CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Knoxville Catholic rallied behind its senior offensive line to pound Cleveland in a 41-26 victory over the Blue Raiders on Friday night.
Senior running back Nathan Coulter scored three touchdowns and rushed for 205 yards on 34 carries, helping the Irish score four times on their first four possessions of the second half.
The team had 405 yards on 65 runs.
"We went into halftime knowing that we'd been giving them stuff, and we knew that would be the only way they could beat us," Coulter said. "Then the offensive line ... blocked perfect."
Senior running back Cole Lombardo added 87 yards on 11 carries behind the line led by senior center Alex Smotens.
"We were taking out lumps early," Catholic coach Scott Meadows said. "Our senior leadership was huge tonight."
Cleveland's aerial attack proved effective at times with quarterback Austin Herink completing 18 of 29 attempts for 235 yards with one interception and three touchdowns.
His numbers and those of junior D.J. Jones could have been more impressive if not for several crucial penalties.
In all, Cleveland was flagged 17 times for 122 yards. The Raiders were flagged for holding, illegal procedure, a false start and a personal foul on four consecutive whistles in the fourth quarter. In particular, Jones had a 56-yard punt return and a 59-yard touchdown called back due to penalties.
"The penalty discrepancy killed us," first-year Cleveland coach Ron Crawford said. "That's no knock on the officials. We have to cut that out."
The Irish (2-0) and Raiders (0-2) went into halftime tied at 14. The Raiders took a 20-14 lead when Eric Goodwin made an impressive leaping 18-yard catch. The extra-point try bounced off the left upright
Catholic responded with a 10-play 72 yard drive with every inch gained on the ground and the final yard covered by Coulter for a 21-20 lead. Coulter scored again on the Irish's next possession.
The Raiders appeared to have cut into the lead on a swing pass to Jones that he took 59 yards. But holding downfield negated the play. Herink fumbled two plays later ,resulting in a quick erosion.
"We failed to be physical," Crawford said. "We're going to go back to work and get better."