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Staff photo / Alcoa's defense swarms to the ball during a playoff game at Red Bank in November 2020. Alcoa has shut out seven of its past eight opponents this season to return to the BlueCross Bowl and continue the bid for its seventh straight state title.

For more BlueCross Bowl coverage from the Times Free Press, read more here.

FRIDAY'S TSSAA BLUECROSS BOWL MATCHUPS AT FINLEY STADIUM

Class 3A

Alcoa Tornadoes (12-1) vs. East Nashville Eagles (10-4), 11 a.m.

What to know: Alcoa, which is playing in its ninth consecutive BlueCross Bowl, is going for its seventh straight title and 20th in program history. The Tornadoes have shut out their past two championship game opponents, 35-0 and 27-0, and they are led by Gary Rankin, the state's all-time winningest coach with a 466-78 overall record. The 67-year old Rankin has 16 state championships in his career — 12 with Alcoa and four at Murfreesboro's Riverdale.

Alcoa has shut out seven of its past eight opponents this season, when its only loss was to perennial 6A power Maryville by three. Since the start of the 2018 season, Alcoa has played 56 games and, boosted by 31 shutouts, has allowed just 5.7 points per game. After allowing 78 points in their first five games this year, the Tornadoes went seven games — from Sept. 23 until last Friday's semifinal — without allowing a point.

Prior to this season, East Nashville had never advanced past the second round. Second-year coach Jamaal Stewart is looking to help the Eagles become the first Metro Nashville team to win a state title since 2008, when Hillsboro defeated Maryville in 4A.

Who to watch for: Alcoa senior Caden Buckles, last year's BlueCross Bowl MVP, is a Tennessee Titans Mr. Football finalist who has completed 75% of his passes to throw for 1,766 yards and 20 touchdowns this season, when he has also rushed for 300 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns. He threw for 302 yards and two scores and ran for two touchdowns in the loss to Maryville.

He is protected by a line that includes 6-foot-5, 310-pound senior Tyler Jeffries — a four-star prospect with offers from Florida State, Georgia Tech, Miami, Mississippi State, Oregon, Virginia Tech and West Virginia — and junior Lance Williams (6-3, 300), a three-star prospect with offers from Cincinnati, Georgia Tech, Kansas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Virginia Tech and West Virginia.

East Nashville's offense is led by Zack Beard (1,638 passing yards, 20 touchdown passes, five touchdown runs) and Amarion Ford (1,872 rushing yards, 19 touchdown runs).

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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / South Pittsburg's Racash Kelly carries the ball after making a catch during last Friday's TSSAA Class 1A semifinal against Cloudland in Roan Mountain, Tenn.

Class 1A

South Pittsburg Pirates (10-2) vs. McKenzie Rebels (14-0), 3 p.m.

What to know: South Pittsburg is making its 13th appearance in a state title game and is the only program, regardless of classification, that has played for a title in all seven decades the TSSAA has had a playoff system. The Pirates own five championships (their most recent was in 2010) and have finished as runners-up seven times, including last year and their two BlueCross Bowl trips before that.

South Pittsburg's defense allowed just 99 total rushing yards in its first three playoff games and has 43 sacks this season, led by Josiah Huntley's 13. In four playoff games, the Pirates have 13 touchdowns of 35-plus yards by six different players.

This is the Rebels' second appearance in a title game; they lost 52-20 to South Pittsburg in the 2007 Class 1A final. McKenzie, which dropped down from 2A this season, defeated last year's 1A champion (Fayetteville) in the quarterfinals and last year's 2A champ (Peabody) in the semifinals. The Rebels have allowed more than 16 points only twice (28 to 2A's Huntingdon in the season opener and 30 to Peabody last week).

Who to watch for: South Pittsburg's De'Andre Kelly is a Mr. Football finalist who has 1,330 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns and has also returned two kickoffs for scores. Fellow senior Richard Hunter has passed for 1,526 yards and 24 touchdowns — he has surpassed 200 yards in three of four playoff games — and his twin brother Reginald has 40 catches for 726 yards and 17 touchdowns. Racash Kelly is sophomore who has averaged 27 yards per touch while totaling 617 this season. On defense, Gio Davis (6-4, 240) is a three-star prospect with offers from Tennessee, Ole Miss, Arkansas and Arizona State.

McKenzie's Marques Taylor (5-7, 171) is another Mr. Football finalist with 1,591 rushing yards (11.2 per carry) and 32 touchdowns, and he also has 219 receiving yards, has returned an interception for a score, and has blocked two kicks, taking one back for a touchdown. He has offers from Kentucky, Tennessee, Boston College, Memphis, Michigan State, Ole Miss and Wisconsin.

Fellow junior Jackson Cassidy has an offer from Middle Tennessee State. He has thrown for 1,614 yards and 18 touchdowns, rushed for 846 yards and 14 scores and leads the Rebels' defense with 56 tackles and five interceptions.

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Staff photo by Robin Rudd / Powell's Adarius Redmond, center, trying to avoid getting tackled during a playoff game at Walker Valley in November 2020, has compiled 852 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns this season to help the Panthers reach the BlueCross Bowl in Class 5A.

Class 5A

Powell Panthers (12-2) vs. Page Patriots (13-1), 7 p.m.

What to know: A Knoxville program has won four of the past five 5A titles. Neither of these teams has ever won a championship. Powell was runner-up in 1991 and 2011, while Page is making its first BlueCross Bowl appearance, having gone since 1997 without reaching as far as the semifinals until this year.

Who to watch for: Powell defensive lineman Walter Nolen is a Mr. Football finalist who has committed to Texas A&M and is the nation's No. 2 overall prospect per ESPN, with 76 tackles (29 for loss), 12 sacks, 27 quarterback pressures and six forced fumbles.

Powell junior Jordyn Potts was a 2020 Mr. Football semifinalist and has thrown for 2,681 yards and 24 touchdowns this season while rushing for 374 yards. His top targets include two juniors: Adarius Redmond — a four-star prospect with offers from Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, LSU, Michigan State, Ole Miss, Penn State, South Carolina, Tennessee, and Virginia Tech — and Ayden Greene (852 receiving yards, 11 touchdowns), a three-star recruit with offers from Marshall, Pittsburgh, Tennessee, Tulane, Virginia and West Virginia

Page's Jake McNamara, who has committed to Colorado State, threw for 442 yards and seven touchdowns in last week's semifinals to help his team rally from a 17-point fourth-quarter deficit, scoring two touchdowns in the final four minutes — including the winner with seven seconds left — in a 56-52 win. He threw for 317 of that total in the second half and for the season has 3,290 passing yards and 39 scores.

Compiled by Stephen Hargis. Contact him at at shargis@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.

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