The sounds of Catholic High School’s recent failures against Fulton over the last several years resonated throughout Blaine Stadium every day.
A 46-25 loss to the Falcons in the second round of the playoffs put an end to the Fighting Irish’s season a year ago.
It was a familiar feeling for the program, having fallen to Fulton three of the last four years in the postseason.
After a week of hearing years of sorrow in the form of Fulton’s radio broadcasts, Catholic made sure it got its revenge on Friday. The Fighting Irish trounced the Falcons, 44-14, on Friday to advance to the quarterfinals of the Class 5A playoffs.
“As a staff, we went back and forth about whether we should bring up last year’s game or do we say it is a whole new season. We used it and it was a constant motivator for our players,” Catholic head coach Steve Matthews said. ”They really upset us last year, but this year we were able to get them back.”
Catholic will face Oak Ridge, which beat West 16-6, in the quarterfinals Friday at 7 p.m. EST.
Ironically, it was Dashon Bussell, a transfer from Indiana that had no part in any of the previous meetings, who made the biggest difference. The Western Michigan commit racked up 198 yards of total offense and scored three touchdowns, all of which came on plays 48 yards or longer, on just eight touches.
“My teammates definitely preached about how big it was to beat these guys,” Bussell said. “I felt the anger from them, and that made me feel like I was here last year. I felt like we had to prove that we were the better team.”
The Fighting Irish started making that statement on the opening possession and never stopped. A 61-yard touchdown run by senior running back Joshua Brown was called back because of a holding penalty, but that didn’t stop Catholic. Ten rushing plays and 66 yards later, they found the end zone again to get ahead early.
After forcing a turnover on downs on the ensuing Fulton possession, Bussell made his first splash, getting open deep down the field to haul in a 58-yard touchdown from senior quarterback Jack Sompayrac, who threw for 128 yards and rushed 62 more after missing Catholic’s first-round victory over Campbell County with a shoulder injury.
The senior wide receiver put the game away with a pair of long touchdown runs in the second half, the first from 48 yards out and the second from 52.
He now has six touchdowns in these playoffs, proving to be the playmaker that has stepped up after the Fighting Irish lost star receivers Amari Rodgers to graduation.
“Amari was obviously special, but Dashon is right there with him,” Matthews said. “The more he’s gotten involved with the system, the more we’ve been able to use him. We’d still like to use him more. He’s electric with the ball in his hands and he has that knack to make people miss. He’s really a special athlete.”
While Bussell provided the highlights, Catholic’s defense prevented Fulton from getting anything going, holding to them to just eight points with the first-team offense in the game. The Falcons recorded 345 total yards, but 118 of those came on their two touchdown runs — a 90-yard scamper by Jashaun Fenderson and a 28-yard run by Dorian Williamson.
“Last year, we were a little bigger up front and a little more experience,” Fulton head coach Rob Black said. “We were a little bit outmanned tonight, and that showed on both sides of the ball. We got beat by the better team tonight.”
The Fighting Irish are over the Fulton hump, something that propelled them to a Class 4A state championship back in 2015.
To get to that point, though, they will first have to get past Oak Ridge, a team that downed Fulton, 21-12, in the regular season finale for the Region 3-5A title.
“Fulton and Catholic has kind of been the rivalry, but we try to say every Friday is Championship Friday,” Matthews said. “I told them after the game that we will celebrate this until midnight and then go on to the next one.