New territory for Pigeon Forge
Pigeon Forge’s athletes are usually in heated gyms by now.
But here was the Tigers’ football team on Wednesday, running plays in the chilly air behind the high school.
“It’s cold right now, which is a good thing,” said Pigeon Forge coach Scott Meadows. “I’m happy for the players. The team, they’ve worked hard.”
The Tigers (6-5), for the first time in school history, will play in the second round of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s Class 3A playoffs tonight. Pigeon Forge had never won a playoff game until last week’s 34-27 win at Sullivan North. The Tigers’ reward? A road trip to face an Alcoa team that has won 12 state championships, including one when Meadows was the coach at the Blount County school. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m.
“It’s Alcoa,” said Pigeon Forge sophomore Noah Whaley. “Everybody hears that and they freak out. You’ve just got to keep your composure and play them like they’re another team.”
Few people understand the Goddard Field intimidation factor better the Meadows. The coach said when he was there, you could often tell how a game was going to go in warmups. While playing deep into November is an expectation for the Tornadoes (10-1), many of the Tigers had never played in a postseason game, let alone won one before last Friday.
“You just can’t worry about who they are,” said Pigeon Forge quarterback Tanner Sharp. “If you go in thinking, ‘Oh they’re Alcoa,’ then you’re going to lose no matter what. You’ve just got to go in with full hope.”
Unfortunately for the Tigers, Alcoa isn’t just riding on past successes this season. Meadows said the Tornadoes deserve all the accolades they’ve received this fall. This year’s incarnation has more size than Meadows said he remembered from the great championship teams of the past. Lineman Braylon Young is a nominee for the Tennessee Titans Mr. Football Class AA lineman award.
The only blip this year for Alcoa was a 31-2 loss to unbeaten Maryville in the second game of the year. Since then, only three teams have scored more than eight points against the Tornadoes. Christian Academy of Knoxville scored the most over that stretch, posting 17, but giving up 51 in a loss on Oct. 18.
“We’ve got to make an ugly ballgame without an ugly score,” Meadows said. “Try to eliminate as many highlight plays as they can get on you. We’ve got to some way, somehow keep their offense off the field. ...
“They’ve got all the confidence in the world just because of the past and what they’ve done this year. What we’ve got to do is worry about ourselves and not worry about what they’re running on the field. They can’t run their whole team on the field. They run 11 out there.”
No matter the final score, Meadows said this is a huge learning experience for his team. Pigeon Forge not only gets to keep practicing the further it advances but it gets to measure itself against some of the best in the state.
Whaley’s just happy to be part of history.
“It’s great,” he said. “As a sophomore, I get to say I was part of the team that broke a record in school history.”