No. 2 Baylor, No. 3 McCallie bring big, talented lines into latest showdown

Staff photo by Robin Rudd / McCallie defensive lineman Carson Gentle, right, stops Montgomery Bell Academy's Johnothan Moore on fourth down during a TSSAA DII-AAA East Region game on Sept. 2 in Chattanooga. MBA moved to No. 1 in the state rankings by beating McCallie, and now the third-ranked Blue Tornado are set to visit No. 2 Baylor on Friday in their annual rivalry showdown.

Baylor is undefeated and mostly unchallenged so far this season. McCallie has been unflinching against top-level competition and has the unmistakable mental edge of having won the past six series meetings.

While there are many other words with the prefix "un" that could be used to describe the two rivals, the outcome of Friday's matchup of state-ranked Division II-AAA foes will likely be decided by the big'uns up front.

"They can certainly give you problems with their skill players on both sides of the ball, but what really stands out is how incredibly physical they are up front," Red Raiders first-year head coach Erik Kimrey said of No. 3 McCallie (4-1, 1-1 DII-AAA East).

Running behind a veteran offensive line — five of the six starters are seniors, including tight end Dalton Restelli and left tackle Brycen Sanders, who's committed to Ole Miss — Caleb Hampton (5-10, 205) has averaged 9.9 yards per carry in gaining 824 yards and scoring 14 touchdowns for No. 2 Baylor (5-0, 2-0).

Besides the bulldozers up front, the battering ram of a running back credits much of his success to quarterback Whit Muschamp (1,094 passing yards) and receiver Amari Jefferson (13.4 yards per catch), a pair of juniors whose ability to connect has prevented defenses from keying on stopping Hampton.

"We have a lot of weapons on offense, and all those guys are crucial for our success," he said. "Honestly, I just feel blessed to get to play in an atmosphere like this game.

"I think about the streak a lot because I'm a senior, so there's definitely some extra motivation."

During the past six meetings, McCallie has allowed Baylor to rush for more than 100 yards only once, outgaining the Red Raiders on the ground by an average of 270-90 during that span and holding them to 43 rushing yards last year.

"You want to treat it like a normal game, but it's Baylor so you know the physicality and intensity will be higher," said Blue Tornado senior safety Ollie Carter, who had an interception in last year's game. "We'll have to focus more on tackling as a team and use our angles as a team to not let Caleb break big runs."

McCallie's defensive front has been at its stingiest this season when facing its toughest competition. The Blue Tornado limited Chattanooga Christian, which has averaged 49 points over its past five games, to seven points and less than 200 total yards. The following week, they pitched a second-half shutout against Atlanta's Woodward Academy, which boasted five Football Bowl Subdivision prospects, by simply being more physical in the trenches, where Tennessee-committed defensive end Carson Gentle often drew double teams intended to keep him out of the backfield.

The lone loss for the three-time reigning state champions was by three points to Montgomery Bell Academy, which moved to No. 1 after that Sept. 2 win at McCallie.

"I do think our schedule has been harder than Baylor's, so I hope that helps us in this game," McCallie coach Ralph Potter said. "We know our team pretty well and what we need to work on. Defensively we're probably a little further ahead, although offensively I think we're going to have a really, really good football team at some point, and I hope it's Friday night."

Contact Stephen Hargis at or 423-757-6293. Follow him on Twitter @StephenHargis.