Top-ranked McCallie strikes late to beat No. 2 Baylor in back-and-forth game

Staff photo by Olivia Ross / McCallie's Javon McMahan, with ball, runs through Baylor's defense during Friday night's matchup of the top two teams in TSSAA Division II-AAA. Top-ranked McCallie beat No. 2 Baylor 34-31 to avenge last year's loss to the rival Red Raiders, who are reigning state champions.
Staff photo by Olivia Ross / McCallie's Javon McMahan, with ball, runs through Baylor's defense during Friday night's matchup of the top two teams in TSSAA Division II-AAA. Top-ranked McCallie beat No. 2 Baylor 34-31 to avenge last year's loss to the rival Red Raiders, who are reigning state champions.

In a game defined by big plays and huge momentum swings, McCallie got both when it mattered most.

The host Blue Tornado used a final rally Friday night to beat rival Baylor 34-31 at Spears Stadium and remain unbeaten while getting a big revenge win over the Red Raiders, the reigning TSSAA Division II-AAA state champions.

One play after falling behind 31-27 with less than six minutes remaining, McCallie quarterback Jay St-Hilaire hit Enrique James Leclair in stride for an 80-yard touchdown pass to take the lead for good in a game that went back and forth all night.

"When I saw that the safety wasn't there and they were playing cover-zero, I said, 'That's a goal ball,'" LeClair said. "I just trusted my quarterback, and we made a connection."

Baylor tried to respond, but Carson Lawrence's second interception of the game sealed the victory for the Blue Tornado, the top-ranked team in DII-AAA. The Red Raiders are No. 2, but they did their best to topple their rivals for the second year in a row after a 31-27 comeback victory at Heywood Stadium last fall.

Baylor (5-2, 2-1 DII-AAA East Region) opened the scoring on a 55-yard touchdown pass from Whit Muschamp to Amari Jefferson. McCallie (7-0, 3-0) leaned on its running game to even the score, capping a long drive with a 2-yard touchdown run by Javon McMahan.

But then the visitors struck fast, scoring on the first play of the next drive with an 80-yard run by Shekai Mills Knight to give the Red Raiders a 14-7 lead.

Another long McCallie drive ended in a Blue Tornado touchdown when Carson Lawrence made an eye-popping one-handed catch. The 2-point try failed, but McCallie was back in the game.

Baylor tested the McCallie defense on the next drive, pushing the ball to the 1-yard line, but Muschamp's pass on fourth-and-goal fell incomplete to give the Blue Tornado the ball back.

Two huge penalties — a personal foul and a pass-interference call — helped McCallie drive 99 yards and take a 19-14 lead on another McMahan touchdown run with less than two minutes left in the first half. Baylor's offense struck quickly again, though, and Muschamp connected with Zane Restelli for a 26-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter, and it was 21-19 Baylor at halftime.

McCallie's defense came out stronger in the second half, holding Baylor to a 25-yard field goal by Cooper Keown in the third quarter that extended the Red Raiders' lead to 24-19.

(READ MORE: Final scores and photos from Friday night's Chattanooga-area prep football games)

In a game defined by big plays on offense, it was a special teams play that sparked the Blue Tornado's rally late in the game. With McCallie pinned deep, Leclair boomed a deep punt that sailed over the head of Tyler Rice, who then muffed the punt, giving McCallie the ball back in Baylor territory.

"That gave us new life, and we just felt like this was our opportunity," said McCallie coach Ralph Potter, whose team won three straight DII-AAA titles from 2019-21 before a narrow loss in the state semifinals last year." We knew we had to take advantage, and our guys did that."

After the turnover, McMahan carried the ball three times, scoring on an 18-yard run and adding the 2-point conversion to give McCallie a 27-24 lead with 8:12 remaining. McMahan rushed for 124 yards on 20 carries.

"We've known since last year that we have to go every play," McMahan said. "In the first half, we came out slow, but it was just play by play going as hard as we can."

Baylor didn't fold, reclaiming the lead on a 9-yard pass from Muschamp to Jefferson, but McCallie regained the lead on the next play with the strike from St-Hilaire to LeClair. Any hopes for another Baylor rally were ended when Lawrence picked off Muschamp.

"We just made too many huge mistakes that cost us, and we weren't effective in the red zone," Baylor coach Erik Kimrey said. "Then we had a huge turnover where the game flipped. When you do that against a good team, you're going to lose. But we have our whole season ahead of us, and we'll be better next time."

St-Hilaire was 11-of-17 passing for 181 yards, and LeClair made three catches for 115 yards. Muschamp had an impressive night for Baylor, going 18-for-29 with three touchdown passes, and Mills Knight rushed 12 times for 153 yards.

After losing to Baylor last season and seeing its state championship streak snapped, the Blue Tornado and their fans relished Friday's victory, but Potter knows there's a chance these two teams will meet again in the playoffs with even more on the line.

"We learned a lot from this," Potter said. "They're a really good team, so we're going to have to figure out some ways to stop them if we see them again."

Contact Jim Tanner at sports@timesfreepress.com.

Upcoming Events