junior and Mr. Football finalist Tyler Robinson is a known commodity. To line up and try to block the 6-foot-1, 200-pound defensive end with just one player is not smart. Opponents are often forced to do so, however, because of the season opposite end Adrian Womac is having.

Robinson and Womac both finished with five tackles in a 34-0 blanking of Loudon in last week’s quarterfinal. They could have had more, but then tackle Jeff Hickman got in on the act with a team-best six tackles. When your lineman start making that many tackles, your linebackers and defensive backs are going to have a field day.

It was the rare play where a Loudon ball carrier was brought down by just one guy.

That doesn’t bode well for the Warriors.

Marion County outlasted favored Boyd Buchanan in a thriller, 7-6, last week. Warrior star Joe Muir got Marion County to Alcoa with a third-quarter touchdown run.

Troubling for Marion County is the 415 yards of offense it surrendered to Boyd Buchanan. Ironically, all those yards are somewhat troubling for the Tornadoes as well. The margin of victory against Loudon would have been far greater were it not for an Alcoa offense that sputtered after taking a 21-0 first-quarter lead.

The Tornadoes have the top-scoring offense in the playoffs, so that isn’t likely to happen again. Then there are all those shutouts.

The Rebels don’t have as many shutouts — with many opponents dodging the goose egg late against Maryville reserves — but their defense has been no less impressive. They’ve also got a Mr. Football finalist at defensive end setting the pace.

If there’s been one dominant player in Blount County high school football this season, it’s been Maryville senior Justin Smith. Opponents have doubled him. They’ve steered their running game in the other direction. They’ve tried to block Smith upfield and run the ball behind him. None of it has worked.

The Rebels travel to Greeneville riding a 73-game winning streak largely because Smith, like Alcoa’s Robinson, is part of a defense that tackles in mass.

Fellow senior Josh Sullivan is having a super year at the other defensive end. Brad Heath, Dane McCoy and Tucker Munns have proven stout for the Rebels at the tackles. The secret of Maryville success, however, lies with its linebackers.

Jeffery Booker, Cody McCoy and Luke Cox are not the biggest run stoppers. Cox is just under 6 feet, with Booker standing in at 5-8, McCoy, 5-7. Football is as much technique as it is brute strength, though. When it comes to reading a play, taking the best angle to the ball and tackling well, the Rebel trio is as good as it gets.

You don’t have to blow the other guy up all the time. Slow them down some, and plenty of help isn’t long in arriving.

The Greene Devils have a dangerous passer at quarterback in 6-foot senior Jordan Greenway. The third member of his family to call the signals for Greeneville, following his father and older brother, Greenway took possession of his school’s record for career passing yards this season. He’s thrown for 19 touchdowns against four interceptions this fall.

Ryan Fillers has over 700 yards receiving and 12 touchdowns. Two others have close to 400 yards receiving. In Trevon Hall, the Greeneville has a back with better than 1,300 yards rushing on the year.

There’s just one thing: Smith.

Running or passing, Greeneville must account for him. It can lead to gaping holes in the Greene Devil offensive line. Flying through those holes is often Cox, McCoy and Booker, who just may prove the season’s biggest story when all is said and done.

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