By Steve Williams
That wasn’t a speed bump Christian Academy of Knoxville’s football team hit Friday night on the Road to Cookeville. It was a full-fledged roadblock.
Alcoa and its mighty defense stopped the Warriors and in the process accomplished something no other team has ever done, including Alcoa teams before it, and that’s shut out a Rusty Bradley-coached CAK team.
In years to come, Alcoa fans will turn down the corner of the page that contains the story of the 24-0 TSSAA Class 3A quarterfinal win over CAK, particularly those who were in attendance for the historic occasion at Bill Bailey Stadium and Goddard Field.
“Those guys have not been shut out forever,” said Alcoa head coach Gary Rankin. “That’s pretty big. When you shut them out, you’re playing some mighty good defense.”
If you had to point to one thing, it was Alcoa’s defensive line, said Bradley. “Their defensive line is phenomenal.”
Notre Dame (10-3) will travel to Alcoa (12-1) to test the Tornado “D” in the state semifinals Friday night at 7. Notre Dame outscored East Ridge 55-27 to advance.
CAK’s previous lowest scoring total in nine seasons with Bradley as head coach was three points against Alcoa in the 2010 quarterfinals. Those Tornadoes went on to win the state title.
The Warriors, who hang up an 11-2 worksheet, came into this year’s quarterfinal contest averaging 37.2 points per game, including their 33-7 loss at Alcoa in the regular season finale.
For several years, CAK’s offense under Bradley has had a reputation that equals the respect Alcoa’s defense has earned this season. The Warriors reached a high mark of 45.7 points per game when they captured their second straight state championship in 2012.
The Tornadoes bent but didn’t break in the two teams’ rematch. Substitute players who entered down the stretch didn’t drop the goose egg get either.
Alcoa drove 79 yards in 16 plays on its second possession to get the only points it really would need. On third-and-goal at the CAK 5-yard line, Alcoa used a trick play – flanker Dustin Clabough passed five yards to tight end Matthew McClurg – for the touchdown.
Alcoa’s second TD took just two plays. Tailback Karim Shereef found a hole, got in the secondary and raced 69 yards to tally with 9.3 seconds to go in the opening quarter. Mitchell McClurg added a two-point run to make up for the missed PAT kick after the first TD.
CAK tried to rally and made it to the Alcoa 32 before tackle Jon Decker said enough and sacked quarterback Cole Smith for an eight-yard loss. Smith threw incomplete and then was sacked for a 7-yard loss by end Ryan Clark on third down.
The series did end with a bright spot for the Warriors as freshman Stewart Howell got off a 46-yard punt that was downed at the 1-yard line by Jackson Pegram.
Alcoa junior quarterback Jaylen Myers’ 37-yard pass to Clabough got Alcoa out of the hole and the Tornadoes ended up punting from their 30.
Alcoa went to the air on its first possession after halftime and cashed in when Myers hit Tykee Ogle-Kellogg on a 35-yard skinny post. Ben Smith’s kick made it 21-0 with 8:26 showing in the third.
CAK mounted its most serious threat later in the quarter but Smith, the Warriors’ standout junior quarterback, didn’t get to finish it. Smith was momentarily knocked unconscious said Coach Bradley when he was thrown down for a 4-yard loss by Clark with 2:25 remaining.
Smith had regained consciousness and could be seen raising his arm as he was carted off the field to an ambulance. Coach Bradley, in his post-game interview, said Smith “was going to be okay.”
Backup QB West Shuler came in and completed back-to-back passes, including an 11-yarder to UT commitment Austin Pope, to set up fourth-and-goal at the Alcoa 4. Pope, taking a snap in the Wildcat formation, ran to the 1, but that wasn’t far enough to put points on the board.
A 16-yard run by Malik Salter coupled with a 15-yard personal foul penalty on CAK got Alcoa out of another hole as the quarter neared an end. The Tornadoes reached the CAK 19 before stalling and settled for a 36-yard field goal by Smith. That made it 24-0 with 5:09 left.
Baylor Caughorn returned the ensuing kickoff 57 yards to the Alcoa 32 before freshman Kareem Rodriquez got him down, and for a moment the Tornadoes’ shutout looked to be in jeopardy.
CAK couldn’t make a first down but recovered a fumble to get the ball back at the Alcoa 14. The Warriors had time for a handful of plays. Ian Dunkin, however, sacked Shuler for an 8-yard loss on first down and CAK couldn’t get any closer.
“We weren’t even thinking shutout going into the game, because you don’t shut out this kind of offense,” said Rankin.
“As we got towards the end, we didn’t want to shut them out enough to keep our starters in there, because you could get somebody hurt late. We put some subs in and somehow they kept them out of the end zone, and that was big for us.”
Bradley was proud of how his team finished the season.
“Our guys have fought through so much with injuries, having to change positions and move around,” he said. “I’m just so proud of the effort they gave and the perseverance they’ve shown.
“It would have been easy to just throw in the towel with all the injuries we’ve had, but our kids didn’t do that.”