NEWPORT COAST — Coach J.R. Tolver said he was very proud of his Sage Hill School football team following Friday night's nonleague opener against Calvary Chapel.
Tolver said the way it was going at first, the game could have gone to a running clock after halftime. The Lightning didn't allow that to happen.
But a three-touchdown deficit early still proved too difficult to overcome as Sage Hill lost, 42-20, at home in a game that was still closer than the final score might suggest.
"I'm proud of my guys today, I really am," Tolver said. "One of the things we talk about all the time is that it's really about the journey. I can be upset if we win 42-20, if we don't do the things we're supposed to do along the way. Today, I'm upset because we lost, but I'm not upset because of the way we played. I think we have a lot of things that we can build on, and I'm looking forward to getting back to work."
The Lightning lost a season opener for the first time in Tolver's four-year tenure. But they scrapped back after falling behind, 21-0, early in the second quarter when Calvary senior quarterback Colin Kearon hit tight end Nick Meldrum on a 19-yard touchdown pass over the middle.
By halftime the deficit was narrowed to 21-12. Sage senior running back Joe Melita (138 rushing yards) scored on a five-yard run. Then, one second before halftime, sophomore quarterback CJ McCord hit fellow sophomore Beau Roth on an eight-yard touchdown pass.
McCord, who also threw a touchdown pass to senior Harrison Ray in the fourth quarter, is just 5-foot-9 and 130 pounds. But the transfer from Edison took Sage's starting job after a strong summer.
Tolver said Ray, a captain who was originally slated to be quarterback and may be the team's best all-around athlete, will play a "slash" type of role for Sage Hill this season.
"CJ, the kid's been playing quarterback since he was in the fourth grade," Tolver said. "There's that experience factor. CJ McCord is a quarterback in every sense of the word. He understands defenses, he can make all the throws. We've got to make him more vocal as a leader, but as far as being a quarterback is concerned, he's [that in] every sense of the word. And we felt like we'd be pigeonholing Harrison a little bit by putting him in that position, when we can use him in so many different ways. One of the things you didn't see tonight was Harrison throw the ball, but you will see that.
"We basically had a sit-down with Harrison before camp started. We said, 'Hey, I don't know if you've ever heard of Kordell Stewart, but you're going to be the 2012 version of Slash.' When it's all said and done, he'll probably be a leader in a lot of statistical categories for us. We just felt as a football team, that was the best switch to make."
Sage Hill pulled within 28-20 on McCord's touchdown strike to Ray, which came on fourth-and-11 from the Calvary Chapel 20-yard line. But the Eagles got the ball back with just more than nine minutes left in the game and milked the clock.
Calvary Chapel went on a 14-play drive.
All but two of the plays on the drive were running plays, and it culminated in Kearon's six-yard touchdown scamper to the left with 3:07 remaining.
The Eagles' Billy Weaver returned an interception 57 yards for a touchdown on the next play from scrimmage to ice the game.
Calvary Chapel 42, Sage Hill 20
SCORE BY QUARTERS