The Loudon High School Redskins’ hopes of advancing to Cookeville fell short Friday night when the Alcoa High School Tornadoes dominated all three phases of the game en route to a 56-0 win in the Class 3A semifinals.
LHS head football coach Jeff Harig knew his team was in for the biggest challenge of the season.
“We’re a pretty good team,” he said. “Obviously, they’re championship level in all phases of the game. We played at a pretty high level this year, but it didn’t match that. Early on, our punt team got us beat twice — once for a blocked punt for a touchdown, the other time for a punt return. Then the game got away from us there trying to make some things happen through the air — two pick sixes. When it’s 28-0 and they’ve only gained three yards, it’s tough to overcome that.”
The Tornadoes struck early when Class 3A Mr. Football finalist Grey Carroll rushed in to block the Redskins’ punt on their opening drive and returned it 15 yards into the end zone to lead 7-0.
Two series later, Alcoa scored again on special teams with a 73-yard punt return by Isiah Cox to give the Tornadoes a 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter.
Loudon looked to gain some momentum on its next offensive drive with a 26-yard pass from Keaton Harig to Tyler Whitfield, but Alcoa’s Caden Tollett stepped into a pass three plays later and returned the interception 35 yards for another score.
The Tornadoes added four more touchdowns before halftime to lead 49-0, with only nine offensive plays accounted for in the first half.
“We had some on-and-off success early running the football, we just couldn’t put enough together and be consistent enough on offense,” Harig said. “We just weren’t consistent enough, offensively, so I felt like ... we used some of the stuff from (Austin-East) last week where we went no-back and wanted to take advantage of some things.
“At the end of the day, no matter what game plan we had, the question I asked my staff as we looked and watched film, ‘How many of Loudon’s players would they trade for?’” he added. “We felt like we had two or three guys that could start here over some of the guys they have, so when you’re down eight guys on a talent level, you’ve got to hope they come back to you and your guys play above and beyond what they are, and we did not match that tonight.”
Alcoa opened the third quarter with a 65-yard run on the first play of scrimmage, followed by a 6-yard touchdown run by Itty Salter three plays later to give the Tornadoes their final score of the night.
The Redskins leaned on a balanced attack all season long, but the Tornadoes stymied the rushing and passing schemes. Loudon finished the night with just 60 rushing yards and 48 yards through the air.
“I thought we finished, I thought we showed in spots that if we execute, we could play with them,” Harig said. “It’s just, I didn’t see enough consistency by anybody that showed me ... and that includes me as a coach. Obviously, we’re going up against, probably, the best coach in Tennessee football history, and this is 0-13 for us. I just got to find a way, what are we going to do to get over this hump because it’s not going away.”
Despite the loss, coaches, fans and players are celebrating another historic season that saw the Redskins accumulate a 13-1 overall record and their first semifinal appearance since 2014.
The senior class played a large role in achieving that success and building a solid foundation for years to come.
“They laid it on the line for us for 14 weeks, so we’re not ashamed,” Harig said. “What I told them, there’s 12 other teams that we played this year that would’ve given everything, anything to trade spots with us to be playing this late in the game. I’m proud of them — 13-0, 13-1 season. They laid it on the line for us and really represented this community well.”