By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds football team left a huge exclamation point on why it is the top Class 2A squad in Northern Kentucky.
For the third consecutive playoff game, the Thoroughbreds (9-4) jumped out to a huge lead and cruised to victory. They scored 28 points in the first quarter against the Walton-Verona Bearcats (10-3) and never looked back in a 49-13 Region 3 win Friday.
The fourth-ranked Throughbreds won their seventh consecutive game and snapped the Bearcats’ eight-game winning streak. They’ve outscored opponents, 345-50 during the winning streak, including 150-26 in the three playoff victories.
“Our guys were ready to play right off the bat,” said Eddie Eviston, NewCath head coach. “They understood this was a region championship. We work on ourselves week-in and week-out trying to improve. We just stay focused on what we have to do no matter who the opponent is. I think that was proven.”
The win marked NewCath’s 13th consecutive appearance in a regional championship to the first ever for Walton-Verona, which started its program in 2008. It’s been in this round where the Thoroughbreds have had problems in the past, including last year’s 24-21 loss to eventual 2A champion Covington Holy Cross. That’s one of two losses in the third round since 2005. The other came 23-10 to Louisville DeSales in 2009.
“We were dreading this game knowing that we came up short last year in the third round,” said Elliot Rust, NewCath senior offensive and defensive lineman. “I know I was personally nervous. We just played lights out. That was great.”
But NewCath erased more of those memories with the win over Walton-Verona. The Thoroughbreds improved to 8-5 in the third round since 2000.
NewCath moves on to the state semifinals Friday at the second-ranked Region 4 champion Somerset Briar Jumpers (11-2). The Thoroughbreds defeated the Briar Jumpers in the state semifinals on their way to consecutive 2A championships in 2005 and 2006. The 2006 meeting also took place at Somerset’s Clark Field.
The Thoroughbreds have history on their side in state semifinal contests since 2000. They own a spotless 7-0 record in that prestigious round of the playoffs.
NewCath dominated the game on special teams, defense and with the passing attack. Walton-Verona punted six times for an average of about 28.7 a boot to NewCath’s one punt for 51 yards.
Senior Nathan Grosser handled the extra-point and kickoff duties for the Thoroughbreds. He made all seven extra-point attempts and kicked off eight times including three into the end zone for touchbacks. The Bearcats returned five kicks for 63 yards for an average of 12.6 a return.
On the other side, the Thoroughbreds averaged 40 yards a return. Freshman Jacob Smith returned two kickoffs for 103 yards including the opening kickoff back 92 yards for a touchdown. Teammate Mac Franzen returned another for 17 yards.
NewCath also had 101 yards on three punt returns to none for Walton-Verona. Dylan Hayes had two returns for 67 yards including a 43-yard punt return in the first quarter that put the Thoroughbreds up 28-0. Smith had the other for 34 yards.
“Special teams really gave us a spark,” Eviston said. “They made some big plays. The defense shut (Walton-Verona) down in the first quarter and gave us short field (position) so that really helped.”
NewCath outgained Walton-Verona, 246-235 in total offense. That included 182-79 through the air. Quarterback Josh Cain completed 16-of-23 passes for that total with one touchdown and one interception for just his sixth of the season. Franzen again led NewCath with six catches for 60 yards and Pete Collopy had two catches for 34 yards.
Walton-Verona lined up in a spread formation and attacked with several running backs at different angles. The Bearcats rushed for 156 yards on 46 carries for an average of about 3.4 a carry. Will Latimore led Walton-Verona with 63 yards on 14 carries for an average of 4.5 a touch and his brother Chris Latimore had 45 yards on five carries for an average of nine a touch.
“We took it to them in the first half,” said Quinn Anost, NewCath senior defensive end. “We definitely bent a little. We let them get a few yards, but we didn’t break. We’re definitely not taking anything for granted right now.”
NewCath gained just 64 yards rushing on 24 carries for an average of about 2.7 a touch. Cain led the way with 31 yards on two carries. Standout tailback Dylan Hayes had just four carries for eight yards.
Defensively, The Thoroughbreds picked off two passes. Smith had one and John Harris made the other.
Aside from the two special teams returns, NewCath scored two touchdowns on runs. Brady Thacker scored from a yard out and Cain scrambled for a 27-yard touchdown.
The Bearcats dented the scoreboard in the second quarter. Will Latimore returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown. But NewCath responded when Cain hit Collopy for a 24-yard touchdown.
NewCath extended the lead to 49-7 after the third quarter. Smith scored from two yards out and Tyler Lyon recovered a fumble in the end zone.
The Thoroughbreds stayed a perfect 10-0 against opponents from District 5. They have not faced Trimble County. But NewCath is 3-0 against Carroll County, 2-0 against Gallatin County and 4-0 against Owen County.