Gary Rankin will have to wait at least one more week to claim his 400th career win.
Behind a pair of late takeaways and a game-changing run by sophomore running back Tee Hodge, Maryville downed county rival Alcoa, 28-24, to prevent the winningest coach in Tennessee high school football history from accomplishing another milestone.
“I’m just proud of our kids,” Maryville head coach Derek Hunt said. “The resiliency they showed and the grit, we knew it wasn’t going to be easy because Alcoa is so well-coached. They scheme us better than anybody we play and I thought they showed that tonight.
“I thought they played well enough to win. When you have two good teams like this, sometimes it’s about where the ball bounces and who makes one extra play late.”
Alcoa (2-2) was on the cusp of history before a two-play stretch in the fourth quarter swung the game in Maryville’s favor.
Leading 24-21 with 11:10 remaining in the fourth quarter, junior quarterback Walker Russell looked to extend the Tornadoes’ lead, but fumbled on the one-yard line and Maryville recovered in the end zone.
On the ensuing play, Hodge broke free for an 80-yard touchdown run that gave Maryville its first lead since the first quarter.
“I’ve been trying to be more patient because my problem is over-running plays, and I saw that cutback,” Hodge said. “Once I made that cut and got past the linebackers, I knew nobody was going to catch me.”
That 14-point swing proved to be the difference, but the Tornadoes had other chances to flip the script.
A false start prevented Alcoa from going for it on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter, forcing them to settle for a field goal, and a 51-yard touchdown run by junior running back Kareem Rodriguez in the third quarter was called back because of a holding penalty in the third quarter and
“All turnovers hurt you,” Rankin said. “We had our chances, but we left three touchdowns out there.”
Hodge’s long run in the fourth provided the only points of the second half, a stark contrast to the track meet the first half offered.
Junior running back K’Vaughn Tyson scored three touchdowns in the opening half to pace Alcoa to a 24-21 halftime lead. Hodge added a second touchdown in the first half and senior quarterback Dylan Hopkins tossed a pair of scores — a 25-yard pass to senior wide receiver Christian Markham and a 77-yard bomb to senior wide receiver Byron Brown.
“We played about as hard as we’ve played since we’ve been here,” Rankin said. “The effort was great. I’m proud of my kids. They fought all night.”
Hodge and senior running back Isaiah Cobb each eclipsed the century mark for the Rebels (3-1), rushing for 114 and 109 yards, respectively. Russell completed 18 of his 27 pass attempts for 171 yards for the Tornadoes.
For third time in four games, Maryville entered halftime trailing, and for the second time they came away with a victory. It was also the second time that the Rebels won despite Hopkins not being able to finish the game because of injury.
“I think that speaks a lot to our depth,” Hunt said. “In games like this, a lot of times it is about who has the better twos. Our guys have to be ready. Our motto this week was practice like a starter, because we didn’t know who would be starting at a few positions.
“It was a really good team win. The ball bounced our way, but you have to make a play, and we did.”
Alcoa, on the other hand, falls to .500 on the season, but it leaves Goddard Field with a sense of optimism. Rankin will get another crack at win No. 400 next week when the Tornadoes host Pigeon Forge.
“We’re disappointed, but we’ll get them back,” Rankin said. “If our kids will play like that, we’ll be one of the teams left standing at the end to make a run for a state championship. cc and that’s what we wanted to see.”