The Pope John Paul II Knights knocked off their rival Father Ryan High School 31-17 on Friday in the annual contest between the area’s two Catholic high schools to claim the Bishop’s Cup for the fifth year in a row.
Senior quarterback Sawyer Watts led the Knights with 206 yards passing and three touchdowns, all to sophomore wide receiver Colin Cook.
For the second week in a row, the Knights used a strong fourth quarter to pull away from their opponent and claim the victory.
After the Irish tied the score at 17-17 with 6:49 left in the game on a 27-yard pass from D.C. Tabscott to Christian Smith, JPII scored on their next offensive play. Watts found Cook wide open on a post route for a 65-yard scoring strike to put the Knights back on top 24-17.
The Knights then turned a Kilon Williams interception into a 38-yard touchdown dash by senior running back Antwan Roberts with 3:51 left to seal the victory at 31-17.
“I like our team with their backs against the wall,” JPII Head Coach Justin Geisinger said. “That’s been a building process over the last five or six years.
“It’s a cultural thing,” he added. “When you’re in a game like this you’ve got to have the right culture.
“Football is a game of momentum swings,” Geisinger continued. “Our kids don’t panic when we give up a big play.”
Watts echoed his Geisinger’s sentiments.
“It’s paying off, all the work we did over the summer,” Watts said. “We’re tough. We fight. We don’t give up. We’ve got each other’s back. It takes all 72 guys on this football team to get to this point.”
Father Ryan head coach Brian Rector said JPII responded better to adversity than his team.
“They responded to adversity better than we did,” he said. “The keys were fundamentals and technique. When it counted the most, we had really poor fundamentals and technique.”
JPII opened the scoring with a 39-yard field goal by Andrew Southard, which was set up by a 57-yard completion from Watts to Stephen Carter.
A fumble recovery by Jackson Noble set up JPII’s next score, a 22-yard touchdown pass from Watts to Cook to give the Knights a 10-0 lead with 2:43 left in the first quarter.
The Irish got on the scoreboard with 5:42 left in the second quarter when Tabscott found Parker Erdman who sidestepped a Knight defender and raced 64 yards to the end zone.
But the Knights answered with a 17-yard scoring pass from Watts to Cook with nine seconds left in the first half to extend their lead to 17-7.
Father Ryan tied the score on a 33-yard field goal by Zach Wesnofske and 27-yard scoring strike from Tabscott to Smith, setting up JPII’s fourth quarter rally.
“We attacked more in the second half and played with better fundamentals and technique,” Rector said of his team’s play.
The Irish held Roberts, the University of Wisconsin commit, to 64 yards on 18 carries and kept him bottled up until his fourth quarter touchdown run.
“He wears on you all night long. That’s what good backs do,” Rector said. “You’ve got to match that intensity.”
“It’s an emotional game every year,” Geisinger said. “It’s always a tough game. It’s always a competitive game. Hats off to Father Ryan. Every year their kids compete.
“Our offense was sloppy early. The defense kept us in the game,” Geisinger continued.
Watts passed for 206 yards and three touchdowns and Cook had four receptions for three touchdowns and 116 yards.
Tabscott completed 16 of 27 passes for 226 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. Erdman caught seven passes for 115 yards and a score.
It was Father Ryan’s opening game of the season after Davidson County schools waited until after Labor Day to start playing because of the COVID-19 pandemic. “We’re not going to use that as an excuse for this game,” Rector said.
Father Ryan will host Brentwood Academy on Friday. “We’ve got to get better,” Rector said. “It’s all about us.”
The win improved JPII’s record to 4-0, the first time in school history the team has won its first four games.
The Knights will host Christian Brothers High School of Memphis on Friday in its second region game.
“They are a very good football team,” Geisinger said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”