This story was updated Friday, Dec. 4, 2020, at 12:30 a.m. with more information.
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. — Not since Linus Van Pelt has there been a trustier security blanket.
And similar to the high-strung character from the "Peanuts" comic strip, whenever McCallie's football team required a calming presence this year, senior Eric Rivers was there to provide what was needed.
Rivers accounted for three touchdowns — he threw for the game's first score, then added touchdown runs in the second and third quarters — to help lead the Blue Tornado to a resounding 44-0 win over Memphis University School in the TSSAA Division II-AAA Blue Cross Bowl on Thursday night at Tennessee Tech. McCallie repeated as state champion with an even more dominant defensive showing than the 28-7 victory over Montgomery Bell Academy last December, with this title the program's third overall.
"We saw earlier this season when he missed some games with an injury how much less we were offensively," McCallie coach Ralph Potter said of Rivers, who scored two of the team's first three touchdowns and finished with 114 total yards. "He just adds so many dimensions to what we can do because of his versatility, and he showed that again tonight.
"He was the key to what we were doing offensively."
One highlight that won't include Rivers' name came midway through the third quarter at Tucker Stadium, with his team already in command with a 30-0 advantage. As he swept around right end, Rivers was surrounded by defenders before alertly pitching the ball to a trailing B.J. Harris, who then raced 56 yards untouched for the score that provided a running clock the rest of the way.
It was Harris who was named MVP of the game after rushing for 173 yards — 94 of which came in the second half — on 24 carries, including touchdown runs covering 37, 54 and 5 yards.
"That play was designed for him to pitch it earlier, but he cut it up and I just kept our pitch relationship, and when he pitched it out, I just took off," said Harris, who has committed to Missouri. "We capitalized on everything we could. Every break the defense gave us was huge to help us get our offense going. The defense was amazing."
After setting the state championship game record for sacks in a game last year, the five interceptions by the McCallie defense came within one of also breaking a title game mark. Michael May and J.D. Tessman each had two interceptions, and the Blue Tornado outgained the Owls 378-97 in total yards, including 254-6 on the ground.
"This was back-to-back games where we played some amazing defense as a group, and we couldn't ask for anything better," said Tessman, whose team was coming off a 28-18 semifinal win at Brentwood Academy two weeks ago and won its playoff opener 42-28 at Christian Brothers in Memphis.
"There were some doubts whether we could produce the same results as last season, but I'm so proud of this team for the way we came out and played."
After the teams traded punts early, McCallie (9-3) got the better of the exchange to begin its second possession at the MUS 44. Four plays later, on his first pass of the game, Rivers hit a wide-open Emile Bellerose for a 29-yard score.
The Blue Tornado defense, which also added a safety in the third quarter and allowed an average of just 11.5 points over the final four games this season, then began to set up the offense in excellent field position with its first interception as Tessman grabbed a deflected pass near midfield.
Rivers later swept around right end for a 26-yard touchdown less than a minute into the second quarter, and after a Michael May interception, Harris burst off left tackle for a 37-yard run and a commanding 21-0 halftime lead.
The only scoring threat by the Owls (10-3) came just before halftime, when they had first-and-goal at the McCallie 5. But after three plays netted just 2 yards, Tessman grabbed his second interception to salvage the shutout. While McCallie converted six of 11 third downs, MUS was just 2-of-9. Matthew Plunkett had two of the Blue Tornado's three sacks.
"Our defense helped us tremendously," said Rivers, who was coaxed by teammates to join the team after the 2019 season had started. "They got some stops and forced turnovers to give us momentum we needed.
"I'm really glad I decided to come out and be a part of this. It's been a fun journey. I've created a lot of memories with this team, and I'm glad I came back out to be a part of it all."