By Mike Blackerby
Alcoa assistant Brian Nix had a premonition following last year’s hard-fought 31-20 win over Covington in the Class 3A state championship football game.
“When I left the field after that game I said to myself I’d be shocked if we don’t play them again next year,” recounted Nix, Alcoa’s longtime defensive coordinator.
Nix’s gut feeling proved prophetic.
Fast forward to 3 p.m. Central on Saturday as Alcoa (14-0) and Covington (14-0) square off once again for the 3A state championship in the BlueCross Bowl in Cookeville.
The rematch has all the makings of a dandy.
A year ago, Alcoa needed a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to pull away from the Chargers last season and claim its third state title in a row.
Nix left Tennessee Tech’s Tucker Stadium with great respect for Covington, which is located in the Memphis metropolitan area.
“What’s impressive about them is just their basic fundamentals,” he said.
“We got up on them 14-0 last year and they responded. Their guys didn’t push the panic button.”
Tornadoes coach Gary Rankin also sounded a warning bell for those expecting an Alcoa runaway.
“(Covington) is as well coached as anybody we’ve played on our schedule,” said Rankin.
“They’ve got all their skill players back from last year. Their quarterback (Brock Lomax) is a four-year starter who, for what he does, is as good as anybody we’ve played. They’re legit.”
The wing-T conundrum
Covington features a run-first offense that operates out of the seldom-seen wing-T formation.
In fact, Alcoa hasn’t faced a wing-T offense all season.
The Chargers have rushed for more than 4,000 yards this season and feature a bevy of running backs, including sophomore Marcus Hayes, a Mr. Football semifinalist.
Just a sophomore, Hayes has rushed for 2,023 yards.
He scored the winning touchdown on a 10-yard run in overtime last week as Covington edged Stratford, 20-14.
Hayes ran for a season high 311 yards and four touchdowns earlier against Milan.
Cordarries Page has rushed for more than 1,000 yards this season.
Ke’shun Gant, who ran for 93 yards on 17 carries against Alcoa last season, has also had a big season for the Chargers.
“The first problem is we never see it (the wing-T) anymore,” explained Rankin.
“That’s our first and biggest problem. There is so much deception with the wing-T. You’ve to get where you need to be. They’ve got speed and a number of kids that can break it on any play. They’re experts at their system.”
Nix said Covington fits the prototype model for team that run the wing-T, which is based on angle-blocking schemes and confusing magician-like ball handling and deception by the quarterback.
Smaller, quicker linemen, like Covington has, thrive in the wing-T.
“They’re not big, they’re just tough and physical,” offered Nix.
He said Covington’s style of offense will test the Tornadoes’ ability to play assignment football on defense to the max.
“Anytime you play defense against it you have got to be disciplined with your eyes,” said Nix.
“Your read is not always going to take you to the ball. The one thing about that offense is ball distribution. They spread the ball around.”
Nix said the Chargers were a traditional wing-T team last year, but not as much this season.
“They’ve kept the nuts and bolts of the wing-T, but they’ve got more wrinkles this year. You’re going to see some shotgun stuff from them,” Nix said.
· Alcoa is going for a record 17th state championship since the advent of the playoff system by the TSSAA in 1969.
· Covington is making its third appearance in the state championship game since 2012. The Chargers are 0-5 in state championship games.
· Alcoa quarterback Walker Russell hopes to repeat his showing in last year’s state championship game where he earned offensive MVP honors. Russell was 8-of-14 passing for 123 yards and ran for 60 yards on 14 carries with a touchdown.
· Last year’s state championship game was almost a statistical dead heat. Alcoa had 330 total yards to Covington’s 298.