Gary Rankin claims win No. 400 in Alcoa’s rout of Pigeon Forge

Gary Rankin’s 400th career win as a head coach was wrapped up well before the final whistle.

Alcoa was dominant on defense and efficient on offense, limiting Pigeon Forge to 61 total yards while scoring on seven of their first eight drives, to cruise to a 52-0 victory and push Tennessee’s all-time winningest high school football coach to the 400-win plateau on Friday at Goddard Field.

“We’re getting better and that’s what you want,” Rankin said. “They were outmatched a little bit, but when you play somebody you outmatch a little bit, you still need to take care of business and that’s what we did.”

It did not take long for the Tornadoes (3-2, 1-0 Region 2-3A) to start taking care of business, forcing a three-and-out on the opening possession of the game and driving 42 yards in two plays to strike first.

Two more touchdown drives followed before the end of the first quarter and by halftime Alcoa held a 38-0 lead over the Tigers (2-2, 0-1). Freshman Grey Carroll returned the second-half kickoff 70 yards for a touchdown and the Tornadoes added an Austin Richardson touchdown to cap the scoring.

Before the horn sounded on history, though, Alcoa took a timeout to recognize Rankin’s accomplishment on the field as athletic director Josh Stephens tossed the 12th-year Tornado coach a game ball.

Afterwards, Rankin was doused with water following a team picture that will commemorate another milestone in one of the greatest high school football coaches’ career.

“Fads come and go but principles don’t, and that man operates on principles,” defensive coordinator Brian Nix said. “He cares about kids and coaches and teaches them discipline and accountability — all the stuff that is not cool or sexy, but it always works.”

Rankin’s principles have been successful at every stop he has made along his coaching career.

He started with a 0-10 mark in his first year at Smith County, but went on to turn that program around, winning 58 games over seasons, including an undefeated regular season in his final year. Sixteen seasons at Riverdale followed, with Rankin racking up 194 wins and four state championships.

At Alcoa, he has won 148 games and eight state championships, including each of the last two Class 3A titles.

“I’ve been at some good programs and this program is good — it’s on stable ground,” Rankin said. “I’ve been fortunate. I will take credit for being smart enough to hire a lot of guys that are good football coaches. I’ve had some all-star coaching staffs and I have one here.”

Rankin has also had some special teams, and this Alcoa squad has the potential to earn that distinction.

Friday proved that.

The defense held the Tigers to just four first downs and prevented them from converting on any of their 12 third-down attempts. Meanwhile, the offense racked up 334 total yards and six touchdowns on 35 plays, despite missing junior running back K’Vaughn Tyson and sophomore wide receiver CJ Armstrong.

Alcoa flashed its depth, having 18 different players catch or carry the ball. Junior running back Kareen Rodriguez garnered the most touches, carrying the ball three times for 21 yards and touchdown and hauling in two receptions for 46 yards.

Junior quarterback Walker Russell completed six of his eight pass attempts for 122 yards and two touchdowns, while also rushing for another score.

“We were beat up some, but we expect our kids to step up and play,” Rankin said. “We played pretty good for not having those kids, but we’ll need them next week or we won’t have the same result we had today. Everybody gets banged up, so that’s not an excuse, but the kids who came in played well.”

Rankin added another achievement to his illustrious resume, but he is relieved that all the fanfare of No. 400 is out of the way.

Now the focus can shift to where he wants it; next week’s game at Dobyns-Bennett.

“He’s relieved to get done talking about it because he hasn’t thought one thing about it,” Nix said. “All he is thinking about is the next game and that’s how he operates. … That’s the secret. It’s sustained effort all the time and that’s because he doesn’t look ahead and he doesn’t let the past dissuade him.”

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