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Staff photo by Matt Hamilton / McCallie's Emile Bellerose (87) celebrates with Kenzy Paul (1) and B.J. Harris (5) after making a 19-yard touchdown catch during the first half of Friday night's game against Baylor at Finley Stadium. Bellerose helped the Blue Tornado beat Baylor 33-14 to extend their series winning streak to five games.

These bitter rivals, who so seldom agree that we do not know for sure how many times Baylor and McCallie have played football, were actually dead even from the start.

Sure the 33-14 final score in favor of McCallie proved as one-sided as a museum painting, but the starting point was undeniably equal Friday night.

"It's hard to know how either team will react," McCallie coach Ralph Potter said of this epic rivalry.

But from the kickoff, the teams were even in energy. Even in excitement. Even in future Southeastern Conference running backs and current knowledge of the importance of this matchup.

READ MORE: Final scores and photos from Friday night's Chattanooga-area high school football games

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McCallie vs. Baylor football on Oct. 2, 2020

They were actually even in the understanding that this was the closest thing to our community's old normal, considering that 4,000 folks gathered at Finley Stadium formed the city's biggest gathering to date during the coronavirus pandemic and were collectively as concerned with face-mask calls as face-mask protocols.

"It was such an unknown," Baylor coach Phillip Massey said. "That's not an excuse, because McCallie played great, but every year (the Baylor-McCallie) game is nothing like you imagine, but this year was even more so."

From the files of the unimaginable came the amazing presence and stat line of McCallie junior quarterback William Riddle, who finished 13-for-15 passing for 192 yards and four touchdowns.

Amid the uneasiness of the early moments, Riddle became the game's game changer. He settled in, and soon after, the state-ranked No. 2 Blue Tornado (4-1, 2-1 Division II-AAA East Region) took flight.

Riddle delivered strike after strike — he completed his first seven throws — and the Red Raiders defense, committed to slow dynamic and blue-shirted playmakers Eric Rivers and B.J. Hill, was left grasping for answers as McCallie extended its winning streak in the series to five games.

"He had a great game, there's no doubt," Potter said of the player who was making his first start in a rivalry that is older than most of his teammates' grandparents.

As a coach, Potter using the word great is already an accomplishment.

Truth be told, in a storied rivalry that crafts and measures the football legacy of so many of its participants, Riddle's first half was somewhere between Paul Bunyan and Bigfoot in terms of mythical stature.

Riddle's first touchdown pass was a dart to Emile Bellerose on a seam route for 19 yards. His second was a vertical route to Rivers for 28. His third was another strike in the seam to John David Tessman, this one for 17. His fourth was to Kenzy Paul, who made a grab in a crowd to cover the final 24 yards of a five-play, 99-yard drive that took just 77 seconds and finished just before halftime.

"He was really good," Massey said of Riddle, a major reason the third-ranked Red Raiders fell to 3-1, 1-1. "(How we started) was frustrating, but that's what happen in a rivalry like this because it's nothing like you can imagine."

Check the first-half numbers, and it was clear where the game was decided. Five McCallie drives, four Riddle touchdown passes. He had nine completions on 11 attempts before the break.

After the first avalanche, Baylor answered on a pride-filled opening touchdown drive capped by Neyland Jean's 4-yard run early in the third quarter. But the first-half hole was entirely too deep.

"I don't think there is any way to anticipate this," Potter said, possibly about the rivalry and certainly about the coronavirus, "but (William) was great and everybody played real hard."

That has been more than enough for every rendition of this historic rivalry and was certainly enough for the craziness of Friday night.

Contact Jay Greeson at jgreeson@timesfreepress.com.

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