For the Times Free Press
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - For 31 minutes Friday night, McCallie was cruising along. The next 17 proved to be the difference as the Blue Tornado suffered their first loss of the season.
On the wrong end of a Harrison Reed 45-yard field goal as time expired, McCallie dropped a 34-31 decision to Siegel at Ken Nolan Stadium.
A turnover and the inability to sustain drives in the second half is what dropped Division II-AA's third-ranked team to 3-1.
The Blue Tornado scored on three of their seven first-half drives -- a first half in which the teams combine for 82 plays. Leading 21-10 at halftime, McCallie scored on its first two drives of the second half to push the lead to 31-10 with 17 minutes left in the game.
Then the conversions began.
They were good for Siegel and were not for McCallie. The visitors were 0-for-5 on third down in the second half and had two key drops on third downs.
"We just got a little comfortable and stopped executing," said Tornado quarterback JaVaughn Craig. "It was a learning lesson out there tonight. We've got to come back and execute at all times and play well all four quarters."
Following McCallie's two scoring drives to open the second half, the Stars answered with 70- and 50-yard touchdown drives, converting two third downs and a fourth down into firsts along the way.
McCallie punted twice in between and was able to regain possession after the second punt bounced off a Siegel player. The Blue Tornado were 19 yards away from potentially taking the momentum for good, but a McCallie fumble on the next play was recovered by the home team, and the comeback was still alive.
"That turnover was huge," Siegel coach Greg Wyant said. "That's probably the turning point of the football game. We ate clock up, and you can't draw it up much better than that."
Siegel drove 82 yards in 15 plays, converting one third down and two fourths, including a Dakota Crane-to-Malik Flagg 14-yard pass on fourth-and-5 that tied the game at 31.
After another three-and-out was forced by Siegel's defense, the Stars had their biggest conversion of the night: A scrambling Crane heaved a desperation pass that was sure to be intercepted before Weston Hayes stepped in and turned the third-and-4 into a 27-yard completion. Six plays later, Reed was sending the 45-yard field goal through for the win.
"We had a lot of breaks go against us, and Siegel has a great program," Craig said. "They went into halftime and made a good change, and we took too long to adjust. Against a great team like that, we've got to be on our P's and Q's. It was a great learning experience, and we'll be ready next week."
Paul Silverblatt opened and closed the scoring for the Blue Tornado with runs of 2 and 5 in a 130-yard night. Andrew Busby scored on a 5-yard run as part of his 161 yards. Craig converted both of McCallie's fourth-down attempts. His first was a 2-yard keeper score, and his second kept a drive alive for Peter Phillips to connect on a 22-yard field goal.