Tigers' magical ride ends
Knoxville Catholic overcomes MCHS rallies in 4A semifinals
The Marshall County Tigers, looking to become the first MCHS football team to reach the state final in 31 years. traveled east to Knoxville on Friday night to take on a suddenly resurgent Knoxville Catholic squad in a Class 4A semifinal.
The game was a match of surges and momentum with the Irish outlasting two furious Marshall County rallies to advance to the Blue Cross Bowl with a 54-35 win over one of the finest Marshall County squads on record.
"This team is so, so special. It's gratifying to see what we put together in such a short amount of time," coach Thomas Osteen said. "To be the best Marshall County team in 31 years speaks to the kids we've got and the seniors that have put so much time into this."
"I'm thrilled for them," Osteen continued. "The competitor in you wants to win every time out. Hats off to Knoxville Catholic they've got a great football team and they'll win big next week I'm pretty sure. It hurts right now but they have nothing to be ashamed of."
The game got off to a rough start for the Tigers as Catholic scored on the third play of its first possession when Chase Kurschen caught a 58-yard pass from Chase Cunningham and raced into the end zone for an early 7-0 lead after a Jake Posczobut extra point.
Quick Irish lead
The Irish would score two more touchdowns on consecutive series both on one-yard Cunningham runs to stun the rowdy Marshall County crowd less than a minute in the second quarter.
"Usually when the other team scores first we respond right back," senior tight end Darius McKenzie said. "The offense has struggled with small things the past couple games and they were kind of exposed in the first quarter."
Marshall County finally showed signs of life gaining a little momentum behind the speed of Josh Franklin on a 69-yard run and the power of Kamron Liggett on a two-yard run to make it a 21-7 game after the Estes extra point.
Class 4A Mr. Football Back of the Year winner Amari Rogers made his mark on the next series with a 27-yard touchdown reception, but the Tigers would come roaring back on the next two possessions to make it a ballgame.
Tigers heat up
Posey, who finished runner-up to Rodgers in the Mr. Football balloting, warmed up on the next possession hitting Jay Howard with a 44-yard pass, McKenzie with an eight yard reception and Liggett finished off the drive with a six-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 28-14.
Josh Franklin whipped the Tiger crowd into a frenzy on the next possession when the speedy back turned a five-yard screen pass into a 62-yard touchdown run by splitting two Catholic defensive backs and breaking free to the house to cut the lead to seven with just over two minutes in the half.
The Tigers tried to harness the newfound momentum by catching the Irish off guard with an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff, but the plan backfired as the return man not only recovered the kick but raced the ball down to the 30-yard line to start the possession.
Rogers showed why he is a Southern Cal commitment on the next play by leaping high in the air and catching an improbable eight-yard touchdown pass behind two Tiger defensive backs to grab the momentum right back with a 35-21 edge.
Kurschen put a dagger in the heart of the Marshall County faithful with just 15 seconds left on the clock in the second quarter, picking off a Posey pass and returning the pick 45 yards to notch the score up to 41-21 at halftime.
The Catholic offense scored more points in one half than the Marshall County defense had allowed in an entire game to all but one opponent (Overton 42 points) during the season and more than the Tigers had given up to the three previous playoff opponents the entirety of the post-season.
"We started off slow," Howard said. "The offense and defense just started off slow. We waited too long to capitalize on everything. When we did start to capitalize on offense they just kept scoring. We got going too late."
Any chance of a Tiger rally was squashed on the first offensive Catholic drive of the second half when Jeffrey Woods raced 10 yards for a TD and after a three and out by the Tiger offense, Kurschen struck again with a six-yard touchdown pass from Cunningham for an insurmountable 54-21 lead.
The true character of the Tigers showed by continuing to play hard despite the large Catholic lead and after a Curtis Keiler punt return touchdown was called back, Poesy hit Tre Crutcher and Montrell Harris before Liggett ran in his third touchdown of the night from 11 yards.
"No matter what the scoreboard said I wanted to give it my all no matter what," Harris said. "I knew this team could go to the state championship because we trained so hard for this. I think we really left a mark on Marshall County football this year."
Harris caught an 11-yard reception from Posey on the next Tiger possession to set up the final touchdown on a magical season to Liggett who scored for a season high fourth time.
"This team is my family, they're my brothers," Posey said. "I'm so glad I got to be with this team and go this far with them. We haven't done this in over 30 years, so we did something great. We didn't play for the state championship but we still had a good season."
Despite the lopsided score Marshall County out-gained Knoxville Catholic 505 yards to 417, led by Posey who threw for 368 yards on 29-48 attempts.
Franklin led the Tigers in rushing one last time with 82 yards on just four rushes and Liggett gained 52 yards on 14 attempts to go along with the sophomore running back's four touchdowns.
The nucleus of the Tigers passing attack, Crutcher (72 yards, 8 recs.) and Howard (101 yards, 12 recs.) will return next season, but valuable receivers McKenzie (40 yards, 3 recs.), Harris (14 yards, 3 recs.) and Franklin (80 yards, 5 recs.) will graduate this spring.
"This season was a tremendous success in all areas," Osteen reiterated. "We've got a great coaching staff, a great group of seniors and we've set a new culture for Marshall County football that the young kid's now know to expect. So, just a resounding success in all areas."
Marshall County 0 21 0 14 35
Knoxville Catholic 14 27 13 0 54
C -- Chase Kurschen 58 pass from Chase Cunningham (Jake Posczobut kick), 9:32.
C- Cunningham 1 run (Posczobut kick), 3:07.
C-Cunningham 1 run (Posczobut kick), 11:12.
MC -- Kamron Liggett 2 run (Caleb Estes kick), 10:38.
C -- Amari Rodgers 27 pass from Cunningham (Posczobut kick), 10:28.
MC -- Liggett 6 run (Estes kick), 7:05.
MC-Josh Franklin 62 pass from Ashton Posey (Estes kick), 2:20.
C -- Rodgers 8 pass from Cunningham (Posczobut kick), 1:20.
C-Kurschen 45 interception return (kick failed), 15.6.
C-Jeffery Wood 10 run (Posczobut kick), 10:02.
C-Kurschen 6 pass from Cunningham (pass failed), 8:30.
MC -- Liggett 11 run (Estes kick), 11:43.
MC-Liggett 7 run (Estes kick).