Second-half surge helps Baylor cruise for second straight win

Staff file photo by Matt Hamilton / Baylor junior Cameron Sparks' 57-yard touchdown run early in Friday's home game against New York's Archbishop Stepinac helped send the Red Raiders on their way to a lopsided victory.

So much for Southern hospitality.

Baylor's offense was sharp from start to finish Friday night, and its defense was strong throughout the second half on the way to a convincing 51-21 home win over New York powerhouse Archbishop Stepinac.

On the third snap of Baylor's first possession, Red Raiders junior Cameron Sparks sidestepped a defender near the line of scrimmage and outran the pursuit for a 57-yard touchdown that set the tone for what would follow.

The Crusaders (0-1) later took a short-lived three-point lead when Troy Worrell returned a kickoff 99 yards for a score, but Baylor (2-1) — which had a short week to prepare after traveling back from its lopsided win a week earlier in Dublin, Ireland — responded with 13 unanswered points before halftime to retake the lead for good.

"It was a tight turnaround, and we were worried about our guys being gassed, and I think we showed some lack of focus in the first half," Baylor coach Erik Kimrey said. "We challenged them at halftime that we were not playing our type of football, and I thought they played a cleaner game in the second half.

(READ MORE: Final scores and photos from Friday night's Chattanooga-area prep football games)

"It was good to see us be able to run the football in the second half and get those young backs some carries."

Baylor quarterback Whit Muschamp threw two of his three touchdown passes in the second half, connecting with Amari Jefferson on a 14-yard score midway through the third quarter. Then, after a successful surprise onside kick recovery by the Red Raiders, Muschamp found Max LeBlanc for their second scoring connection of the night, a 13-yard strike on fourth-and-7 that put Baylor ahead 37-13.

The Red Raiders, whose defense allowed just eight second-half points, used a power running game to drain much of the clock from there. A 20-yard touchdown run by junior Shekai Mills-Knight provided the final margin.

Baylor, ranked No. 2 in the TSSAA Division II-AAA state poll, will next week host fourth-ranked Lipscomb Academy, which won the past two DII-AA state titles before electing to move up in classification this season.

"We've made a lot of mistakes the past two weeks that we'll need to clean up immediately," Kimrey said, "because we have a really tough stretch coming up."

Contact Stephen Hargis at [email protected].