It took two overtimes and a bold gamble, but Knoxville Catholic assured itself of a third trip to Chattanooga next week.
Stymied in the second half until the final five seconds, the Fighting Irish got a tying 22-yard field goal from Wyatt Price and rallied to beat host Signal Mountain 38-37.
The gamble came from the other sideline when Signal coach Bill Price elected to go for two points on the conversion attempt-- determined to end the game.
Signal had run on the Fighting Irish all night, rushing for 426 yards, and Catholic had caused problems on the Eagles' point-after kicks.
"They had tipped one and blocked another with a guy coming awfully fast off the corner," Price said. "We had a hard time stopping them from the 10, and they had a hard time stopping us. One way or another we were going to win it or lose it right there."
The attempt was turned away, handing coach Steve Matthews' team the one-point victory and a berth in the state Class 4A quarterfinals.
"I'm proud of our guys the way we battled. They hung tough and refused to give in there in the second half," he said. "Signal Mountain is a good football team, but I couldn't be prouder of our guys. We have a group of outstanding young men."
With quarterback Zac Jancek passing virtually at will, Catholic went up 21-10 by halftime -- with Jancek touchdown passes to Elijah Brown and Will Martinez and a 17-yard run by Brown.
Jancek wound up with three TD passes and 185 passing yards plus 30 more gained when scrambling away from Eagles defenders.
Signal won the toss and elected to receive, driving down inside the 10. However, the Eagles were forced to settle for a 22-yard Houston McLean field goal. James McClellan actually gave the Eagles a short-lived lead (10-7) on a 9-yard run before one of Jancek's passes and Brown's run.
Signal came back strong in the second half, finally getting defensive stops that set up two McClellan TDs and a two-point conversion run by Diamez Franklin for a 24-21 lead. It set the stage for Wyatt Price's 22-yard field goal.
Signal scored first in the overtime on a 4-yard Kaleb Menzel run and a McLean kick, which was almost blocked, but Catholic tied it on a 5-yard pass from Jancek to Martinez and the point-after kick. On the rotating possessions, Catholic then scored on Brown's 5-yard run, followed by Price's eventual game-winning kick.
Signal pulled within one when Jack Teter found Franklin for a 9-yard TD pass, setting the stage for the two-point gamble.
Kicker Price's late heroics and the overtime overshadowed a 43-carry, three-TD, 251-yard rushing performance by McClellan.
"We had a hard time with him all right. I kept waiting for him to fumble, but he never would. He's a good player," Matthews said.
Catholic will board a charter bus again next week for a trip to Hixson, which slipped past Sequoyah.
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765. Follow him at Twitter.com/wardgossett.