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Catholic’s aerial assault downs CCHS, 59-21

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By Robby O'Daniel

KNOXVILLE — The Cougars stopped the Catholic Irish on their first two trips to the red zone, but Catholic’s offense was just too consistent and too potent to be contained.

Catholic rolled to a 59-21 win over Campbell County in the first round of the Class 5A playoffs last Friday night at Knoxville Catholic High School, ending the Cougars’ season at a strong 7-4 record.

“Obviously it’s a tough way to end the season to a very good football team,” CCHS head coach Justin Price said. “First you’ve got to give credit to Catholic, probably the most dynamic offensive that we’ve faced all year. Their ability to run between the tackles, outside the tackles and throw the deep ball’s as good as we’ve seen.

“I feel like we took away some of the things they wanted to do, and especially early on, defensively, the red zone, keeping them out of the end zone, which we played better in the red zone. Sometimes when you get in open field, you’ve got to defend so much, and you get those guys on an island. And our DBs did a great job. They were right there, and their guys made some great catches.”

After the Cougars punted on the opening possession on a fourth-and-1, Catholic drove it all the way to the Campbell County 5 before facing their own fourth down, a fourth-and-4 play.

The Catholic receiver was open but dropped the pass, and the Cougars forced a turnover on downs.

With poor field position, the Cougars went three-and-out and punted, and Catholic returned to the red zone. In fact, the Irish got closer to the end zone.

But on a third-and-goal at the Campbell County 1, Elijah Phillips recovered a Catholic fumble, and the Cougars had done the improbable. Catholic had been to at least the Cougar 5-yard-line twice and come away with no points.

“That was a game-changer, and that’s what you’ve got to have in these playoff game atmospheres is find a way to get some turnovers, steal some possessions, and we were able to do that early,” Price said. “The flip side of that, we were backed up, and we couldn’t really flip field position or even drive down and score. We had a deep ball there. We were just maybe two or three inches away from connecting on, but offensively, really, I thought we moved the ball well all night long. And Zach had another phenomenal game, and Shawn Marcum had another big game for us. And our offensive line blocked well against a very good defensive line.

“Just really proud of the way our kids performed. They’ve invested a lot into our program, and the way that they play, you can tell that.”

Phillips punted again after another Cougar three-and-out, but this time, Catholic wasted no time at all in getting to the red zone, returning the punt to the CCHS 5.

Catholic finally scored on a third-and-goal play from inside the Cougar 1-yard-line to go up 7-0 with 15 seconds to go in the opening frame.

The first quarter was in stark contrast to the offensive explosion of the rest of the game.

The Cougars responded in the second quarter with a drive capped off by Cougar quarterback Zach Rutherford finding Shawn Marcum on a 4-yard touchdown pass. The extra point from Riley Wallace tied the game at 7-all with 10:05 remaining in the second quarter.

But it was basically all Irish from that point.

Down 35-7, the Cougars scored a TD when Rutherford found Marcum again, this time from 26 yards out, to make it 35-14.

But Catholic returned the ensuing kickoff to take a 42-14 lead to the halftime break.

“We had plenty of opportunities,” Rutherford said. “I felt like we were the better team out here tonight. It all came down to execution, and there were a few times that we just, offensively and defensively, it was just an overall team effort where we just came up short, and I think that’s what happened out here tonight.”

The Cougars would score another TD late in the third quarter when Rutherford threw it to Christian England from 13 yards out, but that would end Campbell County’s scoring.

The Cougars were hurt by three costly turnovers: a lost fumble and two pick-sixes. Both pick-sixes happened in the second half.

Price reflected back on the season.

“Sometimes you’ll get limits put on you, and maybe people tell you something you can’t do, and I felt like these kids kinda put that chip on their shoulder and performed at a level that maybe a lot of people didn’t think they could,” Price said. “It just goes to show how proud we are of them.”

Logan Berry did not play in the game because of a finger injury suffered at West, Price said.

Drew Jordan also got injured during the game and was on crutches postgame.

Per team stats, Bryce Trentham led the way with nine tackles in the game, contributing to his team-leading 95 tackles on the season. Gary Seibers (seven tackles) and Phillips (five tackles) both recorded sacks.