CHATTANOOGA (WRCB) -- Flags are out, colors are being declared and battle lines are being drawn.
It's "Spirit Week" on each side of Chattanooga as cross-town rivals Baylor and McCallie get ready to renew their historic series in Channel 3's Friday Night Football Game of the Week.
"This is so much different than playing every other team," said McCallie linebacker Andrew Busby. "This game means so much to us, but what sets it apart is means so much to so many other people in this community and those who have been here in the past."
The matchup, which dates back to 1905, has been dominated by streaks for the last two decades. McCallie won eleven straight from 1998-08 until Baylor snapped its skid in 2009 and has since reeled off five consecutive victories.
The third-ranked Red Raiders (4-1) will host the annual battle on campus following a bye week, which gave them extra time to heal up and prepare for their most emotional game of the year.
"It worked out really well. The extra week gave use some extra time for preparation to work through some things," head coach Phil Massey said. "There's so many things that go on this week with pep rallies and bonfires and all the alumni stuff, so I feel like that extra time we had will help them be ready for Friday."
Massey's bunch has been tested twice on the road in a win over Knoxville Webb and its lone loss to MBA, but has cruised through three home matchups with Howard, Brainerd and Pope John Paul II. The McCallie game opens a brutal second half of the season that will also include showdowns with top-ranked Ensworth and sixth-ranked Brentwood Academy.
"The remainder of the schedule is definitely the hardest part," said linebacker Luke Hutchins. "We're still finding out identity as a team, but we keep working hard. So far we feel like we've been a very resilient team, so we'll always be ready to fight."
Senior quarterback Nick Tiano appears ready for those challenges, proving efficient and effective as the lone signal caller. He's had plenty of support on the outside with receivers Chandler Gouger and Gauge Upshaw, as well as in the ground game with talented running back George Porter.
"They have talent everywhere," Busby said. "We need to try to slow down their offense and let our offense go to work. We're explosive and can score on any play, but we need to slow them down, too."
Explosive is a pretty good way to describe seventh-ranked McCallie, at least in the Red Raiders' mind.
"They have a lot more speed this year, especially on the perimeter," said Massey. "That's what concerns us the most. We have to play assignment football, and if we're not in the right spot, their speed can make us look pretty bad."
McCallie's hopes start with sophomore quarterback JaVaughn Craig, who burst onto the scene quickly with a strong debut and has since emerged as one of the top dual-threat talents in the Chattanooga area.
A stable of backs led by Andrew Busby and Alex Trotter have found room to run behind Craig in Ralph Potter's high-octane spread-option scheme, but receivers C.J. Fritz and Jeffrey Coleman may be McCallie's biggest game-breaking threats.
Coleman is even more dangerous on special teams, where he's returned three kickoffs and one punt for touchdowns. However, Baylor hopes kicker Rafael Gaglionone, who has recorded a touchback on nearly every kickoff this season, will be a secret weapon to slowing Coleman down.
The Blue Tornado (3-3) may only be .500 on the year, but it's proven its worth through an extremely difficult early schedule with wins over Cleveland, McMinn County and Pope John Paul II.
McCallie's three losses have come on the road at top-ranked Ensworth and 6A power Siegel, and at home to Kentucky's top-ranked Bowling Green. The latter two were by a combined six points.
"I think we've gotten better the last three weeks losing to three really great programs," Potter said. "We have lost every game by a relatively small margin, but I feel we improved and it prepared us for this one.
"Of course, that's all well and good unless you lose this one. This is the payoff for getting through that."
It all has the making for one of the most anticipated showdowns in the series in recent years. Kickoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. ET on at Heywood Stadium. Paul Shahen and Mark Tipton will have live coverage on Friday Night Football starting at 11:10 p.m. ET.
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