COOKEVILLE – Alcoa’s football team pulled off a historic game-winning drive Saturday night.
Senior quarterback Walker Russell scored from 1 yard with 16 seconds left and lifted the Tornadoes (15-0) to a 21-14 victory over Covington (14-1) in the Class 3A BlueCross Bowl at Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium.
Russell’s touchdown run capped a 17-play, 80-yard drive that started with 5 minutes, 1 second left in the game. Zeke Rankin added the PAT kick for the final score.
“We had to suck it up,” said Alcoa coach Gary Rankin, Zeke’s father. “It was do or die, just about. If we went into overtime with them, I don’t know if we could have won. We just couldn’t stop them guys. They have a tremendous offense. That quarterback (Brock Lomax) is a winner. You know, stopping them for 10 yards (in overtime), it’s going to be tough, I thought, so we had to score at the end.”
Alcoa beat Covington for the second consecutive year in the title game. The Tornadoes have won four straight Class 3A state titles and a state-record 17 championships.
Their latest hinged on a drive to remember.
With 1:20 left, K’vaughn Tyson ran for 6 yards on third-and-2 to Covington’s 25.
Two plays later, Ahmauud Sankey, MVP of the game, ran from the 22-yard line inside the 10, but the play was called back for holding.
A play later, Zeke Rankin lined up for a field goal on fourth-and-7 from the 22, but the Tornadoes shifted into formation to run a play and pulled Covington offsides.
“We wanted to get inside the 15 for a field goal because there was just too much wind,” Gary Rankin said. “When we got the holding call, I thought we might have to go into overtime, but we shifted on our field goal and got 5 (yards) that we needed and then went for it and got it.”
On fourth-and-2 from the 17 with 43 seconds left, Russell gained 6 yards to the 11. He ran for 10 yards on the next play, then scored on the next play.
“I knew if we just played our game and cut out simple mistakes, penalties, turnovers, they couldn’t stop us,” Russell said of the winning drive. “We were moving down the field. We were standing on the sidelines and before we went out there, I told my offensive line, ‘If you handle them up front, our skill positions will get the job done and we’ll win this thing.’ I think we had that mindset going into that drive and we got it done.”
Covington ran two plays and the game ended with Adonis Salter sacking Lomax.
“It’s my senior year, and all four years I got rings,” senior linebacker Shannon Mitchell said. “I’m going out with a bang, 15-0, four rings, so I couldn’t be more blessed.”
Sankey, a sophomore wide receiver, finished with 117 all-purpose yards. He rushed for 60 yards and a touchdown on nine carries and caught three passes for 40 yards and a touchdown.
“I worked hard all summer, all through school, training,” Sankey said. “We worked hard as a team. It feels good.”
Saturday’s game was tied 7-7 at halftime, and both teams had just two full possessions in the first half.
On the game’s opening drive, Covington moved from its 20 to Alcoa’s 38 with its Wing-T offense, but Caleb Winfrey’s fumble was recovered by Jakobe Robinson.
Alcoa needed 10 plays to score. Sankey’s 10-yard run and Rankin’s PAT kick put the Tornadoes up, 7-0, with 2:29 left in the first quarter.
Covington drove from its 20 to Alcoa’s 29 and faced a third-and-12 situation.
Cordarius Page, who entered the game with 1,229 rushing yards, caught a 29-yard TD pass from Lomax. Arbrey Cook’s PAT kick tied it with 10:24 left in the half.
Alcoa’s next drive ended when Sankey’s fumble was recovered by Joshua McGarity with 6:01 to play in the half.
Ten plays later, Lomax was sacked by Robinson, and the first-half clock ran out.
“I just told myself not to let (the fumble) get me down,” Sankey said. “As long as they didn’t score then I’d just let the fumble be gone. It was in the past.”
Covington had possession for 15:49 of the first half, while Alcoa had possession for 8:11.
Alcoa made it 14-7 on its opening drive of the third quarter with Sankey catching a 13-yard TD pass from Russell. Sankey made an 18-yard catch-and-run play from Russell on third-and-17 from Alcoa’s 44.
Covington tied it on the next possession, moving 80 yards on 16 plays. Lomax scored on a 4-yard run, and Cook’s kick tied it with 11:21 left to play.
Alcoa’s next drive was stopped on downs at Covington’s 26 when Russell’s fourth-down pass to Tyler Boyd was incomplete in the end zone.
The Chargers gained one first down, then was forced to punt, and Alcoa began its final drive.
What was going through Sankey’s mind?