COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – On the way to the state championship game in Cookeville on Thursday, one of the buses carrying the McCallie football team broke down going over Cagle Mountain.
That ended up being the only thing that wasn’t clicking on all cylinders for the Blue Tornado.
McCallie dominated Montgomery Bell Academy 28-7 at the BlueCross Bowl to win the Division II-AAA state championship.
The Blue Tornado defense was suffocating, setting a new state championship game record for sacks with nine and holding the Big Red to just 42 rushing yards. The title is the second in school history, with the other coming in 2001.
“I can’t say enough about our defense,” said McCallie coach Ralph Potter. “We did such a great job stopping the run and forced them to go to the pass. We knew they were going to have trouble blocking our guys up front. That’s the best kind of pass defense you can have is to sack the quarterback and put pressure on him.”
“It’s so hard to get here, so when you get a chance and actually come through, it’s just so special. I was so proud of our guys and how they came out here in a new environment and executed and didn’t let it faze them at all.”
Senior quarterback DeAngelo Hardy was named the most valuable player of the game. Hardy had 103 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, and went 5-of-7 for 59 yards through the air.
“This is a wonderful moment. Give all the thanks to God, this coaching staff and my teammates,” Hardy said. “They played a heck of a game, and this offensive player of the game goes to the whole team. I let everybody touch it. I’ve dreamed of this moment my entire life. This means so much to us and the entire McCallie community. This is a special group of players who has been on the same page all year.”
After a slow start offensively by both teams, McCallie’s defense came up with the first score of the night. Late in the first quarter, senior Thompson Byrd jumped a route on the far sideline, picking it off and taking it 32 yards for the pick six and a 7-0 lead for the Blue Tornado.
“I knew when he went with a three-step drop and didn’t fake to the running back that it was going to be quick,” said Byrd. “So I waited, saw him pull up to throw and I broke on the ball. It is so great to have guys like Jay Hardy rushing the quarterback. We don’t have to sit as long or wait and let them run their routes. It’s quick and fast and you either see it or you don’t.”
Despite having allowed just 19 yards of offense by MBA with just under three minutes to go in the first half, the Big Red changed the game on one play. Freshman quarterback Marcel Reed hit Jack McKennon with a bomb for an 81-yard touchdown and just like that the game was knotted at seven.
McCallie responded with what Potter called one of the biggest two drives of the game. In just under two minutes, McCallie drove 73 yards in five plays, highlighted by Eric Rivers’ 44-yard touchdown run on an option pitch around the right end to restore the Blue Tornado’s seven-point lead heading into halftime.
“This is surreal; I probably won’t even realize what we did until tomorrow,” Rivers said. “I did this for my brothers. I wanted it more for them than for myself. We stayed locked in all game, controlled what we could control, and came out and did our thing.”
Receiving the second half kickoff, MBA came out with a game plan on their first drive that all but abandoned the run. Throwing the ball on eight of nine plays, the Big Red moved the ball to just outside the red zone.
But the McCallie defense bowed their backs again, and sophomore defensive lineman James Howard had two sacks in three plays to force the Big Red to punt.
“That was huge because they had found a little opening in our defense there,” Potter said. “We were trying to get it adjusted, but we couldn’t yet. I really thought about calling timeout, but the sacks prevented any points. I really think that drive to score at the end of the half and the one to stop them were the key to the game.”
Taking over at their own 20, the Blue Tornado went on a championship-defining drive over the next 5:39. With Hardy at the helm, McCallie’s offense marched 80 yards in 13 plays and the senior scored from two yards out to give his team firm command of the game with one quarter to play.
The defense took over from there. Play after play the commanding defensive line of McCallie, led by senior Jay Hardy, either stuffed the rushing game or hammered MBA’s young quarterback.
“This is crazy; we’ve been talking about this for the last four years,” said Jay Hardy, who will play for the Auburn Tigers next fall. “Both sides of the ball were clicking. Our defense really set the tone with all those sacks. We probably have the best defensive line in the state, so we knew they weren’t going to be able to run the ball. We knew they were going to air it out, so we worked all week on our pass rush.”
The Blue Tornado got another stop at the beginning of the final quarter, and DeAngelo Hardy scored again on the ensuing drive to all but seal the championship. Adam Smith’s sack on the final play of the game gave McCallie the record and was the cherry on top of one of the most complete performances Potter can remember.
“I felt like we just played great in every phase of the game,” said Potter, grinning from ear to ear. “We did a great job on special teams, found enough offense against a great defensive team, and then got a huge defensive touchdown from Byrd early.”
Rivers had 81 yards rushing on seven carries and four catches for 48 yards. B.J. Harris added 88 yards on 15 carries as the Blue Tornado rushed for 273 yards as a team.
McCallie 28, Montgomery Bell Academy 7
MBA 0 7 0 0 -- 7
McCallie 7 7 7 7 -- 28
M – Thompson Byrd 32 interception return (Andrew Prescott kick), 2:31
MBA – Jack McKennon 81 pass from Marcel Reed (Andrew Bulagarino kick), 3:23
M – Eric Rivers 44 run (Prescott kick), 1:26
M – DeAngelo Hardy 2 run (Prescott kick), 1:54
M – Hardy 1 run (Prescott kick), 9:03
First Downs 13 14
Rushes-Yards 30-42 41-273
Passing 198 59
Total yards 240 332
Comp-Att-Int 12-19-1 5-7-0
Punts-Avg. 5-30.8 3-29.0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 2-1
Penalties-Yards 3-24 2-20
Rushing: Hardy 17-103, B.J. Harris 15-88, Rivers 7-81 (M).
Passing: Reed 11-17-1, 179, William Tyrone 1-1-0, 19, Sam Banks 0-1-0, 0 (MBA); Hardy 5-7-0, 59 (M).
Receiving: McKennon 4-95, Zak Herbstreit 4-60 (MBA); Rivers 4-48 (M).
Other Standouts: Byrd interception; Aaron Crowder 2.5 sacks; James Howard, Adam Smith, Jay Hardy two sacks each (M).
Records: McCallie 11-2, MBA 8-5.
(E-mail Kevin Llewallyn at firstname.lastname@example.org)