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Two-point nerve
No. 2 Irish nip Baylor on OT Howanitz 2-point run

CHATTANOOGA — The decision was bold and predetermined, the execution was flawless.

Friday night, Sept. 26, Knoxville Catholic High School kept its record perfect (6-0, 3-0) with a 2-point conversion in the second overtime of its 21-20 win against Division II Baylor.

Senior running back Jordan Howanitz ran for a 3-yard touchdown in the second overtime to get the Irish within one and was confident the team would convert the 2-point try. “I told coach [Mark Pemberton] I would get it if he gave it to me and he trusted me enough to give me a try,” he said. “There was a huge hole, anyone could have hit it, it was all our lineman there, it was perfect.”

Asked if the decision to go for two was predetermined, Pemberton said, “We weren’t going to play for a tie, we learned our lesson on that.”

Getting to overtime was a battle in itself for Catholic, especially after the first two opening drives of the first half saw the Red Raiders hold the ball for more than 18 minutes, resulting in a 10 point Baylor lead when Catholic took possession of the ball with 3:22 left.

Aided by two costly Red Raider penalties and a fourth-and-1 conversion, the Irish ran 14 plays, utilized all three timeouts and drove the ball to the Baylor 38-yard line. With only five seconds remaining and out of timeouts, there were few options for junior quarterback Tyler Williamson.

Williamson heaved the ball exactly 38-yards and found senior Nick Branum, who made a leaping catch and landed just enough on the right side of the goal line to give Catholic a touchdown and a huge shift in momentum.

“They have a real good defensive back who was following [junior wide-out Spencer] Mackle all over the field, so we tried to get Branum matched up on the other one,” Pemberton said. “We were able to do that in that situation and threw a deep fade route and Nick made a heck of play, and Tyler had someone hanging on him and threw it up like he should have done and Branum made a heck of a catch.”

Branum added praise for Williamson as well. “It was a great ball by Tyler, he put it right there and all I had to do was go up and get it,” he said.

The change in momentum carried over to the defense as well. The Irish defense played strong throughout the second half, limiting the Red Raiders to 10 plays and three punts in its first three possessions of the second half.

Catholic tied the game 10-10 midway into the fourth quarter on a 27-yard field goal by Evan Sanders.

It wasn’t until 1:49 remaining when the defense cracked just a little bit. Baylor moved the ball 43 yards with only one timeout, but a 51-yard field goal fell short with only two-tenths of a second left.

After the game senior standout linebacker Luke Smith talked about the defense.

“In the first half we had trouble stopping the spread; we were one person away from making a big play,” he said. “In the second half we came out and stopped them two or three possessions in a row with a three-and-out.”

Asked if there were adjustments made at halftime, Smith said, “No, we just bowed up.”

Smith stepped up and made several big plays for the Irish, playing as he has all year with a painful rotator cuff tear in his left shoulder.

Coach Pemberton told the team after the game they were “mentally tough.”

It seems the Irish are not short on the physically tough kids either.

Next week Knoxville Catholic returns to Region 2-3A play, kicking off at Anderson County Friday, Oct. 3, beginning at 7:30, before heading into a bye week.


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