Alcoa, Powell set to represent East Tennessee at Blue Cross Bowl

Panthers looking for 1st, Tornadoes trying for 7th straight Gold Ball
Published: Dec. 2, 2021 at 4:41 PM EST
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KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WVLT) - It’s hard not to be proud of our two Knoxville area representatives at this year’s Blue Cross Bowl. In Class-5A, it’s Matt Lowe’s Powell Panthers, and in Class-3A, Gary Rankin’s Alcoa Tornadoes are going for their 7th straight tile. How will the Tornadoes get it down? It might be better to ask, how can they not?

The Tornadoes have been a dominant team all season long, shutting out opponents while scoring at least 38 points in five of their last six games. Alcoa’s only loss was to Class-6A and Blount County rival Maryville back in Week 4. Is there pressure to keep it going? Mr. Football finalist and quarterback Caden Buckles says sure, but that’s where legendary coach Gary Rankin comes in, ”It’s a lot of pressure, but staying even is on coach Rankin he doesn’t let us think anything is bigger than it’s supposed to be and every week is the same preparation.”

Echoing Buckles’ sentiment is the head coach himself, who says, ”We don’t sit around bragging or hitting on our chests who we are. We practice this same now as we did in week-2. It’s not a different practice because it’s a state championship week.”

Coach Gary Rankin, already the winningest coach in Tennessee high school football history, is aiming to win his 17th career state championship and his 12th at Alcoa. He’s also won four state titles at Riverdale has 530 all-time wins.

On to the Powell Panthers, who are taking on Page High School. Page is an excellent offensive team that’s done well in high-scoring shootouts, like their 56-52 win over Hendy County in the Class-3A state semifinals.

But on the other side of the ball, the Panthers have been stout on defense, allowing just 71 yards to West in the semifinal. Leading that defense is five-star Texas A&M commitment Walter Nolen, the No. 2 recruit in the country.

Head coach Matt Lowe says Nolen and that defense thrive off the offense and vise-versa, ”Whether it’s a big sack or a turnover the defense gets, it’s incredible how the offense goes and scores after the defense makes a big play or exactly the opposite offense goes out there and makes a big play, and then the defense wants to show off a bit too so I think they do a tremendous job feeding off each other.”

The Panthers will certainly be hard to beat. They’re going for their first championship. It’s their first time at state since 2011. Both teams will head out Friday morning. Alcoa leaves Blount County at 7:15 a.m.

And then high noon for Powell as they leave the high school and check-in at the Middle School before making the short drive down to Chattanooga. You’ll be able to see both of these games as well as all the Blue Cross Bowl games on our sister station, MyVLT.

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