Knoxville Catholic captures 2015 Irish Bowl, 35-17

Players, coaches, fans wait out a long lightning delay in the latest edition of the annual rivalry

By Jim Wogan

At first it looked like a blowout. Then it looked like a washout.

After all that, the 2015 Irish Bowl had the look and feel of an outright entertaining game for those who stuck around for the finish.

Knoxville Catholic made sure the bronze trophy stayed on Cedar Bluff Road with a convincing comeback win over Notre Dame of Chattanooga, 35-17 on Sept. 11.

Amari Rodgers scored four touchdowns, rushed for 112 yards, and caught three passes for 218 yards as KCHS won the rivalry game for the third straight year.

Knoxville Catholic broke out to a 7-0 lead after a 51-yard Chase Cunningham touchdown pass to Rodgers on the team’s first possession.

The Irish extended their lead to 14-0 when Rodgers returned a punt 93 yards for a touchdown. The game was barely 6 minutes old.

With KCHS firmly in control, weather became a factor. A fast-moving and powerful electrical storm closed in on Knoxville and forced delays and postponements of numerous high school games around the region. At KCHS, the referees halted the game at 7:51 p.m. Many fans found refuge in their cars, while both teams sought shelter in their locker rooms. With rain and lightning pounding the area, officials from both schools discussed whether it was worth waiting out the deluge. They did.

It took nearly 2 hours, but with the lightning no longer a threat and the rain diminished, the game was resumed at 9:41 p.m. It was midway through the first quarter.

Notre Dame took control.

Alex Davis kicked a 33-yard field goal following a KCHS fumble to make it 14-3.

Following another Knox Catholic fumble, Notre Dame’s Patrick Johnson caught a 14-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Alex Darras.

KCHS clung to a 14-10 lead at the half. In the third quarter, which started sometime around 10:30 p.m., Notre Dame took the lead, thanks to another KCHS turnover. Tyler Ennis intercepted a pass and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown. NDHS led 17-14.

Just when it looked like history was in the making for NDHS (their first win in the resumption of this series), Knoxville Catholic kicked it into high gear. At 2:17 of the third quarter, Rodgers put KCHS back in front with a 74-yard catch-and-run touchdown reception to make it 21-17.

The junior running back struck again at 9:18 of the fourth quarter, closing in on 11:30 p.m., with a stunning 93-yard touchdown reception to give Knox Catholic a 28-17 lead.

KCHS quarterback Chase Cunningham capped the night with a 3-yard touchdown run to make it 35-17.

“I am proud of our guys. It’s been a rough two weeks, but we showed spurts tonight. With all the injuries we’ve suffered, to play this way, I am really proud of this team,” said KCHS head coach Steve Matthews.

“Amari was great. We lean on him a lot. We try to get the ball in his hands, and he did a really nice job for us,” he added.

Despite the loss, Notre Dame head coach Charles Fant was equally complimentary of his players.

“I am so proud of our kids for coming back. I mean, we’re winning 17-14 in the third quarter after that terrible start, but then Knoxville made those two incredible plays. When Amari makes plays like that, you just tip your hat.” said Coach Fant.

Ricky Ballard rushed for 124 yards on 27 carries for Notre Dame.

“I told our kids, don’t put your heads down, we got better tonight,” said Coach Fant. “This is our diocese, and I think this is a great series, we play together and we pray together. When we played this game last year, we went on a 12-game winning streak, they made us better.”

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