The other team had a guy named Manning at quarterback.
Alcoa Middle had Korey Bach.
The Tornadoes’ Steady Eddy passer hit wide receiver Kenny Dean for a 14-yard score with seven minutes remaining, and Alcoa rallied from its first deficit this season to upend Sevier County, 12-7, in the Smoky Mountain Athletic Conference championship game Tuesday night at Heritage High School.
The title capped an unbeaten season for the Tornadoes (9-0), who’ll send 30 eighth-graders on to the high school team next year. Alcoa, which fell to rival Maryville in last year’s championship game, has not lost a regular season contest in three years, a run of 24 straight victories.
Sevier County seventh-grader Luke Manning connected on a 75-yard touchdown pass to Bear teammate Luke Trenham with six minutes to play in the third quarter, lifting Sevier County to a 7-6 lead. The deficit was uncharted waters for the Tornadoes this season. Concerned, Bach turned to his father, who was standing near the Alcoa bench, with a question.
“I said, ‘Dad, we can do it, right?’” Bach said. “He said, ‘Yeah, have faith.’”
Confidence restored, Bach saddled up the Tornadoes and drove them 68 yards in five plays to retake the lead.
Running back Ezekiel Koko and receiver Brennan McMurray tore off successive big gains on first down, moving the Tornadoes to first-and-10 and the Sevier County 37-yard line. After a holding penalty put Alcoa in first-and-15 a play later, Jarod Crenshaw roared 27 yards through a hole off left guard down to the Bear 15. There, Bach first faked handoffs to both Koko and Crenshaw into the line before rising and delivering a quick toss to Dean at the left sideline. Dean slipped a lone defender in front of the Alcoa bench and raced to the end zone for the score.
“Mr. (Scott) Flynn taught me that (move),” Dean said.
It’s deeper than that, Tornado eighth-grader Mustafa Anthony said.
“He’s got savvy,” the Alcoa wide out said.
Alcoa coach Tim Russell said he first thought of continuing to pound the ball at the Bears with Crenshaw and Koko, but, “You’ve also got to consider you’ve got an incredible athlete out there like Kenny Dean,” he said.
Crenshaw’s battering-ram runs had keyed the game’s opening score. Carrying two and three tacklers with him at a time, the big Alcoa fullback tired the Bear defense noticeably.
“I just tried to keep going, just keep trucking and try my hardest,” Crenshaw said.
Koko punched through from 4 yards for the score with less than a minute to go in the half, sending the Tornadoes to intermission with a 6-0 lead.
The Bears (5-2) had made the going tough for the Crenshaw-Koko duo for a half. The two Tornado super backs had each run for better 170 yards against the rival Bulldogs two weeks ago. In a regular-season meeting with Sevier County only a week ago, the Tornado tandem poured it on after halftime to carry Alcoa to a 32-14 victory.
This time, the Bears tore right back.
“This was a great year for us,” Sevier County coach Jim Bingham said. “For us to get in here in the second year in the championship game, that says a lot for the kids. This was the year we felt like we could compete with Alcoa. They really did a great job.”
The Trenham score not only handed the Tornadoes their first deficit this season, it emboldened the Bears. The Alcoa running game slowed, with it the large chunks of time the Tornadoes were consuming as well.
“I’m always looking to use as much time as possible,” Russell said. “There are three things that can happen when you throw, and two of them are bad.”
Bach, with 11 touchdowns passes against one interception on the season, would come up with the goods on the winning drive, with a couple of sweet moves by the Alcoa coaching staff playing a big part.
To provide Koko with a different angle of attack, Russell moved the star back out of the “I” and put him at a wingback. Koko and McMurray scampered for big gains on reverses on successive first-down plays.
“They kept our running game on lock down,” Koko said, “so we had to get outside.”
With the Bears now looking to protect the corners, Crenshaw fired through a gaping hole over the left side on the final play of the third quarter to put the Tornadoes in scoring position.
Bach found Dean over the left side two plays later.
“We knew he’d be one-on-one out there,” Russell said, “and he can beat anyone one-on-one.”
The Bears mounted one last charge with time waning, Manning passing Sevier County to first-and-10 at the Alcoa 23 with less than a minute remaining. Tornado linebacker Brandon Strissel knocked down a Manning pass on first and second down. A host of Tornado defenders ensured a third-down attempt fell incomplete.
On fourth down, Alcoa’s Thomas Loy and Corey Long chased Manning from the pocket, forcing the Bear quarterback into an awkward, errant throw with 25 seconds to play. Bach took a knee on the ensuing play to exhaust the remaining time.