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Irish eyes on Murfreesboro
Howanitz, second-half defense lead Catholic to 3A state title game

Looks can be deceiving. A quick look at the halftime stats and it would appear that the Knoxville Catholic football team was being dominated.

The Irish only managed 85 total yards in the first half. But another look at the scoreboard and you see they were only trailing by a field goal, 24-21, thanks to scores off of three turnovers by the White House Blue Devils.

When the third quarter started, senior running back Jordan Howanitz set new tone. The Irish jumped on his back and rode his 178 second-half rushing yards to a 38-31 win at KCHS’s Blaine Stadium, Friday night, Nov. 28, and earned its first Division I trip to Murfreesboro to play in the Class 3A state title game.

Catholic started the game with a solid defensive stand, limiting White House to three plays. On the ensuing punt a bad snap resulted in a muffed punt, which junior Tyler Williamson returned 24 yards for a 7-0 Irish lead.

“I don’t think anyone touched it, he just kind of punted it low and right at me and I caught it and took off,” Williamson said.

The quick start did not phase the White House. The Irish defense gave up back-to-back touchdown drives of 80-yards and 61 yards, while Catholic’s offense struggled to move the ball.

Down seven with just under 7 minutes remaining in the first half, Catholic’s next scoring opportunity was set up by another Blue Devil mistake after junior safety Spencer Mackle ran back an interception to the White House 31.

Six plays later on fourth-and-3 from the Blue Devils’ 13, Williamson hit a wide-open Daniel Hood for a touchdown to even the score at 14. Hood, a senior and Mr. Football finalist, recorded his third touchdown in three weeks, the only TDs of his high school career.

“He has really become a valuable weapon for us on offense and has made some big catches this year, especially lately,” KCHS head coach Mark Pemberton said.

The Blue Devils responded again, returning the kickoff to the Irish 43 and scoring five plays later on DeMarqus Payne’s 8-yard run.

But Catholic forced another Blue Devil turnover, this one in the closing seconds of the half, when Hood forced a fumble and then pounced on the loose ball at the White House 9. On third-and-goal from the 3, Dorian Cozart scored to tie the game at 21.

White House moved the ball 38-yards in two plays and then connected on a 44-yard field goal by Matthew Gossett as time expired.

Pemberton acknowledged his team was struggling at halftime.

“We were a little down, obviously, but we’ve been in this situation before when we’ve been behind at halftime. We didn’t play real well defensively in the first half,” Pemberton said. “We told our kids that we can’t go anywhere but up, stay loose, don’t worry about it and lets go out and play.”

Kevin Smith, KCHS defensive coordinator, said: “... We weren’t reading keys, we weren’t getting off blocks, but give the kids credit, they took the coaching at halftime, were resilient and really put the clamps down.”

While the defense clamped down, Howanitz and the Irish offense found its rhythm. Catholic rushed for 213 yards in the second half. “In the locker room our offensive line got together, when we came out there were holes so big anyone could have run through them,” Howanitz said.

Howanitz and the offense started things on their first possession, marching 78 yards to take the lead, capped off by a 28–yard TD run by the senior running back.

The KCHS defense forced another turnover, when Andrew Kropilak recovered a fumble at the White House 42. The Irish capitalized when Evan Sanders made a 36-yard field goal, and Catholic was up seven, 31-24.

Senior lineman Will Coulter said of the Irish defense, “We were a totally new defense, flying around making plays.” Two of those plays were game breakers, stopping White House on fourth downs on two separate drives.

After the first fourth down stop, the Irish gave Howanitz the ball and all he did was rush for 57 of the 60 yards on a scoring drive that ended on a 10-yard touchdown run on a fourth down play of their own, giving Catholic a 38-24 lead.

Catholic will try to do what no other team in school history has done, win 15 games and Class 3A state title Saturday, Dec. 5, versus Mitchell, who upset defending state champ David Lipscomb. Opening kickoff is 1 p.m. EST.


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