Knoxville Catholic scored 48 unanswered points to capture its second state football championship with a 48-8 win over Pearl-Cohn on Dec. 5 in the BlueCross Bowl Class 4A finals at Tucker Stadium on the campus of Tennessee Tech in Cookeville.
The Fighting Irish, also champions in 2008, never looked back after the Firebirds scored on a 91-yard run in the first quarter.
Both KCHS and Pearl-Cohn started the season 2-4 and reached the championship game.
Fighting Irish quarterback Chase Cunningham was the offensive MVP of the game after going 11-for-21 passing for 179 yards and three touchdowns. Teammate Austin Rowan was the defensive MVP, recording nine total tackles, including 1½ sacks and four tackles for loss overall.
Running the ball, which KCHS (11-4) did 44 times for 262 yards, was a key to the win, Fighting Irish head coach Steve Matthews said.
“Chase made his throws, and he had a good night. I think we established the run,” Mr. Matthews said. “We went deep a little bit early just to get them off of us. The ability to run the ball was a difference, and of course our defense played outstanding against a very athletic team.”
Amari Rodgers started the Knoxville Catholic comeback with an 82-yard kickoff return in the first quarter on the first play following Pearl-Cohn’s long TD run by Jimmyrious Parker. Jake Poczobut’s first of six extra points made it 8-7 Pearl-Cohn with 6:19 left in the first period.
“I think the turning point in the game was the kickoff return,” Mr. Matthew said. “It was kind of back and forth, and Amari took that back [for a TD]. I think, if I’m not mistaken, that’s four special-teams touchdowns in the last four games. That was huge for us, just for us to realize that, hey, we can play with these guys. Then after that, we executed really well.
“Offensively the last four games, we’ve been outstanding, and then for the defense to be able to control an offense like that, really, my hat’s off to our defense as well.”
Jeffery Wood, who gained 116 yards on 10 carries with two TDs, scored on a 7-yard run with 1:49 left in the first quarter to give KCHS the lead for good.
Rodgers added an interception and a receiving touchdown to his stats. Chase Kuerschen was the leading receiver for KCHS with four catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
Knoxville Catholic and Cunningham erupted for three touchdowns in the second quarter. Cameron Blakely caught a 7-yard pass from Cunningham, while Rodgers caught a 43-yard toss and Kuerschen a 34-yard pass.
Wood scored on an 18-yard run to open the third-quarter scoring for KCHS, and Cunningham added a 1-yard run later in the period that invoked the mercy rule’s running clock for the rest of the game.
Joshua Brown rushed 15 times for 75 yards for the Fighting Irish
Morgan Ernst also had nine tackles for KCHS, with Augustus Fortune adding seven tackles and Rodgers six. Jones Albritton recovered a fumble for the Fighting Irish.
Overcoming a 2-4 start to the season involved “a combination of things,” Mr. Matthews said, citing 2014’s fast start that ended with two losses in the last three games.
“Last year we were 9-0, ripping through everybody, mercy rule just about every game,” he said. “We just ran out of gas, I felt like, toward the end. We made a conscious effort [this season] as a staff that we were going to take it a little bit easier on them in the fall camp. We thought it might sacrifice a few games early, and probably it did. That, along with injuries and a tough schedule—it’s just a combination of things. We didn’t start rolling until about week eight and hitting our stride until late in the season.”
One big KCHS fan attending game was not around for the 2008 title and enjoyed seeing his first Fighting Irish title.
“I could not have been more proud of the team than today,” said Bishop Richard F. Stika. “Right before I arrived in Knoxville, they won their last state championship, and now I was able to witness this historic moment for Knoxville Catholic, so I’m really proud of all of the guys on the team.”