Anyone who has spent much time around the McCallie School football team knows it can sometimes be hard to get head coach Ralph Potter to smile, even after a win.
Well, Potter was all smiles when speaking to his team Friday night after the Blue Tornado's convincing 44-7 rout of visiting Knoxville Catholic in a big-time win in TSSAA Division II-AAA East/Middle Region action.
"I've been trying to work on that," Potter said. "I've kind of been so mean to them lately, so they needed to see me smile."
McCallie (5-0, 2-0) used a strong defensive performance and three first-half touchdown passes by quarterback William Riddle to build an early lead, and the Blue Tornado attack continued in the second half to seal the victory in a matchup of the top two state-ranked teams in Division II-AAA. No. 1 McCallie has won the past two state championships.
The only negative for the McCallie juggernaut was in the kicking game, with four missed extra-point attempts and a miss on a field-goal attempt in the third quarter.
Riddle finished the game with 372 passing yards and six touchdown passes, and he scored another touchdown on a 5-yard run in the third quarter. He completed 17 of 22 attempts and had touchdown passes to Xavier Gaillardetz, Andrei Delinois, Emile Bellerose, Kenzy Paul and Weston Hamond, with two scoring strikes to Gaillardetz.
"Our offensive coordinator kept putting me in positions to do well and have great success," Riddle said. "And my guys just kept catching the ball. I was just trying to get the ball to our playmakers. I did a good job, but I still made some mistakes and have things to work on."
McCallie took the opening kickoff, then drove down the field using its running game. Ontario Price carried six times for 37 yards on the drive, setting up a 36-yard pass from Riddle to Delinois that opened the scoring.
The defense was outstanding for the Blue Tornado in the first half, with McCallie becoming the first team this season to hold the Fighting Irish scoreless on their first possession of the game. McCallie limited the visitors to 22 rushing yards in the first half and just 112 yards of total offense, with 65 of those coming on a pass from Jaden Neal to Braton Harmon for the only Irish touchdown.
"We have a really good defense, probably one of the best defenses in the state," said Paul, who is part of the McCallie secondary in addition to his role on offense. "Tonight our coaching staff handled our guys, and the team stayed very disciplined."
After the McCallie defense opened the second half with another stop of the Irish, the Blue Tornado struck on their first possession of the period when Riddle hit Kenzy Paul on a crossing route that turned into a 63-yard scoring play. Riddle followed that with an 85-yard pass to Hammond to build the lead to 31-7 late in the third quarter.
"I thought offensively, we really controlled the game on the ground early with some really physical runs and we blocked well," Potter said. "And then we were able to find ways to get the balls to our receivers in one-on-one matchups, because they had to go man (defense) to try and stop our run. When they did that, we were able to beat them time and time again."
McCallie held Catholic (3-1, 1-1) to 176 total yards of offense, and the hosts had big interceptions by Paul and Marcellus Barnes Jr. The Irish managed only seven first downs in the game.
"I thought we did really, really well in everything we did (on defense)," Potter said. "We tried to simplify what we were doing and just get into a base defense and let them play. I think they did really well."
The win helps the Blue Tornado make a big statement in Division II-AAA, and it likely will be noticed throughout the state as McCallie makes a run at a third consecutive championship.
"On a region weekend, you're always looking at the other scores and trying to figure out a pecking order," Potter said. "As a coach, you try not to do that, but you do. (Knoxville Catholic) is a good team. It's a team that beat Baylor by 10, so for us to have a dominating win is pretty good."
Contact Jim Tanner at email@example.com.