CHATTANOOGA — The Cleveland Blue Raiders found no shelter from the storm as an EF5 McCallie Blue Tornado blew through Finley Stadium Thursday night in the kickoff classic season opener.
Despite their best efforts to hang on, the Raiders were dealt a harrowing 44-0 loss at the hands, or perhaps more accurately, the feet of McCallie.
“We will learn from this — Success is never final, failure is never fatal. We will have the ability to overcome and the courage to get back up and go back to work,” Cleveland head coach Ron Crawford declared after the game.
It only took McCallie four plays, with each resulting in a first down, and just over a minute to get its first touchdown, which came from a 24-yard pass by QB JaVaughn Craig to Tyler Payne.
An option play gave the Blue Tornado quarterback the chance to race 85 yards into the end zone, making it 13-0 with 4:40 remaining in the first quarter.
Later in the opening frame, the McCallie defense got in on the scoring, trapping a Raider ball carrier in the Cleveland end zone for a safety.
After doing their best to hold off the surging Blue Tornado offense, the Raiders’ defense was foiled by running back and track star Alex Trotter with 4:19 left in the first half.
Trotter was able to spin out of multiple tackle attempts and sprint 65 yards for the lone McCallie touchdown of the second quarter.
Trailing 22-0 at halftime, a beleaguered Cleveland team attempted to rev up its offense in the third quarter, but continued to be manhandled by the McCallie defense.
“I thought we battled in the first half really, really well. Outside of some mistakes, I thought it could’ve been a really close football game at halftime,” Crawford explained. “Obviously in the second half they ‘elevened’ us to death — their numbers wore us down and we had to start subbing almost right off the bat, and that puts you at another disadvantage.”
Shawn McColley picked off a Blue Raider pass early in the third quarter and was able to return it 39 yards to Cleveland’s 14-yard line.
Two plays later, Trotter made a one-yard push into the end zone, and followed up by a 2-point conversion, gave the Blue Tornado a 30-0 lead.
Cleveland’s closest attempt at reaching the paydirt came on a 14-play drive from its own 19 and ended at McCallie’s 3-yard line.
Following three incomplete passes, the ball was turned back over to the DII private school, which took only nine plays to get its fifth touchdown of the night.
“We can’t turn the football over in a ballgame where we are fighting and battling to hang in there the best we can. The turnovers just absolutely made it worse than it was,” Crawford stated.
The final Blue Tornado touchdown came off of a 24-yard interception return by Kendall Watson in the final 15 seconds of the game.
The loss of five starters from preseason injuries left the Raiders lacking in depth and also forced the team to change up its defensive scheme.
“You don’t ever want to use injury as an excuse, but it’s thinned us out and having to play so many players on both sides of the ball took its toll,” Crawford explained. “I think we’re in the right thing right now defensively, it’s just simply a numbers game for us because we’re out of linemen. We can’t put four ends on the ground, we have to put three out there. After 10 days I don’t think it’s a fair evaluation of our guys, but I think we’ve got a lot of them in the right place.”
The intense evening heat only added more insult to injury.
“I think it affected us tremendously. You can’t prepare for 96 degrees when you haven’t had it,” in the runup to the season opener, Crawford remarked.
Cleveland QB Austin Massey completed 10 of his 18 passes for a total of 105 yards.
In total, the Raiders finished the night with 126 yards.
McCallie amassed 463 yards, 355 of which were from rushing.
The 44-point deficit marks the second largest margin of defeat in Cleveland High history, following a 46-point loss to Red Bank back in Sept. 25, 2009, while the Raiders were coached by E.K. Slaughter.
This is only the 20th time the Raiders have been held scoreless in their previous 49 seasons and is the first shutout the team has faced under the direction of Coach Crawford.
Cleveland 0 0 0 0 — 0
McCallie 15 7 22 0 — 44
M — Tyler Payne 24 yd pass from JaVaughn Craig (Drew Viscomi kick), 10:50
M — Craig 85 yd run (kick failed), 4:40
M — Safety, Nygel Edmonds, 1:18
M — Alex Trotter 65 yd run (Viscomi kick), 4:19
M — Trotter 1 yd run (Payne run), 9:45
M — Robert Riddle 12 yd run (Viscomi kick), 3:24
M — Kendall Watson 24 yd interception return (Viscomi kick), 0:15
First downs 8 21
Rushes-yards 23-21 32-355
Passing yards 105 108
Total yards 126 463
Comp-Att-Int 11-24-2 10-18-0
Punts -Ave. 6-34.7 2-41.0
Fumbles-Lost 0-0 1-0
Penalties 7-40 7-69
Rushing: Trotter 15-150, Craig 2-93 (M); TJ Parker 11-16, Romeo Wykle 4-7 (C).
Passing: Craig 7-15-0, 85 (M); Austin Massey 10-18-2 105 (C). Receiving: Payne 3-36 (M); Jacob Gibson 2-35, Jay McIntire 3-45, Wykle 1-13.
Records: McCallie 1-0; Cleveland 0-1.