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Quick start pushes Catholic to shutout of Shelbyville


On a frigid night at Blaine Stadium, the Knoxville Catholic Fighting Irish dominated its first round Class 5A playoff game against Shelbyville Central, scoring 28 unanswered first half points en route to a 35-0 win.

The Irish (7-4) finished out the regular season with a loss at Bearden. But as head coach Scott Meadows said after that game, everyone is 0-0 now.

Catholic took advantage of their “new season” and looked like a different team by putting a beatdown on a Shelbyville team that played for a district title only one week ago.

Catholic established a dominant run game early, moving the ball 70 yards in 15 plays on an opening scoring drive that included 13 rushing plays.

The drive also featured two fourth down conversions: the first a Mike Wegzyn to Michael Bonfini reception on fourth-and-nine, and later a quarterback sneak by Wegzyn that went for 11 yards.


The domination continued when the Irish defense took the field. Catholic held Shelbyville to a three-and-out that only took 55 seconds off the clock.

The Irish would end the first half controlling the game and the clock, owning more than 16-minutes of possession.

“During the whole week in practice we really worked hard,” said senior offensive lineman and future UT Vol Kyler Kerbyson. “It's a whole new season in the playoffs. We wanted to come out and dominate, and that's what we did.”

Senior running back Taylor Kennedy set Catholic up with a 16-yard run on the fourth play of the drive, moving the ball over the midfield line.

Three plays later Catholic's senior quarterback was flushed from the pocket, rolled right and hit a wide open Michael Bonfini in stride for a 46-yard TD.

The second of Gabe Saavedra's five eventual extra points gave the Irish a 14-0 lead.

Shelbyville's next play from scrimmage starting a momentum swing that would lead to 14 Irish points and put the game away for Catholic.

On first down, Shelbyville's Tre Stewart broke up the middle for 20 yards until a jarring hit by junior safety Patrick Conaty forced a fumble that was recovered by senior Alex Gillespie.

Six plays later, following three huge offensive linemen, sophomore running back Nolan Coulter bulldozed in for a score from seven yards and the game was slipping out of control for the Golden Eagles.

“Our offensive line was awesome,” Coulter said. “Kyler was dominating out there. They were opening up big holes. It was great to have Alex Saah back in there; he is so big, so mean.”

Catholic's line was big, they were mean, but they were also a man short. Kerbyson wore Joey Gaston's No. 70 jersey for the game. Gaston, a 6-foot-5, 255-pound Navy commitment, is out for the playoffs with a torn meniscus.

Despite the injury to Gaston, who plays the line on both sides of the ball, Catholic was unstoppable up front. “We just pinned our ears back and we came with a lot of blitzes tonight,” senior LB Dominic DiGiovanni said. “We wrapped up everyone and made a bunch of gang tackles.”

Up 21-0, the Irish took over with 1:35 left in the half, but they were not satisfied. Wegzyn, who only played one half in Catholic's last two games due to a concussion, was in complete control.

Catholic engineered a 9-play drive in less than one minute.

The drive ended when Wegzyn (8-of-16, 124 yards and 62 yards rushing) connected with freshman Vic Wharton with a perfect pitch and catch for a 26-yard touchdown to take a 28-0 lead into halftime.

“He was in total control,” Meadows said of his quarterback, adding, “that's something that we have to have this next week, he did a great job.”

KCHS stayed strong in the second half. After stuffing the Golden Eagles and forcing a punt on its opening drive, the Irish took advantage of a Wharton punt return to the Irish 38.

Wegzyn, Coulter and Kennedy combined to run the ball on 13 of Catholic's 14-play scoring drive.

The drive took more than six minutes off the clock, ending when Wegzyn snuck in from the 1-yard line.

The game clock ran continuously from that point on due to the TSSAA mercy rule. Catholic kept up its strong play.

The Irish will take a long road trip Friday, Nov. 12, to play No. 1 quadrant seed Columbia. “We executed very, very well tonight,” Meadows said. “They [Columbia] are going to be very good ... we are going to need to have an even better week coming up.”

 

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