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Quick Irish spurt, late rally fall short versus No. 3 MHS

The Fighting Irish of Knoxville Catholic lived up to its name Thursday, Oct. 8, in a big District 4-AAA showdown versus a perennial state powerhouse.

The Irish came out swinging, jumping on the state’s No. 3 Class 6A-ranked Maryville Rebels early and hitting hard right up to the last 10 seconds of the game.

The Rebels (6-1, 4-0) also put up a fight, and despite being knocked down early would walk away with a hard-fought win, 28-21, at KCHS's Blaine Stadium.

“I was so proud of our guys, they never quit,” KCHS head coach Scott Meadows said. “When it got to 28-14 they could have quit and they didn't do that. We kept fighting.”

After last week's win at Lenoir City, Meadows said Catholic would “hang their hat” on the run game.

They did just that.

Senior standout running back Dorian Cozart took the occasion of the game’s first play to run 54 yards, ending with 186 yards rushing and one touchdown.

Catholic (4-3, 2-2/No. 9 in 5A) would miss an opportunity to strike first when a 20-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right.

But handing the ball to Cozart worked well and the Irish went 84 yards in six plays on its second possession.

Cozart runs of 14 and 37 yards preceded his 22-yard touchdown run drawing first blood.

Again stopping the MHS offense, the Irish turned to Cody Shirley, who gained 45 of his 96 yards rushing on the next possession.

Shirley took a sweep to the house from 16 yards out. giving the Irish a 14-0 lead over a Rebel program having won four consecutive state crowns in the former 4A classification (2004-07).

The Irish added to their plus-eight turnover margin when senior safety/quarterback Tyler Williamson stripped Buddy Jones and then recovered the fumble at the Irish 11, while Andrew Kropilak delivered a crushing blow to MHS junior receiver Stian Romberg one possession later.

But a 22-yard Rebels touchdown pass with only 48 seconds cut the Catholic lead to 14-7.

Maryville opened the second half with an impressive 8-play, 80-yard drive tying the game at 14 with a second TD pass.

A 53-yard KCHS drive stalled when Catholic lost the ball on downs at the MHS 27.

A 55-yard completion and 8-yard quarterback scoring run put the Rebels up 21-14.

A 74-yard touchdown pass on third-and-six gave Maryville a two touchdown lead with seven minutes remaining.

Another Irish drive stalled, turning the ball over on downs to the Rebels at the MHS 37.

“Having Spencer [Mackle] out is big because he is not only a short threat, but he is a vertical threat as well,” Meadows said about his top receiver. “It changes things for us offensively.”

But a little bit of Irish luck showed up late. A muffed snap gave Catholic the ball at the Rebels 42 with 1:24 left to play.

Four plays later Williamson threw a strike to John McDermott in the end zone. It was 28-21 — but only 18 seconds remained.

Michael Bonfini recovered Luke Mishu's onside kick, and hope stayed alive.

On the next play Bonfini tore down the sideline but Williamson's pass was intercepted in the end zone with only 10 ticks left.

“I thought Michael had him beat,” Williamson said. “But from what I understand the cornerback made a pretty unbelievable catch.”

The Irish host District 4-AAA/Class 5A foe West Friday night, Oct. 16. A KCHS win would give it a Class 5A playoff berth.


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