Notre Dame High School battled rival Knoxville Catholic and the clock Aug. 22 as the Chattanooga Fighting Irish’s hopes for a last-second tie or victory fell short in the teams’ first football game of the 2014 season.
Knoxville Catholic scored 15 points in the first quarter and held off a tough Notre Dame squad to win its second straight Irish Bowl 15-12 at NDHS’s Jim Eberle Field.
The Fighting Irish from Knoxville were led by quarterback Zac Jancek, who had a career night by completing 21 of 35 passes for 268 yards and one touchdown. Jancek connected with Jordan Anderson on a 44-yard touchdown pass, and Amari Rodgers scored on a 25-yard run as KCHS racked up 427 yards in total offense.
Notre Dame was able to intercept Jancek twice and stay within striking distance of the Knoxville rival.
Notre Dame quarterback Alex Darras, who had been sidelined following surgery on an injured leg in early August, was given the go-ahead to play and entered the game after halftime with the Irish trailing KCHS 15-6. He sparked Notre Dame, leading drives that put the Chattanooga Irish in field goal range twice.
After closing the gap to 15-9 in the third quarter and then 15-12 in the fourth quarter, Notre Dame’s defense held Knoxville Catholic and took over possession in KCHS territory. With less than five minutes remaining in the game, Notre Dame’s offense took over and began a final drive sustained by key Darras completions and rushes that led to first downs.
NDHS running back Auston Banks rushed for 150 yards on 22 carries, including a 49-yard touchdown run.
Darras led Notre Dame to within 35 yards of the end zone as time ran out, but a stingy KCHS defense that would bend but not break kept Notre Dame out of the end zone.
Knoxville Catholic coach Steve Matthews praised his team for striking early in the game, which proved to be the difference. “We found a way to win. We gutted it out somehow,” Mr. Matthews said.
Notre Dame coach Charles Fant told his players that the game was hard fought but KCHS’s early scores were the difference.
Bishop Richard F. Stika and Diocese of Knoxville schools Superintendent Sister Mary Marta Abbott, RSM, presented Knoxville Catholic with the Irish Bowl Trophy. Bishop Stika then addressed the Notre Dame team, praising the players for their competitiveness in a hard-fought game.
“I couldn’t be prouder of both teams. It was a very competitive game and Notre Dame came very close,” Bishop Stika said after the game.
The game attracted a full stadium of fans from Chattanooga and Knoxville, including Cardinal Justin Rigali.
Notre Dame and Knoxville Catholic have played each other at various times in past years, but the decision to create an annual season-opening game is relatively new.
“Bishop Stika and I talked about this a while back,” said Sister Mary Marta. “Part of the reason for this game is to try to unify us as a diocese. It’s also a way to celebrate good and healthy athletic competition.”
“We hope the kids get to know each other, and in the process the bishop and I both feel this is a great way to strengthen our community,” she added.
Knoxville Catholic won last year’s game 22-13.
As of Sept. 19, neither team had lost since the Irish Bowl, KCHS having improved to 4-0 and Notre Dame posting a 4-1 record.
KCHS’s three additional wins were routs, 61-0 over Coalfield in the Irish’s home opener, 70-23 over rival Christian Academy on the road, and 55-7 over Tyner Academy at Knoxville Catholic.
Notre Dame followed the loss to Knoxville Catholic with a 34-20 win at East Ridge, then blowout victories at Chattanooga Christian (42-7) and at home against Boyd Buchanan (50-7) and Bledsoe County (48-0).