KNOXVILLE — Cameron Blakely knows he’s supposed to be a leader for Knoxville Catholic High School’s football team. And he led by example Friday night, Oct. 27, at Blaine Stadium.
“Everybody on this team means the world to me and I just try to be a leader,” said Blakely, a senior wide receiver/defensive back who had three receptions for 73 yards and scored two touchdowns in the Irish’s 49-14 Region 4-5A victory over Lenoir City. “This team means the world to me and I pride myself on being a leader.
“Sometimes, that means that I have to be the one who makes the plays,” he added.
Blakely scored twice on offense and made some key defensive plays to help Catholic [7-3 overall, 4-0 in the region] complete a perfect run through region play and capture a league title.
His first touchdown came on an 11-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Jack Jancek with 3 minutes, 22 seconds remaining in the second quarter. It gave KCHS a 28-14 lead and all but put the game beyond reach for the Panthers [5-5, 2-2].
Jancek and Blakely would connect for another score in the third quarter. This one came from 25 yards out and would provide the final margin.
Irish head coach Steve Matthews said Blakely has been a constant presence for his squad, which will enter the playoffs this week seeking a second state championship in three years.
“Cam has really been a great player for us for a long time,” Matthews said. “He makes good reads, he’s a leader and he makes great plays.”
Catholic, which hosts Campbell County Friday night, Nov. 3, in the opening round of the Class 5A playoffs [opening kickoff 7 p.m.], didn’t begin on a high note.
Lenoir City, which was without head coach Jeff Cortez while he serves a one-game school-imposed suspension, scored first.
The Panthers took a 7-0 lead when quarterback Devin Noah threw a 4-yard touchdown pass to Zander Harrison with 3:45 remaining in the opening frame.
KCHS starting quarterback Jack Sompayrac, a senior, was injured in the first quarter and didn’t return to the game.
The Irish, however, would pull even when Joe Fluker scored on a 4-yard plunge on the final play of the inaugural stanza.
Catholic would go on to take a 21-7 lead as it scored the first two touchdowns of the second quarter. After the first Irish score, Matthews and his staff rolled the dice and went for an onside kick. Blakely recovered at the LCHS 45-yard line.
The Irish scored a short time later on a 34-yard scamper by Dashon Bussell with 11:34 left in the first half. Catholic would extend its advantage to 21-7 on a short run by Joshua Brown.
Matthews said the successful onside kick was a game changer for his Irish.
“I just felt like we needed something to change the momentum and swing it into our favor,” he said. “I was pretty disappointed for much of the game.”
Jancek replaced Sompayrac at quarterback and struggled early. But he would finish with three touchdown passes.
“He had some cadence issues,” Matthews said. “But overall, he did a pretty good job. He’s a really good athlete and he really could’ve done better than he did.
“But we put up 49 points with a backup quarterback — that shows you that we have some really good people around him,” he added.
LCHS pulled to within 21-14 midway through the second stanza when Noah hooked up with Kaleb Aikens on a 61-yard touchdown pass.
Panthers acting head coach Matt Coe said he was pleased with his team’s effort.
“We came out and we fought hard,” Coe said. “Catholic is a great team and they have some great athletes but we came in and we went toe-to-toe with them early.
“I’m really proud of these guys.”
The Irish went up 35-14 on Jancek’s 14-yard scoring strike to Bussell just before halftime.
Brown added a 31-yard scoring run to make it 42-14 early in the third quarter.
Jancek threw one final touchdown pass to Blakely before the duo gave way to the KCHS reserves.