Lipscomb Academy stops Catholic, 33-10

By Steve Williams

A light rain shower started falling at Knoxville Catholic’s Blaine Stadium late in the first half Friday night.

Junior place-kicker Gavin Menard had just booted a 40-yard field goal to cap the Fighting Irish’s best drive of the game and reduce Lipscomb Academy’s lead to 14 points.

Some Catholic fans felt better that it was now a two-score game as the two teams headed to their locker room. But what they didn’t know was there was a storm on the way.

Lipscomb’s first two plays of the second half jolted Catholic’s comeback hopes.

Sophomore running back Zekharyah Crockett ran 34 yards to the Irish 46-yard line on first down. A sliding catch by senior wide receiver Bennett Whitefield netted 35 yards on second down. Just like that, it was first-and-10 at the 11.

Crockett gained four yards to the 7. On second down, Crockett was hit and lost control of the ball, but quickly fell on it at the 2. He charged up the middle again, found a crack in the Irish line and scored. Cy Pepper’s PAT kick upped the lead to 21.

Catholic went three-and-out and never got back in it.

The Mustangs from Nashville were on their way to a 33-10 victory.

Lipscomb, the 2021 and 2022 Division II-AA state champs who were 13-0 last season, came to Knoxville with a misleading record (2-5 overall, 0-2 in region) in its first season in Division II-AAA. Three of its losses have come against out-of-state teams.

Catholic, coming off a win at highly-regarded Brentwood Academy, slipped to 5-3 overall and 1-2 in the region with the loss.

“Honestly, I didn’t even recognize that team tonight,” said Catholic co-head coach Steve Matthews. “We’ve been playing good football. Blame it on a thousand things, but we didn’t look like ourselves.

“Give Lipscomb Academy all the credit. They are an outstanding team, but at the same time we did a lot to help them. We just made silly mistakes in the first half that we haven’t made all year. And then they got the momentum going. In the second half, we tried to battle, but it was too little, too late.

“They are really good up front,” continued Matthews. “They’ve got four or five big-time college prospects. We knew that coming in. We’ve played teams like that all year and just made too many mistakes.

“We’ve got to stick together as a team, keep working and get this thing turned around.”

After Catholic’s Quincy Pannell intercepted a pass at midfield on Lipscomb’s first possession, Braylon Harmon caught a 33-yard pass from Jayden Neal that gave the Irish a first down at the LA 16. But the scoring threat ended up with Menard’s field goal being blocked and returned 72 yards by UT commitment Kaleb Beasley for a touchdown.

Beasley also intercepted a pass deep in Irish territory late in the first quarter that led to a 25-yard FG by Pepper and a 10-0 lead.

A 27-yard pass from Lipscomb QB Jackson Kilburg to tight end TJ Briggs set up a 6-yard TD run by Crockett and a 17-0 lead for the Mustangs midway through the second quarter.

Breaks seemed to go Lipscomb’s way throughout the contest.

The Mustangs dropped a punt on their second possession after halftime but picked it up and returned it to the Irish 23. After a personal foul penalty, Lipscomb still scored on Kilburg’s 38-yard pass to Beasley in the right corner of the end zone to go up 30-3.

Harmon answered with a 94-yard kickoff return – the highlight of the game for Catholic – and later had a 30-yard punt return.

Pepper finished the scoring with his second 25-yard FG with 1:08 left in the third quarter.

Beasley added to his list of big plays when he intercepted Neal’s long pass intended for sophomore Tyreek King on the first play of the fourth quarter.

Midway into the final quarter, Neal completed a 40-yard pass to Pannell, who had the ball knocked out of his hands at the 2 and returned 60 yards the other way by the Mustangs.

It’ll be Senior Night when Catholic plays its final regular season home game Friday against unbeaten McCallie.