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Chalk up 7 straight
No. 2 Irish rally past Webb 20-16

Zach Vann may have a future as a motivational speaker.

The Knoxville Catholic senior standout, his KCHS career over thanks to a knee injury, gave a locker room talk at halftime that inspired the state’s No. 2-ranked Class 3A Irish to a come-from-behind win versus rival Webb.

The 20-16 victory at Catholic’s Blaine Stadium Friday, Sept. 12, marked the seventh straight Irish victory against the Spartans and improved its record to 4-0. Webb dropped to 1-2 (stories initially reported in Farragut First Edition at

According to KCHS senior linebacker Luke Smith, Vann “lit into us at halftime, he told us they wanted it more than us, he said they out-physicaled us. I am not even sure if that’s a word.”

Vann said he “told them to play like every down was their last, that it kills me not to be out there with them.”

Catholic needed the boost. A sluggish first half and several penalties put KCHS down 9-7. Webb opened up the second half with an impressive drive taking the ball on its own 25 and moving it to the Catholic 12-yard line.

Back-to-back sacks by Daniel Hood and Smith combined with a 5-yard delay of game penalty helped stop Webb.

With Catholic on the move with just under six minutes to go in the third quarter an interception landed Webb at the Irish 3. One play later it the 16-7 with 5:21 remaining in the third quarter.

Vann’s message also resonated with KCHS junior receiver Spencer Mackle. “Zach is our emotional leader, the players all respond to him,” Mackle said.

Mackle responded too. On the next drive he took a middle screen from QB Tyler Williamson for 49 yards to the Webb 28.

Cody Shirley took over from there. Shirley carried the ball on the next four plays, collecting 28 of his 54 yards rushing on the night, and capped off the drive with a 5-yard touchdown run putting Catholic within 3 points with 2:40 left in the third quarter.

Jarrod Julies, 12-of-12 in 2008 on PAT conversions to that point, had this attempt blocked.

On the first play of the fourth quarter Nick Branum got things started with a 4-yard tackle for loss. Will Coulter followed with a sack of his own pushing the Spartans back to their own 13.

Mackle took ensuing punt at the Catholic 40-yard line and raced to the Webb 19.

Jordan Howanitz, who injured his leg earlier in the game, came to life. Howanitz, who has rushed for more than 100 yards in the first three games this season, took Vann’s advice too.

He took the proceeding hand-off 19 yards and put the Irish up 20-16. The Spartans started their next drive with a 25-yard run, but the Irish defense stood strong and ended the drive with back-to back sacks by senior Wes Reese.

Howanitz, Shirley and Catholic’s big offensive line took over. Ten plays later they marched to the Webb 2, running off 4:37 seconds to end the game.

“Mentally tough,” that is how KCHS head coach Mark Pemberton described his team’s performance. Pemberton is now 7-0 versus Webb.

Asked about Vann’s lecture, Pemberton said, “They listen to him, they know how much he would give to be out there with them. He ripped them pretty good and they certainly responded.”

Inspiration also came from another injured Irish player. Williamson honored injured teammate and good friend Jake Faris, junior wide receiver, wearing Faris’ number-9 jersey.

“This is his favorite game, he looked forward to it so much and I know how hard it is for him not to be out here, I just wanted to do something nice for him, so I gave him this game.”

Faris was touched by the gesture: “Having a friend like him doing that for me means a lot.”

Catholic will travel to Livingston Academy Friday, Sept. 19, for a Region 2-3A showdown. Opening kick-off is 7:30 p.m.


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