Elizabethton could see overtime. However, a great interception ended the Cyclones’ season.
Knoxville Catholic pulled out a 24-17 victory over Elizabethton in the Class 4A playoffs on Friday night in Knoxville. The loss ends a stellar 2014 campaign for the Cyclones with a 8-3 record.
On the game’s opening drive, Elizabethton marched down the field, but the Irish held strong on fourth down and one at the goal line. However, Jeremiah Turner pounced on an Irish fumble at the Knox Catholic 16. That set Logan Birchfield up for a 32-yard field goal to put the game’s first points on the board by giving the Cyclones a 3-0 lead.
Knoxville Catholic answered on their next drive as they quickly moved down the field, and Logan Lacey capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown to give the Irish a 7-3 lead after a quarter of play.
The teams traded punts to open the second quarter, and the Cyclones fell short on another fourth down at midfield. Knox Catholic threatened but could only add a 25-yard field goal.
After the Cyclones went three-and-out, the Irish struck again as Zac Jancek found Arari Rodgers for a 70-yard touchdown pass to take a two-score lead on the Cyclones with 3:50 to play in the half. Caleb Armstrong, however, found some holes and led Elizabethton on a touchdown drive that was capped by a one-yard sneak by Armstrong.
The Irish moved quickly down the field, but a 36-yard field goal was partially blocked as Elizabethton trailed 17-10 at the half.
The Irish received the ball to open the second half, but Marcus Olds blocked a field goal to end the drive. After both teams traded punts, Elizabethton saw another promising drive stopped when Chase Kuerschen grabbed a one-handed interception. On the first play after the interception, Jancek found Kuerschen for a 46-yard touchdown pass to go up 24-10 entering the fourth quarter.
Elizabethton was stopped on fourth down on their next drive, but Olds jumped in front of a Jancek pass for the interception. However, the Cyclones saw the drive stall on fourth down inside the 20.
The Elizabethton defense rose to the occasion as they forced a three-and out on the next Irish drive, and Armstrong found Turner for a 23-yard touchdown strike to pull within seven with 5:59 to play.
After the Cyclones forced the Knox Catholic offense off the field on fourth down, Elizabethton marched inside the 20. However, an interception at the Knox Catholic 10 ended the comeback with 32 seconds remaining on the clock.
Senior Ethan Thomas finished the game with 70 yards on 25 carries after the Irish keyed on him the entire game. Armstrong had 14 carries for 122 yards rushing, and went 14-of-24 for 162 yards through the air. Caleb Jones added 29 yards on eight carries.
Olds had five catches for 62 yards.
Jancek led the Irish as he passed for 307 yards on 18-of-29 passing. Rodgers finished with 12 carries for 85 yards and 132 receiving on six catches.
“It was what we preached all week – mentally getting ready, going to take a gutsy effort and the kids are going have to fight. It was a relentless effort by our kids tonight. When we needed them the most, our kids came through clutch with guys stepping up through the game. In the second half, we knew it was going to be tight, and our defense got stops. We hung in there and we battled. That is a tremendous effort by our football team.”
“It was a total team effort. We had different guys stepping up. We had big runs by Jones, and we were just one play away. It was an awesome performance by our kids.”
“Their defensive front is pretty stout. The offensive line did a great job of hanging in there. The kids executed the game plan, but it was just tough. When you go against a good football team in the playoffs, it is going to be tough to get yards at times. Don’t take it away from our kids, tonight was a relentless battle for our kids.”
-Elizabethton Head Coach Shawn Witten