CLEVELAND — Just a few weeks ago, McCallie’s JaVaughn Craig was a wide receiver; he was merely a safety net at quarterback.
“He was going to play split end for us,” Blue Tornado head coach Ralph Potter said. “JaVaughn was going to be our emergency guy all along.”
That is until injuries at the quarterback position made him the guy, and if Thursday night’s performance was any indication, it looks like he’s going to be that guy for a while.
Craig racked up 376 yards of total offense and four touchdowns in McCallie’s 55-35 win over Cleveland, as the Blue Tornado offense dominated the Blue Raiders’ D throughout the lopsided season opener at Benny Monroe Stadium.
“I just came out here and played and trusted in my teammates,” Craig said. “It was a great team effort. We all played together as a team, listened to coach and bought into what he was telling us.”
The sophomore signal caller, perhaps best known his speed and athleticism, showcased that on Thursday — he finished with 91 yards and a pair of scores on 14 carries — but he also showed off his arm, completing 15 of 19 pass attempts for 285 yards with touchdown passes of 71 and 44 yards.
And while the Blue Tornado offense was spectacular on the night, piling up 26 first downs and 610 yards of total offense, the squad’s inexperienced defense struggled against Cleveland’s high-powered offense.
Quarterback Austin Herink shredded McCallie’s secondary throughout the contest, finishing with 471 yards and four touchdowns through the air, and the 6-foot-3, 210 pounder completed nine passes for 20 yards or more.
“We had some busts in the secondary — I’d say four that were major,” Potter said. “Both of them in the first half led to scores ... I think they are very good on offense, and I think their quarterback is really good.”
Herink brought the Blue Raiders (0-1) to within 13 with his 25-yard touchdown pass to senior receiver D.J. Jones, and after the Blue Tornado (1-0) coughed the ball up on its next drive, he found senior Parker Smith from 20 yards out to trim his team’s deficit to single digits.
The very next play served as the game’s turning point, though, as McCallie sophomore Jeffery Coleman returned the ensuing kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, putting the Blue Tornado ahead 41-28 with 5:25 left in the third quarter.
“That was huge,” Potter said. “Huge. Jeffery made a great play on it, and we did a good job blocking for him. Anytime you get a break like that in the kicking game, that’s a big momentum swing. We weren’t stopping them very much, so that was scary [when they pulled to within six points].”
Junior Alex Trotter ran for a team-high 120 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries for McCallie, which piled up 325 yards on the ground. Junior Paul Silverblatt finished with 64 yards on six carries, while senior Andrew Busby scored on runs of one and 10 yards.
Cleveland’s Tyler Davis hauled in a game-high six receptions for 160 yards and a touchdown, while teammate D.J. Smith finished with six grabs for 123 yards and two scores.
The Blue Tornado returns to action next Friday when it hosts McMinn County (7:30 p.m.), while the Blue Raiders travel to Cookeville (7 p.m.).
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