Note This story was last updated with photos at 3 p.m. Nov. 17.
For the second year in a row, the Oak Ridge football season ended with a state quarterfinal loss to Knoxville Catholic on Blankenship Field.
Last year’s final score was 37-28 in favor of the Fighting Irish. Catholic went on to win the Class 5A state championship.
This year’s final score in Oak Ridge was closer, 42-40, but Catholic prevailed again.
The Wildcats (9-3) led by 13 points, 27-14, at halftime of the Class 5A quarterfinal on Friday. They widened their lead to 33-14 early in the third quarter when senior Jordan Graham scored his fourth rushing touchdown, his second four-TD performance in two weeks.
But after that score, the Fighting Irish (10-3) rallied with three touchdowns on three drives to take a 35-33 lead at 1:26 in the third quarter. They tacked on one more touchdown early in the fourth quarter to widen their lead to 42-33.
Oak Ridge, which seemed deflated for much of the second half, countered late in the fourth quarter with a deep throw from Herbert Booker and a one-handed 77-yard touchdown catch from Kai’Reese Pendergrass, who had slipped behind the Catholic defense for his second scoring reception. That narrowed the Fighting Irish lead to 42-40 with 2:11 left in the game.
But after Catholic recovered the Oak Ridge onside kick that followed, the Fighting Irish had to gain just one first down and then run out the clock to end the Wildcats’ season.
Oak Ridge was not able to score two of its extra points on Friday night, and that turned out to be the margin of victory for Catholic.
“You fought hard,” Wildcats coach Joe Gaddis told his players in a post-game huddle. “We just came up a little short.”
Catholic had a clear size advantage, especially on the offensive and defensive lines. They’re huge, big and strong, bigger than Oak Ridge, Gaddis said. Among the Catholic linemen are juniors Byrn Tucker (6-foot-5, 300 pounds), Stiles Moore (6-foot-3, 240 pounds), and Cooper Mays (6-foot-3, 260 pounds).
“They wore us down a little bit in the second half,” Gaddis said.
Besides “taking it to Oak Ridge” up front, Catholic had good field position in the second half and capitalized on some pass plays, Gaddis said.
“They got the momentum, and we didn’t get it back” until the final few minutes, he said.
Graham had another good night. He ran for four touchdowns and 134 yards in the second-round game at Soddy-Daisy last week, and he rushed for four more touchdowns and 176 yards against Catholic this week.
Pendergrass had his two touchdowns and 107 yards on those two catches.
Booker threw for 113 yards and two touchdowns, and while playing defense, the Mr. Football finalist caught an interception in the end zone in the second quarter, ending a scoring opportunity for the Fighting Irish.
Jacob Adams led the Oak Ridge defense with nine tackles, including two for losses, and four assists. Adams also recovered a Catholic fumble in the end zone in the second quarter, ending another scoring opportunity for the Fighting Irish. Jack Replogle had three tackles and seven assists, Jeremy Mitchell had seven tackles and two assists, Shemar Smith had four tackles and three assists, and Caelan Thompson had four tackles and two assists.
Catholic senior Adam Jones led the Fighting Irish with six catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns. Freshman Tommy Winton had 85 yards on three catches.
Junior quarterback Jack Jancek led Catholic in rushing with 79 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns. Jancek also threw for 219 yards and three touchdowns.
Junior Drew Hicks ran for 72 yards on eight carries for the Fighting Irish.
Several Catholic players are related to other well-known people in the football community. Jones is the son of former University of Tennessee football coach Butch Jones, and Jancek is the son of former UT defensive coordinator John Jancek. Mays, the lineman, is the son of former Tennessee offensive lineman Kevin Mays and the younger brother of Georgia offensive lineman and former Catholic player Cade Mays.
Catholic finished with 441 yards on Friday, compared to 379 for Oak Ridge. The two teams had been relatively closely matched in yards gained, with just over 200 each, in the first half.
Catholic finished with 219 yards passing, compared to 132 for Oak Ridge.
Catholic will host Central (11-2) in a rematch of a Class 5A semifinal next week. Beech (10-3) will be at Henry County (12-1) in the other semifinal.
Central, also a Knoxville team, beat David Crockett, of upper East Tennessee, 23-12, in another quarterfinal game on Friday.
Catholic beat Central 42-7 in last year’s semifinal.
The Wildcats scored on their first possession on Friday. A 15-yard run by senior Tre Jackson set up a five-yard touchdown run by Graham, who ran right for the score at 6:50 in the first quarter.
The Fighting Irish responded by driving 80 yards in 15 plays and about five minutes to score on a nine-yard pass from Jancek to Jones at the right pylon. The score was tied at 7 at 1:51 in the first quarter.
Oak Ridge quickly scored again. After receiving a toss from Booker at the end of a three-play drive, Graham ran right, curved inside through a hole between two defenders, and rushed 51 yards into the end zone for his second touchdown. Oak Ridge was not able to score the extra point after a bad snap, and the score was 13-7 at 20.8 in the first quarter.
But then Catholic also quickly scored again, using just four plays. A 72-yard catch by Winton helped set up a one-yard touchdown run by Jancek about one minute into the second quarter. With the extra point, the Fighting Irish took a 14-13 lead.
Pendergrass helped set up Oak Ridge’s next scoring drive, returning the Catholic kickoff 52 yards. Five plays later, Graham ran it in again from five yards out. The score was 20-14 at 7:56 in the second quarter.
On its next drive, Catholic fumbled on a scoring attempt from the Oak Ridge 1, and Adams of the Wildcats recovered it in the end zone for a touchback.
Oak Ridge converted that turnover into a score when Pendergrass got behind the Catholic defense on a 30-yard reception from Booker. After the extra point, the score was 27-14 with 1:21 left in the half.
With about 50 seconds left in the half, Jancek overthrew Jones at the goal line, and Booker intercepted it for another touchback.
The third quarter had a promising start for Oak Ridge. On the Wildcats’ second play, Graham swept right on a 75-yard touchdown run. That gave Oak Ridge a 33-14 lead after the extra point went wide right at 10:59.
But that’s when Catholic rallied. The Fighting Irish scored three touchdowns on their next three possessions to regain the lead for good in just six minutes.
Jancek’s rushing led the Fighting Irish on their first drive, and he ran 35 yards for a touchdown after faking a handoff at 7:32 in the third quarter. That narrowed the Wildcats’ lead to 33-21.
Oak Ridge struggled on its next drive and had to punt from its own three-yard line. That gave Catholic excellent field position, starting at the Wildcats’ 30. The Fighting Irish scored on a 15-yard pass from Jancek to junior running back Cody Duncan, who was wide open on the right side of the field. The score was now 33-28 at 3:02.
Oak Ridge struggled again on its next drive and punted again. This time, Catholic started its drive from the Wildcats’ 43. Jancek hit Jones with a pass in the middle of the field on the first play, and he curved right into the end zone for a touchdown. That gave Catholic a 35-33 lead at 1:26 in the third quarter.
Another unproductive Wildcats drive was followed two plays later by a one-yard touchdown run by Hicks for Catholic. He had set up the score with a 65-yard carry. With the touchdown, the Fighting Irish widened their lead to 42-33 at 11:05 in the fourth quarter.
Neither team scored on their next two drives. Oak Ridge scored the final touchdown on the 77-yard one-handed catch by Pendergrass at 2:11 in the fourth quarter.
“I’m proud of this football team,” Gaddis said.
He said there was a small group of seniors this year, and they were close and had provided great leadership.
“This is one of my favorite teams ever,” Gaddis said.
More information will be added as it becomes available.
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