For a five-minute, 21-second span late in the third quarter Alcoa High School’s offense resembled what Gary Rankin expects it to be.
That stretch of play was enough for Alcoa to begin its run for a third consecutive Class 3A state championship with a 30-14 victory over Grace Christian on Thursday, but it was not enough to impress the Tornadoes’ 12th-year head coach in the slightest.
“We hadn’t done anything until that time, so it was certainly time,” Rankin said. “We didn’t do a good job coaching. The offense wasn’t very good. We’re going to get that fixed, but (tonight) was a sloppy offensive performance overall.”
Alcoa (1-0) found the end zone on its opening possession with a three-yard scamper by junior running back K’Vaughn Tyson, but struggled the rest of the first half, carrying a 9-7 lead into the locker room at halftime.
Late in the third quarter, though, the Tornadoes’ defense sparked the offense on a Grace Christian fourth-down conversion that ended with senior wide receiver Blake Rankin being stripped inside the five-yard line.
Sophomore CJ Armstrong recovered the fumble inside the end zone, and then proceeded to haul in a short pass from junior quarterback Walker Russell and scoot 65 yards for a touchdown that gave the Tornadoes a 16-7 lead.
Over the 5:21, Alcoa tacked on two more touchdowns off big-yardage plays — a 57-yard run by junior running back Kareem Rodriguez and a 34-yard touchdown pass from Russell to junior receiver Connor Canfield.
“We had to bring our intensity up,” said Armstrong, who transferred from Fulton this season. “It was too low and we weren’t ready for the game.”
Prior to that wave of points, the Rams (0-1) played well, but failed to capitalize on a few opportunities while the Tornadoes were still scuffling.
Still, keeping one of the premier teams in the state within arm’s length for that amount of time showed first-year head coach Rusty Bradley everything he needed to know about his team.
“I learned that we’re going to compete,” Bradley said. “Our guys fought, and they fought the whole game. I told them before the game that we had three goals: love God, love each other and honor God with our effort. We did that tonight.
“Unfortunately, it didn’t end with a victory on the scoreboard, but that is just the way life is. We gave it our best shot and I could not ask our guys to give more effort and play harder than they did. If we play that way every week, we’ll be OK.”
Meanwhile, Alcoa must wait until it travels to Corbin, Ky., on Saturday to see if its offense can have a better showing.
Rankin wrote off any of Thursday’s struggles stemming from senior wide receiver Tykee Ogle-Kellogg’s dismissal from the team on Aug. 11, but there were a few balls that fell incomplete in the first half that the UTSA commit was capable of catching.
Regardless, the Tornadoes are forced to move on without him, but it will take time to adjust. Thursday was an example of that, but for those five minutes in the third quarter, Alcoa also showed what it is capable of when it figures it out.
“It definitely sucks, but after a couple of weeks it’ll be fine,” Russell said. “We have plenty of good receivers and playmakers. It wasn’t just Tykee. People sometimes think that Tykee was the whole team, but we have other good players to get the ball to, and we’ll be good once we get everybody going.”