PHOTO GALLERY ABOVE
It was a simple matter of flipping the field.
Friday night Williamson ran 13 plays in Catholic territory in the first 16 minutes of play in the first round of the Class 4A playoffs. The Lions offense never saw Catholic territory after that. On the other hand Catholic had nothing but bad field position early. Then the Knights flipped the field and snapped the ball 36 times in Williamson territory the last 32 minutes of the game, which led to a 24-6 Catholic victory. “It was the field position. After the first quarter we stayed on their end of the field and our defense was simply incredible,” Knights coach Aubrey Blackwell said.
Williamson began the game very strong and initially things looked bleak for the Knights. While Catholic’s offense sputtered early in the game the Lions offense was in high gear. Williamson threatened early but a fumble recovered by Nate Downes stopped the drive. The Lions offense came roaring back and scored late in the first quarter on a short run by Quinton Shaw.
Catholic’s defense began to stiffen in the second quarter. A bad snap on a punt led to the Knights first possession in Williamson territory for the first time. On the next play Darrell Gibson fought his way for 21 yards and Catholic took a 7-6 lead at 8:31. At that moment the game changed for good especially with the Knights defense coming to life. “We really didn’t change anything, well, we changed our mindset. We were hungry for the win. I think their early success moving the ball woke us up,” Knights linebacker Pat Ryan said. “We have a lot of leaders on this team and this is a special senior class. We feel good about our team. We just put our foot down.”
The Knights offense was soon back in business at the enemy’s 27 yard line. Gibson carried the ball five consecutive times and found the end zone on the last effort. The 14-7 score stood until intermission.
“We saw what they were doing and made some changes. We overcame adversity and started pounding the line,” Gibson explained. “We can do that because our offensive line is getting better all of the time. They do a great job.”
The big change in the Catholic attack was vacating the spread offense. Quarterback Christian Ivey went under center and the Knights utilized a Power I effectively. “We changed to that formation, which is what we needed to do and we knew what we would be facing,” Blackwell said. “We needed to work on heavy offense because they had too much speed. We watched their films and knew we had to pound them instead of going outside. They are just too fast.”
Blackwell’s strategy worked very well on both sides of the ball. Williamson lacked the depth and was forced to play many players both ways. “They got tired. We helped them get that way. We took the heavy offense and started running hurry up and kept the pressure on them. It also slowed them down when they had the ball,” Blackwell explained.
After a 12 play Catholic drive ended with a Williamson interception in the end zone, Downes did his defensive magic once again. The reliable defensive back intercepted a Lions pass and returned it 36 yards giving the Knights another opportunity in red zone. A drive never materialized but Zack Pappanastos easily drilled a 19 yard field goal at 3:18 in the third quarter broadening the Knights lead to 17-6.
Another Williamson miscue allowed the Knights back into the red zone. Gibson scored his 18th rushing TD of the season with only 12 seconds remaining in the third quarter. The 24-6 Catholic lead was more than enough especially with the stingy Knights defense.
Gibson ended the game with 33 carries and 138 yards. T.J. Dudley led the defense with a dozen tackles.
Before the 2019 season Blackwell noted that the 2018 season was the first real tough regular season schedule for the Knights in a while. This year was no exception. The tough scheduling by Blackwell is intentional, and it has paid off. “I want a tough schedule. It gives our kids confidence that they can play with any team. The speed of the game and physical part will become tougher as we go,” the Knights coach said. “Preparation is important, and when you’ve been there before you can do it again.”
Catholic is now 11-0 and will host Handley (7-4) for round two Friday night. “I have no idea about Handley. We need to watch a lot of film. We just got to work hard and prepare. That’s the name of the game,” Blackwell said.