Last Thursday night, Baylor fell to McCallie 34-28 in the first all-Chattanooga TSSAA football state championship game before an announced crowd of 18,149 inside Finley Stadium.
The loss denied Erik Kimrey's Red Raiders a second consecutive Division II-AAA title. Kimrey spoke this week about the historical evening and his second season at Baylor.
Q: Have you ever been part of a tougher loss in your coaching career?
A: "No, to be honest, I can't say that I have. In that moment, my job is to lead these young men and be proud of them, pat them on the back and tell them we love them. They gave forth a great effort. It wasn't good enough, but I'll never hang my head about a group of young men who bought into what we teach and the culture we're building at Baylor."
Q: How different was last Thursday's game compared to the one at McCallie in late September?
A: "The atmosphere was different. It was incredible at our place last year, and it was incredible at their place this year, but it definitely was next level playing at Finley for a championship. You could tell there was more at stake for sure.
"To me, it was a win for Chattanooga and for both schools, just because of the environment that was built by two outstanding football programs and a community that came out and supported them."
Q: What is the biggest challenge in facing McCallie?
A: "First and foremost, congratulations to McCallie and to Coach (Ralph) Potter. It's a wonderful program and a wonderful school, and he is one outstanding coach who has his guys ready every single week. They're incredibly talented on defense. They're unbelievable in the secondary, and they can really get after you up front. We knew it would be a tough matchup for us, particularly up front, because they're just a little bit bigger and stronger than we are at some spots.
"A lot of our guys, despite what people say, are local guys, and when a game means that much to a team, we might be at a slight disadvantage in terms of the emotional weight they carry as opposed to a team that's filled with guys who may not have grown up in that rivalry. Our guys played their hearts out. We simply got beat."
Q: Each of the last two championship games have had bang-bang plays at the goal line, one you may have benefited from and one you may have not. Would you like to see replay implemented in TSSAA title contests?
A: "I would like to see Tennessee adopt replay in every game, but a great start would be in the championship game. I'm hopeful that's in the works, and hopefully we'll be in a position where we can be in the championship game again, because we certainly don't take that for granted. The kids put in a lot of work, and I think those critical calls are something everyone — including the officials — wants to get right.
"Sometimes when you're playing high-level football, they can happen a little faster, and to be able to slow some of those things down in a state championship game means a win for everybody."
Q: Did you allow yourself an opportunity, even briefly, to soak up last Thursday's atmosphere?
A: "I probably should have, but not really. You could definitely sense it and feel it. It was louder than a normal game, and you could hear the passion from both fan bases. It was something I will always remember and will be grateful to have been a part of. I just credit the people in charge of keeping this game in Chattanooga.
"I've been a part of some state championship games where you feel like no one is in the stands even though there are a lot just because the stadium is so big, but Finley and Chattanooga are the perfect place."
Q: What will you remember most about your second Baylor season?
A: "We had a tremendous year and a super successful season to get back to a championship game, which is not easy to do in this league. We got to take our team to Ireland for our second game of the year, and to see the looks of the kids, whether it was their first flight, a different meal out or just the difference in culture, was an experience I will always remember. They really came together on that trip.
"I also think that Heywood Stadium has become one of the premier atmospheres in high school football — the jumbotron we put in this year, the light system that we have. It's just an electric place, and the atmosphere we had for the Lipscomb game was wonderful. There were so many magical moments to the season that I'll always remember and be grateful for."
Contact David Paschall at email@example.com.