It had been remarkably easy for the McCallie football team against Ensworth during the regular season. Even traveling to Nashville hadn't kept the Blue Tornado from shutting out the Tigers in a four-touchdown triumph.
But the playoffs are almost always a different matter. Closer. Cleaner. Less predictable.
So after watching his team pull out a 27-14 victory over those same Tigers on Friday night at McCallie's Spears Stadium, Blue Tornado coach Ralph Potter said of his team's advancement to the TSSAA Division II-AAA semifinals: "It's tough and getting tougher."
McCallie's defense was as tough as it has been most of the season in holding Ensworth to 111 total yards and six first downs while forcing five turnovers. Those included interceptions by Stone Roebuck, Dane Beard and Antto Toivio, whose week already was pretty special as he was inducted into the school's Cum Laude academic society.
But even that excellence wasn't enough to shut out the Tigers for a second time this season. Not with Keshawn Lawrence running a kickoff back 98 yards for a third-quarter score to pull Ensworth within 20-14. And that came after a tipped pass landed in the hands of Isaiah Horton for a touchdown just before halftime to pull the visitors within 14-7 at the break.
"If nothing else, that gave us a chance to see how we'd handle some adversity," said Potter, whose team has faced little adversity in rolling to a 10-1 record heading into next Friday's semifinal game.
Indeed, the Tigers suddenly within six points, Potter called on junior quarterback DeAngelo Hardy to win this one with his arm instead of his legs. Hardy hit senior Kris Bowman on a 38-yard catch-and-run play over the middle to put the Blue Tornado up 27-14 with 8:17 to play in the game.
"We saw the safeties crashing down to stop the run," Bowman said. "DeAngelo made a great throw. That's my first touchdown receiving."
There was certainly a good reason for Ensworth to worry about the run at that point. As it has all season, McCallie was devastating on the ground, rushing for 321 yards, including 156 and one touchdown from Hardy, 90 yards and another score from Roebuck and 42 yards and a third score from B.J. Harris.
"Everybody contributed tonight," Potter said. "The defense was outstanding. The offensive line blocked great. And I'm really happy for Dane Beard, who not only had that interception but also had a big reception."
As Bowman pointed out, McCallie has been pointing to this season since falling to three-time defending state champ Brentwood Academy in last year's playoffs.
"All those 6 a.m. workouts in the summer," he said. "Then losing to MBA early really woke us up. We've got some momentum now."
Added Roebuck: "In the past, I think we probably needed to be a little older. But I feel really confident now. We're healthy. We just want to keep this going."
Contact Mark Wiedmer at firstname.lastname@example.org.