McCallie's football program snapped a 13-year streak Friday night in a Division II-AAA semifinal that featured drama with a side of revenge.
After losing to visiting Ensworth three weeks ago in the regular-season finale, the Blue Tornado used a dominant first-half performance, a late touchdown drive and a game-saving stop when the Tigers attempted a 2-point conversion to win 35-27 in the rematch at Spears Stadium.
It all adds up to McCallie's first appearance in a state championship game since losing 37-34 to Brentwood Academy in 2006.
This time the Blue Tornado (10-2) will take on Montgomery Bell Academy, a 20-3 semifinal winner against Memphis University School. MBA (9-4) and McCallie will be off next week before playing for the title Dec. 5 at Tennessee Tech, and the Blue Tornado will try to win it all for the first time since beating Brentwood Academy 17-16 in 2001.
"I've dreamed of games and moments like this," McCallie quarterback DeAngelo Hardy said. "It doesn't feel real right now, but I'm just so happy with how we fought even when things weren't going our way. For four years we've had the goal to get this team to the final game, and we finally have our chance."
On the opening drive Friday, Hardy immediately began showing why he's one of the most dynamic playmakers in the state. The senior completed a pass and ran nine times for 48 yards, including a 1-yard sneak into the end zone on fourth down.
As the offense ran smoothly, the defense pitched in to score on a 41-yard interception return by Eric Rivers. The Blue Tornado then forced Ensworth to go three-and-out on the ensuing possession, setting Hardy and the offense up for a two-minute drive down the field and a 21-point halftime lead on the quarterback's 6-yard touchdown run.
The third quarter started the same for the Blue Tornado as they forced a punt, but two plays later, Hardy fumbled on a carry and the Tigers' Bryce Edmonson scooped the ball and ran 40 yards for Ensworth's first score.
The script began flipping after the touchdown when Ensworth forced a three-and-out by McCallie, then managed a 10-play, 74-yard drive to make it 21-14 just before the fourth quarter.
Two more McCallie drives stalled before Ensworth tied the game with a touchdown drive ended by a 13-yard pass from quarterback Gerard Bullock to Elijah Jenkins.
Led by the power running of Gavin Cagle, McCallie drove 80 yards in five minutes to take the lead back with just more than five minutes to play, but an incredibly efficient three-play drive gave Ensworth a touchdown with just more than 90 seconds left. The Tigers then went for two points and the win on a reverse pass play, but Rivers stepped in front of the ball to secure the game.
"We were really in complete control of the game until that fumble gave them a spark and just slowed us down offensively" McCallie coach Ralph Potter said. "They adjusted and were doing things in the second half that we didn't think they could do. Hats off to them, but we were able to pull it out."
McCallie outgained Ensworth 336-294 in total offense. Hardy led all rushers with 191 yards on 35 carries, and he had six completions for 76 yards. Cagle ran 20 times for 93 yards.
Contact John Mitchell at firstname.lastname@example.org.