A three-minute span of the third quarter in which McCallie showed flashes of just how dominant it can be was enough to overshadow a frustrating first half.
It was also the tipping point for turning what had been a competitive game Friday night into a one-sided Blue Tornado win, 53-13, at Chattanooga Christian School.
After trailing for much of the first half, McCallie scored twice in the final four minutes to pull ahead 17-6. Then came the big blue avalanche of points as the visitors reeled off 21 unanswered to open the second half and take command in the season opener for both teams.
"The drive before halftime helped settle us down, and everybody stopped freaking out," McCallie coach Ralph Potter said. "Honestly, we didn't have to say much to them at halftime. They knew where we needed to pick it up, and really the main thing was just being consistent."
The teams combined for four turnovers and nine penalties in a sloppy first half. With 4:21 left in the opening quarter, one play after CCS converted on fourth-and-5 with a 29-yard completion from Gavin Berger to Jermaine Stinson, senior running back Da'Rell Brown put the Chargers ahead 6-3 with a 1-yard touchdown run.
McCallie vs. Chattanooga Christian on Aug. 18, 2023
The CCS defense made the lead stand until the 4:18 mark of the second quarter, when Ja'Von McMahan put McCallie ahead with a 9-yard run that included a second-effort lunge from the 2-yard line into the end zone.
Carson Lawrence's interception gave McCallie the ball back near midfield, and the ensuing drive was capped by a 14-yard touchdown pass from Jay St-Hilaire to Keeyshawn Tabuteau to convert a third down with 35 seconds left before halftime.
"I think definitely after the first three drives, there was some frustration," said McCallie senior defensive lineman Carson Gentle, who had a 19-yard scoop-and-score fumble recovery as part of the third-quarter scoring barrage.
That was one of two defensive scores by the Blue Tornado as Tramauri Watkins also recovered a fumble in the end zone.
"There was no point where I was worried we might lose, because I knew we have a lot of great players and we can turn momentum in our favor at any point," Gentle said. "We knew they were going to have to deal with us for another 24 minutes of the second half, but we definitely were frustrated with how we were playing."
McCallie outgained CCS 340-211 in total yards, led by St-Hilaire's 182 passing yards as he went 18-of-24. The senior quarterback also ran for 40 yards, and McMahan led the McCallie ground game with 96 yards and three touchdowns on 12 carries.
"Right before the half, we were looking at the scoreboard because it was such a close game," McMahan said. "Getting that touchdown right before the half really brought that hype back to our sideline and gave us the momentum we needed to get going in the second half."
In his debut with the Chargers, Gavin Berger threw for 95 yards and a touchdown, with 71 of those yards going to Stinson.
Five turnovers — three interceptions and two fumbles lost — took away any chance CCS had of keeping the game within reach.
"Before the game, I asked our guys to raise their hand if they were making their first varsity start, and we had eight guys on defense who put their hand up," first-year Chargers coach Grant Reynolds said. "I spoke to them before the game about overcoming adversity, because we knew we would have some not only in this game but during the season. I thought we showed good fight, especially early on, and we were able to keep the game close.
"But you can't turn it over against a team as good as McCallie and have any shot."
The Brainerd at Howard football game, which was scheduled for Saturday afternoon, has been postponed.
According to Steve Doremus, communications officer for Hamilton County Schools: "Due to circumstances outside of their control, principals of (the two schools) have jointly announced that Saturday's game has been postponed until a later date. The makeup date will be announced at a later time."
Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected].