BY GABRIEL GARCIA
MARYVILLE DAILY TIMES
ALCOA - It took one play to demonstrate that this edition of the Alcoa-Greeneville collision was not going to go the Greene Devils' way.
Down 7-0 but driving to the Tornadoes' 14-yard line Friday night at Goddard Field, the Greene Devils gambled on fourth-and-3 only to see do-everything quarterback Tanner Stewart fall inches short of the first.
It was essentially the end of the Greene Devils' chances against a fiery Alcoa squad playing its most inspired game since a loss to Maryville. The Tornadoes took over, replied with a nine-play, 88-yard drive for their second touchdown and rode the momentum all the way to a 42-0 shutout win over a Greeneville team that lost 25 seniors from a run of two straight Class 4A state titles.
Greeneville fourth-year coach Caine Ballard was not content to use that as an excuse, and he let his team have it after it suffered the full brunt of Alcoa's revenge for last season's affair -- a 42-14 Greeneville win at Burley Stadium.
"We'd better change fast in the next five weeks," Ballard yelled at his team after the game, which was rated No. 6 in Class 4A coming into Friday. "I'm gonna fire some captains, and I'm gonna hire some new ones."
Alcoa (5-1), ranked No. 2 in Class 3A, made sure that Stewart would not have a repeat of last season's dazzling performance, in which he gashed the Tornadoes for 180 yards and three touchdowns on 27 rushes. This time around, the senior was held to just three rushing yards on the ground on 11 carries and was sacked twice.
Stewart's only pass play of consequence was a 32-yard strike on Hays Culbreth's post pattern -- the Greene Devils' first offensive play of the game -- that carried the Greene Devils into Alcoa territory, threatening to even the score until that fateful fourth down turned the momentum.
"We responded a little bit and drove down the field, had a nice play of our own. I was hoping to go answer them right there and settle our kids down a little bit, but you know, we just didn't make the plays," Ballard said.
Greeneville, which was coming off a 72-7 drubbing of South Greene, mustered 68 yards of total offense while giving up 420 to the Tornadoes, 284 of those on the ground.
"They made the plays," Ballard said of Alcoa. "They were obviously the better football team. I give them all the credit. We were terrible tonight."
The Tornadoes, who had already marched 80 yards on nine plays to take their early lead, demonstrated the strength of their balanced attack after Greeneville's failed fourth-down conversion, pounding the Greene Devils' defense with four straight runs to get across midfield, helped by a personal foul penalty. Then Alcoa took to the skies, with quarterback Peyton Wall hitting two straight passes to set up first-and-goal from the Greeneville 8. Three plays later, Alcoa tailback Ezekiel Koko dove in to put the Greene Devils in a 13-0 hole less than a minute into the second quarter.
After two first downs on its opening drive, Greeneville only picked up one more first down against a physical and hard-hitting Alcoa defense that had been challenged for two weeks to respond to last year's thumping.
A 44-yard scamper from Koko, after bouncing out from a scrum and fighting off two more would-be tacklers, was case in point for Greeneville's concerns.
"Our defensive line is struggling right now, but we knew that coming in," Ballard said. "But I thought we were getting better the last couple weeks with our competition nowhere near what it was tonight, and it showed."
"I'm not taking anything away from them (Alcoa). They are a very physical Alcoa-style football team, and they've got a chance to do what they do every year, and that's win it again."
The series between Greeneville and Alcoa stands even all-time at 2-2 after Friday's loss.
The Greene Devils return to District 2-AA play next week, hosting West Greene Sept. 28 at Burley Stadium. The Tornadoes also return to district play hosting Kingston in a Thursday night affair.