Two of the area's traditional powers will take center stage at Finley Stadium to begin the 2014 high school football season.
The first Times Free Press Best of Preps Kickoff Classic will match Cleveland against McCallie on Thursday, Aug. 21. They have been given special permission from the TSSAA to open the season one day before the rest of the area's teams are allowed to play their "week zero" games.
"There's just something special about that first night, the start of the high school football season," said McCallie athletic director Bubba Simmons, who agreed to give up a home game to move the meeting to Finley Stadium. "We're excited to be a part of something that the entire community and area can come out and watch."
Last year's meeting between the two at Cleveland was one of the most electrifying offensive games of the entire season. The teams combined for 35 first-quarter points and more than 1,100 total yards. McCallie's Blue Tornado eventually pulled away for a 55-35 win.
"It was a shootout, no doubt, but hopefully both teams can slow the other down a little better this next time," Cleveland coach Ron Crawford said. "McCallie has about everybody back, so you know they'll still be explosive and it will be a huge challenge for us.
"When we told our kids that the game was moving up a day and going to be at Finley, they all got really excited. It's a great setting and the cool thing is there will be plenty of seats and parking and that type stuff to make it more enjoyable for the fans. Then it's just our job to find a way to make it an exciting game."
Tickets for the game will be $8 in advance and $10 at the gate.
The two teams will put more than 10 college prospects on the field. Most of McCallie's highest-rated recruits are in the junior class, including quarterback JaVaughn Craig, who totaled 381 yards and four touchdowns in last year's game at Cleveland. The Blue Raiders will have at least six senior prospects, including Cleveland quarterback Austin Massey, receivers/defensive backs T.J. Parker and Eric Goodwin, running back Raquan Bunyan and linemen Koran Kennedy and John Gaither.
"I'm really glad we're able to get meaningful high school football back in Finley, and we're honored to be a partner with the Times Free Press and the Best of Preps label," stadium executive director Paul Smith said. "To start off the season with teams the caliber of McCallie and Cleveland should make for a memorable night for football fans throughout the area.
"We're hoping this builds something for the future as far as having more big games and rivalries at Finley Stadium."
Contact Stephen Hargis at email@example.com or 423-757-6293.
Stephen has covered local sports in the tri-state area for more than 24 years, having been with the Times Free Press since its inception, and has been an assistant sports editor since 2005. Stephen is among the most decorated writers in the TFP’s newsroom, winning numerous state, regional and national writing awards, including seven in 2013 and a combined 12 in the last two years. He was named one of the top 10 sports writers ...