Down 19 in 3rd quarter, Catholic rallies to reach 5A state semis

OAK RIDGE — An improbable second-half comeback helped Knoxville Catholic High School’s football team keep its state title defense alive.

The defending Class 5A state champion Irish played a lackluster first half, but things turned around just in time as Catholic overcame a large deficit to notch a 42-40 victory over Oak Ridge on a cold night at Blankenship Field Friday, Nov. 16.

After opening a 14-13 lead over the Wildcats, KCHS surrendered the last 14 points of the first half and went to the locker room at halftime facing a 27-14 deficit as Oak Ridge scored on all of its possessions of the first half.

The Wildcats (10-3) added another score early in the third stanza when Jordan Graham scored on a 75-yard scamper to make it 33-14 with 10:59 left in the third quarter to make it 33-14.

Oak Ridge, however, would miss two extra points — and that would come back to haunt them.

Catholic couldn’t have played much worse than it did in the first half. The Irish (9-3) couldn’t stop Oak Ridge, and offensively the Irish had a fumble and an interception.

“I was very disappointed in the way that we played in the first half, particularly on defense,” Catholic head coach Steve Matthews said. “But our defensive coaches made some adjustments at halftime and our kids came out and stepped it up.”

Catholic’s defense stiffened after surrendering Graham’s last touchdown of the season, and Jancek began blazing the comeback trail when he scampered for a 35-yard touchdown on a fourth down play midway through the third stanza. Paxton Robertson’s six converted extra points helped make the difference, his third pulling the Irish to within 33-21.

“Jack does a great job for us,” Matthews said. “He had a big game for us. He made one mistake, but other than that, he played well.”

Jancek, who completed 11-of-17 pass attempts for 221 yards and three touchdowns, stepped up big after halftime.

He threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Cody Duncan to make the score 33-28 with 3:02 left in the third quarter. Jancek, who had 80 rushing yards on 12 carries, also had a 43-yard scoring strike to Adam Jones that enabled the Irish to retake the lead.

Jones had six receptions (including two scores) for 110 yards.

Drew Hicks scored Catholic’s final TD when he recovered his own fumble in the end zone.

Oak Ridge made one last stand when Booker connected with Pendergrass on a late long touchdown pass that made it 42-40. The Irish recovered the ensuing onside kick attempt.

Oak Ridge and Catholic matched touchdowns early with the Wildcats scoring first to take a 7-0 lead. The Irish would pull even when Jancek found Jones in the end zone from nine yards out late in the opening frame.

Oak Ridge would retake the lead a short time later but missed the extra point.

The Irish took their first lead of the contest in the second quarter when Jancek scored on a quarterback sneak. Robertson’s PAT gave KCHS a 14-13 lead.