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Irish finally reach state semis
Catholic routs Austin-East, enjoys revenge for 2007 playoff loss

Jordan Howanitz has had many moments this year that have sparked the Knoxville Catholic football team; big runs, big hits and key blocks.

On Friday, Nov. 21, in the Class 3A state quarterfinals, the senior two-way standout did it again.

With Austin-East driving and pushing the Irish to the KCHS 7, the senior recovered a fumble and changed the momentum.

What happened next was a knockout blow that all but ended the Roadrunners’ chances of beating Catholic for the second straight year in the Region 2-3A playoffs.

On a second-and-six from the KCHS 10, junior quarterback Tyler Williamson connected with senior Nick Branum for a 90-yard touchdown pass en route to a 45-0 demolition of the Roadrunners in Blaine Stadium.

Branum made a leaping catch at midfield, made one move and then sprinted to paydirt, giving the Irish a 17-0 lead.

“I wasn’t even expecting to be in on the play, but once I got the call I told Tyler to get me the ball,” he said. “I read the safety and when I made the cut he just took off and then I was able to cut in and Tyler just threw it perfectly.”

The Irish, ranked No. 2 statewide entering the playoffs, stay perfect at 13-0. Austin-East, the last team to beat Catholic (last year’s playoffs), finishes 10-3.

Catholic’s defense had another dominating game, limiting the Roadrunners to only three offensive plays and a punt in the first quarter. The rest of the game was not much different.

The drive resulting in the Howanitz fumble recovery was the only time the Roadrunners would even sniff the end zone. The stingy Irish defense would let A-E inside the 50 only one other time.

After the Branum touchdown Austin-East drove the ball to the Catholic 44, but that drive ended with a third-down sack and forced fumble by senior Daniel Hood. The fumble was recovered by Patrick Haun and the resulting 10-play drive was capped off by a 1-yard touchdown run by junior running back Dorian Cozart.

Luke Smith, Catholic senior linebacker, talked about the Irish defense after the game. “We had a really good week in practice, and I think that made all the difference,” he said. In preparing for speedy Austin-East, Smith added, “There are going to be big plays when you play a team as athletic as Austin-East, no matter what. They’re going to break some, but we stopped them when we had to and gave our offense a second chance. Our defense put everything together tonight.”

Howanitz did more to spark the Irish than recover a fumble. He rushed for 158 yards on 19 carries and scored a touchdown. The other half of Catholic’s backfield, Cozart, also rushed for more than 100 yards and one touchdown.

Howanitz and Cozart each gave credit to the players around them. “We came out fired up, it didn’t take much after last year [referring to the 26-25 loss to A-E], but the line just did awesome, our fullback [sophomore Cody Shirley], Dorian, quarterback, everything was clicking,” Howanitz said.

Cozart said the KCHS offensive line “opened up massive, massive holes tonight, they made it easy.”

Catholic head coach Mark Pemberton gave his customary “How ‘bout them Irish” shout, and followed it with an exuberant “that’s how you break a jinx.”

“That was a huge win for us, it felt like it was a load off our shoulders,” he added. “To make it through the final region team that we see twice a year, it seems is just a huge load off our shoulders. We’ve gotten to this point before and had not gotten past it. I am really proud of these kids and the effort they gave tonight.”

The Irish continue on their quest to 15 wins and a state title in next week’s semifinal, hosting White House at Blaine Stadium starting at 7 p.m., Friday, Nov. 28.


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