Iconic Comebacks

(Above) Photo by Melissa Holder Photography


These nail-biting games kept spectators on the edge of their seats and coaches on the brink of insanity. What follows are just a few of the Chattanooga area’s most impressive come-from-behind games with teams who dug deep until the last whistle was blown and persevered to get the W.


by Katie Faulkner


Photos courtesy of Gary Davis


1963  |  McCallie School vs. Bradley High School


McCallie beat Bradley in a rally spurred by a picked-off pass play late in the game to win, 34-27.


The late 1950s and early 1960s saw a tradition of powerhouse teams for the Bradley Bears of Cleveland. They won it all at the state championship in 1961, and by 1963, they were still highly regarded as a top contender in the Tennessee Valley.

The McCallie Blue Tornado found themselves down by two touchdowns at halftime against the Bears and worked until the final quarter to make up the deficit.

In the first half, Bradley drew first blood after stopping McCallie on downs and completing an 86-yard drive in just 17 plays to score. McCallie answered the Bears’ big opening drive when Bob Michaels recovered a Bradley fumble. Four plays later, McCallie had the ball in the end zone for their only score of the half.

Before halftime, the Bears scored twice more. As McCallie left the field at the half, they trailed Bradley 20-7.

Regarded by McCallie as one of the most memorable games of the ’63 season, regaining control of this game required a fast-paced offensive assault from the Blue Tornado in the third and fourth quarters.

Retaking the field with determination and a new offensive strategy, McCallie began to take control of the game. Quarterback Bill Conner proceeded to light up the skies with his fearsome passing game. He completed 19 of 22 passes for 193 yards and two touchdowns – one at the end of the third and one early in the fourth. Bradley also scored again early in the fourth, tying the game up at 27 all with under a minute left in the game.

In the final minute, lineman Lewis Tate came up with a huge interception, picking off a Bradley pass on the McCallie 30-yard line. With a wave of blue blockers opening up the field, Tate took it 70 yards to the house, with less than 30 seconds on the clock.

Fletcher Sims will never forget that valiant run: “Lou Tate, myself, and another defensive back were in. After Lou intercepted the pass, he took off down the left sideline. We all took off to block any black and gold jersey in the way. Lou carried it all the way, and we came out with one of the most enjoyable games I can remember as a Blue Tornado! That run will never be forgotten!”

Photos Courtesy of Vincent Spann and Herman Prater


1966  |  Howard High School vs. Central High School


The Howard Hustlin’ Tigers topple a decades-long win streak for Central in a fourth quarter comeback, 7-6.


The undefeated Central High School Purple Pounders were ranked third in the state when Howard High School took them on at Chamberlain Field. According to the news article that ran that week, Central had not been beaten by another local high school team in the same league in 27 years. Ironically enough, the last time they fell it was by the same score – 7-6, to City High School.

A highly defensive game that came down to the wire, Central entered the matchup with a reputation to uphold. Howard fullback David Cook recalls seeing the Pounders take the field: “We were already on the field warming up, and they came out and looked like pros. They were bigger, and we said, ‘Man! We’re really going to have to play tonight!’”

The Pounders, coached by legendary Chattanooga football coach, E.B. “Red” Etter, were a powerhouse to be reckoned with. Central scored early in the second quarter off a Statue of Liberty play following a 52-yard drive. But after the touchdown, the Tigers’ fast front wall on defense rushed the conversion attempt and successfully blocked the extra point.

Cook recalls how Howard managed to stay in the game with such a talented Central team, saying, “They were definitely bigger, but we were faster. And we had some great play calling helping us out.” At halftime, the Tigers gathered up all of their determination to go back out and play smash mouth football until the final whistle blew.

Howard’s defense was crucial to their comeback victory. Central drove the ball into the red zone numerous times in the second half, and Howard stopped them each time!

Finally, in the fourth quarter, Howard quarterback Fred Shropshire let loose a 30-yard pass from the middle of the field and found running back Perry Hicks, who ran it in for the touchdown.

The extra point play was critical. Cook ran the fake route and took the hits. “The paper said I ran the extra point in, but I actually ran the fake and got hit about four or five times. Kitchen actually ran it in!” Andrew Kitchen made his way through the hole that Cook opened and scored to give Howard a one-point lead and the win.

Photos courtesy of Dennis Carroll


1976  |  Bradley Central High School vs. Jackson Central-Merry


It took triple overtime, but the Bradley Bears beat Jackson-Central Merry in a 50-48 thriller.


Dubbed “Game of the Year” by Joe Namath’s National Prep Sports October/November issue in ’76, the Bradley Bears’ battle against the Jackson Central-Merry Cougars garnered plenty of attention. It may be the biggest and most important comeback in Bradley football history, as it led to their AAA state title. But a battle it certainly would be, as the Bears had to fight their way from behind three different times.

Both teams were stacked with talented players, coaches, and strong offenses. Bradley Central head coach that year, Louie Alford, confirms, “It was two very well-matched teams. Neither of us could stop the other, and it really seemed like the game would go to whoever didn’t make the last mistake.”

Trailing 21-14 early in the third quarter, Bradley rallied to pull ahead, only to see the game tied up again at 28-28 toward the end of the fourth quarter.

In the first overtime, Bradley scored, and Jackson immediately answered with their own touchdown. In the second overtime, Jackson scored first, leaving the Bears to come from behind again to catch up – which they skillfully did, sending the game into its third overtime.

Once again both teams scored during their possession, but coach Alford decided to make a bold move and go for two after their touchdown. “I was ready to end it. Our quarterback, Scott Kyle, was very talented. So talented he made me look like a hero,” Alford laughs. “I turned to him for the extra point play during that third overtime and said, ‘Let’s end this thing. Run our play!’” The team ran a swinging gate play to try to tack on two. Kyle looked to the wide side to throw, and it seemed like every Jackson player was over there. So instead he tucked the ball and cut it up the middle to run in for the two-point conversion. Now it was Jackson’s turn.

The Bears had put the pressure on Jackson Central-Merry, and all they had to do was hold them. Jackson came up with another touchdown, but their only choice to stay in the game was to also try for two. Abandoning their highly successful run game, they attempted a pass into the corner of the end zone. As a Bradley defender swatted it down, the Bears and all their fans roared at the state championship victory.

Coach Brewster talks to Glenn Moseley

Photos courtesy of Glenn Moseley and Wendell Weathers


1981  |  Red Bank High School vs. Oak Ridge High School


The team with all the heart upset the team with all the trophies, 21-14.


A talented and close-knit Red Bank team, many of whom had played together since little league, had a stellar season in the fall of 1981. But they had their work cut out for them as they traveled to play recent two-time state champions Oak Ridge. While the first three quarters weren’t pretty for the Red Bank Lions, they put their determination and no-quit attitude to use and finally found the winning formula.

The game got off to an unusually rough start for the Lions due, in part, to the fact that a bus with all of the skill positions got lost. They barely made it in time for kickoff. Quarterback Chip Carnes says, “It’s funny now, but it was not at the time!” Oak Ridge jumped to a 14-point lead over the frazzled Lions in the first quarter. “They were driving to make it 21 to zip really fast, but fortunately they turned it over,” recounts fullback Tal Plumlee.

That break in momentum allowed Carnes to fake to Red Bank’s all-state tailback Jeff Price, then run in an 80-yard touchdown. The Lions managed to make it to the end zone once more before halftime but missed the extra point.

Down 14-13, Red Bank headed into the locker room. “I just remember Price in the locker room shouting, ‘We’re going to win this game guys!’ over and over again,” says Wendell Weathers, son of legendary head coach Tom Weathers. “Dad usually let leaders on the team handle the pep speeches. He was more of a strategist.”

Linebacker Glenn Moseley remembers how high the stakes were. “What you have to understand is how much it meant to all of us to be playing football for Red Bank. That was all we had wanted to do since we were kids. We had three seasons in a row of almost making it to the playoffs. And there was no way we were going to lose this game!”

In the last eight minutes of the game, the Lions slowly chipped their way downfield to the six-yard line, but Oak Ridge stopped their drive, forcing a turnover. It was now or never to turn up big defensive plays for the Lions. And they successfully held Oak Ridge!

Back on offense, the Lions employed a sweep play to let an injured Price punch his way into the end zone. Then they successfully passed for a two-point conversion. The team remembers it as one of the most dramatic comebacks in Red Bank history.

B.J. Coleman (08)

Photos Courtesy of McCallie School


2006  |  McCallie School vs. Riverdale High School


A heart-stopping hail Mary took McCallie to a 33-27 victory over Riverdale in the final seconds.


With immense team chemistry and plenty of talent and grit, the 2006 McCallie football team saw great success throughout their season. However, they got into a bit of hot water playing Riverdale, a team out of Murfreesboro, in Finley Stadium. “They were in a Wing T, and we just couldn’t stop them offensively, even though we had a great team that year,” head coach Ralph Potter recalls.

By the fourth quarter, McCallie was down 27-13 with just over two minutes left in the game. Quarterback B.J. Coleman led a fast and furious drive down the field from their own five-yard line to pick up a touchdown. This took the score to 27-20.

Receiver Joel Bradford remembers Riverdale’s offense as athletic and talented. “They were a rushing offense, and they were very good. They had maybe 500 yards rushing and hadn’t passed once.”

After Coleman’s touchdown to put McCallie back in the game, they tried for an onside kick but didn’t recover it. As Riverdale began their drive with a minute and a half left, they finally decided to pass. On the third play, McCallie snagged an interception and scored to tie the game! With little time left on the clock, McCallie attempted and missed another onside kick. It looked like overtime was inevitable, when a truly surprising course of events unfolded.

As Potter recounts, “They lined up for a quarterback sneak, and it looked like they were going to kneel it, but their quarterback actually ran the sneak! And our guys punched it out and recovered the ball.”

With momentum on their side, Potter called a play specifically designed for this circumstance. It was essentially a Hail Mary-style pass play, and they’d have just two attempts. The first pass was dropped on the sideline. The second pass was launched like a rocket with just five seconds remaining. Thrown into a hive of Riverdale players, multiple hands tipped it. “I think it was tipped four or five times,” Bradford says. Finally, the ball found the hands of Walter Dozier, who ran it for the game-winning touchdown.

Photos Courtesy of Walker County Messenger by Matt Ledger


2012  |  Ridgeland High School vs. Marist High School


Ridgeland miraculously holds Marist to a one-point deficit in the final seconds to win, 28-27.


For former Ridgeland head coach Mark Mariakis, 2012 was a special year. Not just because of the immense team chemistry or the fact that they made it to the state championship game at the Georgia Dome, but also, it had a lot to do with the incredible comeback win they enjoyed against Marist High School during the state semifinals. “It was the setting, the team, everything that year was electric. I’ve literally had a movie crew ask me about doing something about that game,” Mariakis says.

In a slobber-knocker of a game that stayed neck and neck the entire time, Ridgeland fought to stay in it to the very end against this powerhouse team from Atlanta. “They actually had a documentary crew following them around because it was their 100th year of football, and they were supposed to win it all. We had to do the coin toss in a McDonald’s with hundreds of people crowded around us,” Mariakis shares.

Mariakis recalls the thrilling last moments of the game: “We were down by one touchdown to tie the game. Darrell Bridges had this unbelievable 89-yard run to score a touchdown and tie us up 21 to 21!” Then the unthinkable happened. With only three minutes and 33 seconds left on the clock, Marist scored again. With a fighting mindset, the Ridgeland Panthers blocked the extra point, putting Marist up by only six. Now it was the Panthers’ turn.

Ridgeland’s arduous drive started deep down the field on their own 25-yard line. Ridgeland converted three fourth-down plays to keep the drive alive. With only 25 seconds left, Bridges threw a pass to running back Shaqualm McCoy, and they scored! The extra point was good, and Ridgeland was up by one point. But there was still time on the clock.

“The game ended in slow motion. I know that sounds cliché, but they came within field goal range, and their place kicker was good. He was headed to Georgia Tech. He set up for a field goal, and I remember watching that ball float through the air just holding my breath,” Mariakis recalls.

The ball hit the upright and fell away. It was Ridgeland 28, Marist 27. Instant pandemonium. Ridgeland fans emptied onto the field. Mariakis remembers, “People were going crazy. It was a wonderful feeling. We knew we were headed to the Georgia Dome!”

Photos courtesy of Bryce Massengale


2014  |  Marion County High School vs. Grace Christian Academy


The Marion County Warriors moved the ball 73 yards in just over two minutes to shock Grace Christian Academy, 25-15.


At the state semifinal game, in front of a huge and excited crowd, the Warriors faced a 15-point deficit at the half. Given the extremely high stakes, the final moments of the game would be equally thrilling in the stands and on the field.

Marion County wasn’t able to convert a first down for four series, and only picked up two the entire first half. Instead, they turned the ball over numerous times and struggled to stop Grace Christian Academy’s (GCA) offense, which capitalized on every opportunity to score.

Marion County quarterback Bryce Massengale still recalls the frustration of not stopping GCA’s offense, saying, “I just remember the first time they scored, their whole team ran out on the field and danced on our logo. So that helped really fire us up at halftime!”

Coach Ricky Ross was quoted in the newspaper that week explaining what he said to his players at halftime. “I told the kids, ‘We played about as bad as we could play, and we’re only down 15-0.’” Ross said their rally in the second half wasn’t a miracle, and it wasn’t caused by doing anything different. He said they just came out and started playing like themselves.

The Warriors came out in the second half and put an end to their penalties and turnovers. Running back Blake Zeman helped the offense nickel and dime their way to their first touchdown. They successfully picked up a two-point conversion to keep the point deficit within a touchdown.

By the beginning of the fourth quarter, the Warriors’ offense was within field goal range. Christian Stephens kicked a 32-yard field goal to close the score gap a little further. Now, only down by four points, the Warriors were in striking distance.

In the final two minutes and 20 seconds of the game, Marion County came up with big plays. Massengale completed two pivotal passes, one for 34 yards and another for 18, which helped move the ball 73 yards. The play that put it in the end zone was a bit of fluke. Massengale misheard the play call but still salvaged a one-yard quarterback sneak needed to put the Warriors in the lead.

With scant seconds left in the game, GCA threw up a few laterals, but in their haste, fumbled in their end zone. Marion County’s Hunter McClain fell on the ball to clench a third touchdown and the winning score of 25-15!

Photos Courtesy of Jay Poag

2018  |  Christian Heritage High School vs. LaFayette High School


The Christian Heritage Lions dug themselves out of a 26-point deficit at halftime to stun LaFayette, 35-26.


Christian Heritage, a 1A high school with a relatively young football program, is one of the smallest schools in the state of Georgia playing GHSA football. LaFayette, a 4A team, appeared to have this particular game in the books by halftime. Christian Heritage head coach Jay Poag admits, “They completely manhandled us in the first half.” But a withering offensive assault and steadfast defense in the second half would turn everything around.

Both teams entered the game undefeated. The Christian Heritage Lions were playing above their classification, and in the first two quarters, they were held to just 13 yards of offense. Contrastingly, LaFayette racked up over 300 yards of offense and 26 points. A running clock in the second half seemed a certainty.

Heading into halftime, the Lions’ coaches encouraged the team to keep their heads up. “We just kept telling them if they could score four touchdowns in one half, so could we,” Poag recalls.

The Lions retook the field with confidence. Quarterback Matthew Neff completed 12 of 18 passes to pick up 230 yards in the second half, and their red-hot aerial attack racked up three touchdowns. Wide receiver Zach Gentry grabbed the first touchdown pass. Meanwhile, wide receiver Evan Lester made some monster snags as well. He caught a 43-yard pass to lead the Lions’ second scoring drive.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Neff tossed Lester another touchdown pass to cut LaFayette’s lead to just five points. The Lions recovered a LaFayette fumble to begin another scoring drive that almost didn’t end well. The Lions fumbled on a play from the two-yard line, and their own Mitchell Herndon recovered it in the end zone, propelling Christian Heritage to their first lead all night. A successful two-point conversion took the score to 29-26.

Christian Heritage capped the game with a big touchdown run by Gage Leonard to win it by nine points! Leonard says, “Our team just never lost focus. We knew we had to make plays on every possession if we were going to have a chance to get back in the game.”

An incredible achievement by a talented team with plenty of drive made for one exciting game. Poag says, “It was certainly one of the most exciting comebacks I’ve ever been a part of.”

Photos by Melissa Holder Photography

2018  |  Whitwell High School vs. South Pittsburg High School


The Whitwell Tigers beat South Pittsburg in double overtime during the state quarterfinals, 34-28.


For the Whitwell Tigers, the fall of 2018 was laden with exhilarating games that came down to the wire. In fact, to sew up the state championship against Connersville, it all hinged on a point-after kick.

Still, there may be no game as rewarding as the South Pittsburg game in the quarterfinals — not only because it was a close comeback game, but also because it is a long-time rivalry.

Current head coach Travis Olinger was a co-defensive coordinator at the time. He remembers the rocky start to the game for Whitwell: “South Pittsburg got an interception off us right away and scored. Then they scored again early in the game. We were down 14-0 very quickly.” His current offensive coordinator, Brandon McLeroy, remembers it as well. “Thankfully, we were finally able to score right before halftime off a 70-yard drive with big passes, and we ran the ball well too.” The Whitwell Tigers managed to pick up a two-point conversion after their touchdown when wide receiver Hudson Petty, about to get tackled, flipped it to wide receiver Jacob Roberts, who ran it in.

Fourteen to eight at the beginning of the second half, no one scored for several possessions. Then, at the start of the fourth quarter, South Pittsburg scored again. Now down 20-8, the Whitwell Tigers were on the ropes with just over four minutes left in the game.

On their next possession, Whitwell quarterback Warner Ashworth threw to wide receiver Tanner Stewart. Stewart managed to keep both feet in bounds to score. The Tigers missed a two-point conversion attempt but held South Pittsburg on their next drive. With time running out, Whitwell drove down the field again to score on another jump catch in the end zone. However, they missed the two-point conversion again, tying the game up 20-20 to end regulation play.

In overtime, South Pittsburg and Whitwell went back and forth. Whitwell scored and got two extra points, then South Pittsburg did the same. They went into the second overtime at 28-28, and South Pittsburg was on offense first. McLeroy recalls, “We stopped them!”

Whitwell got into a wildcat set and tried to run up the middle on the last play. Petty bounced out to the left and ran the ball in for the game-winning touchdown. Olinger shares, “That group of kids did not know what quit means. They weren’t going to lay down until the last whistle was blown.”