By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
It is a tale of two Northern Kentucky football powers with two similar seasons.
Both the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (5-4) and Beechwood Tigers (6-3) struggled early against opponents from bigger schools. But they righted the ship against district competition sweeping through it and are now looking for momentum going into the postseason.
The two teams own a combined 15 state championships. Beechwood’s last state title of 11 overall came in 2008 while NewCath’s last title came in 2010. The Tigers lost to western Kentucky power Mayfield in the last three state semifinals.
The teams meet Friday at 7 p.m. at Newport to conclude the regular season for the sixth straight year. Beechwood has won the last two meetings. The Tigers knocked the Thoroughbreds from the ranks of unbeaten with a 29-20 win last year and won the 2010 meeting, 40-39 in double overtime on a controversial two-point conversion.
“It’s good to challenge ourselves before we get to the playoff run,” said Eddie Eviston, NewCath head coach. “It’s a great game to end with and a good rivalry. We’re going to get their best (effort).”
The Thoroughbreds beat their Class 2A, District 6 opponents by a combined 219-32, including a 49-10 win over defending 2A champion Covington Holy Cross on Thursday at Scott High. The Tigers rolled through their three opponents in Class 1A, District 4 by a combined 164-40, including a 61-0 victory at Ludlow on Friday.
The Tigers started the year at 1-3 with losses to Simon Kenton (21-17), Covington Holmes (33-21) and Covington Catholic (41-6) and a win over Covington Holy Cross (54-21). But they’ve won five straight since then.
The Thoroughbreds also lost to Simon Kenton (28-20) and Holmes (12-7) in a 2-4 start. They’ve won three in a row. Team chemistry has been the key to NewCath turnaround.
“That’s the beauty of football,” Eviston said. “That’s why football is the greatest team sport ever invented. You have multiple personalities sometimes 50-70 kids and 8-12 coaches. They all have to come together and form music together. We’re trying to get things worked out and play some good music.”
The teams have four common opponents. The two hold wins over Dixie Heights. NewCath beat the Colonels, 37-22 to open the season and Beechwood beat them, 33-28 on Sept. 28.
The NewCath 4-4 defense will once again face Beechwood’s power running game. The Tigers run a lot out of the I-formation sets.
Max Nussbaum has taken over as the feature back for the Tigers since returning from injury. Nussbaum has run for 1,009 yards on 94 carries and 14 touchdowns for an average of just more than 10.7 a touch. Teammate Mitch Thomas has 687 yards on 84 attempts and nine touchdowns for an average of about eight a touch.
The Tigers are not afraid to throw the ball when necessary. Quarterback Cameron Lane has completed 28-of-54 passes for 357 yards and five touchdowns. Justin Suchanek leads Beechwood with 13 receptions for 197 yards and a touchdown. Teammate Chris Lightner has eight catches for 292 yards and five scores.
The Thoroughbreds did a good job leveraging the Holy Cross skill position players outside toward the sideline or inside where teammates made tackles. They hope to do that again Friday. Ross Meek leads NewCath with 60 tackles and Mason Myers has 55.
“Max Nussbaum is a heck of a player,” said Quinn Anost, NewCath senior defensive end. “He’s really quick. We need to do what we did against Holy Cross. We need to get 11 guys to the ball and do what we do best – make plays.”
NewCath will counter with its balanced spread offense. The Thoroughbreds have rushed for 1,663 yards and passed for 1,334. Senior Dylan Hayes leads NewCath with 1,059 yards on 131 carries and 17 touchdowns for an average of just more than eight a touch.
But the Thoroughbreds may pass more in this game. Beechwood runs base 4-3 and 3-4 defenses but could throw in some 5-2 to stop Hayes. Quarterback Josh Cain has thrown for 1,333 yards completing 102-of-172 passes with 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. His leading target is Mac Franzen with 34 catches for 634 yards and four touchdowns for an average of about 18.6 yards per touch.
NewCath also wants to clean up on the personal foul penalties with another rivalry game. The Thoroughbreds had four against the Indians on Thursday while the Indians committed three.
“That’s not something we like to do,” Eviston said. “We like to play aggressive. But we have to watch ourselves.”
Beechwood leads the all-time series, 12-23. Prior to the last two meetings, the Thoroughbreds beat their former district rivals four straight times.