By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds football team finds itself back where it likes to be on a yearly basis.
That is playing for a state championship. NewCath is playing on the final weekend of the season for the second time in three years since Eddie Eviston took over as head coach in 2010 and eighth time since 2000.
NewCath will take on an unfamiliar opponent in the District 1 champion Caldwell County Tigers (11-3) from western Kentucky. Game time is Noon Eastern Standard Time at Western Kentucky University’s Houchens/L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green. The two teams have never met on the gridiron.
“We hope these guys are ready to go,” Eviston said. “There’s not much you can do (about the start time). We’re going to have to get up early and get some things going. You hope these guys would play at four in the morning for a state championship if they had to.”
The Thoroughbreds (10-4) earned the trip with a 27-18 Class 2A semifinal win at Somerset. That marked their closest call in the playoffs. NewCath trailed 12-7 in the third quarter before going ahead for good.
They’ve won eight in a row and earned their 12th double-digit win season since 2000 in the process. NewCath moved to 9-0 against teams in Classes 1A and 2A this season having outscored all four playoff opponents 177-45.
The two teams have some history playing in state championships. The Thoroughbreds have won four state championships and finished runner-up six other times. The Tigers won two 2A state championships in 1998, 38-28 over Danville and 1963 over Highlands, 14-7.
The battles along the offensive and defensive lines could go a long way in this game. The Thoroughbreds have dominated both lately. They had to grind out every yard in the win at Somerset.
“Somerset was huge and (Caldwell County) is not near as big as Somerset,” said Steve Schneider, NewCath senior lineman. “We have to be physical. You have to fly off the ball quick, knock the (the lineman) back and see how far you can get him away from the ball. You can tell the hardest workers in the weight room this offseason were the linemen.”
The Tigers have outscored opponents, 566-293 compared to 534-222 for NewCath. Both teams run balanced, spread offenses. Caldwell County has rushed for 2,706 yards and passed for 2,723. NewCath has run for 2,421 yards and passed for 2,182.
Defensively, teams have run for 2,977 yards against the Tigers and passed for 1,497. Opponents have run for 1,908 yards and passed for 1,795 against the Thoroughbreds.
The NewCath 4-4 defense will face one of the top rushers in the state in Caldwell County sophomore Jaylen Boyd. Boyd has rushed for 1,949 yards on 225 attempts and 29 touchdowns for an average of about 8.7 a carry.
“We just have to be disciplined,” Eviston said. “They try to spread you out (offensively). We have to make sure we’re not getting too far in the backfield. We can’t give (Boyd) any creases or let him outside.”
Tiger sophomore quarterback Elijah Sindelar has completed 182-of-298 passes for 2,703 yards, 30 touchdowns and six interceptions. Caldwell County’s leading receiver is senior Martez Sivils with 85 catches for 1,295 yards and 15 touchdowns.
Defensively for NewCath, junior linebacker Jack Sutkamp leads NewCath with 102 tackles. Mac Franzen leads the Thoroughbreds with three interceptions with Pete Collopy, Tyler Lyon and Mason Myers recording two fumble recoveries each. Lyon recovered one fumble in the end zone for a touchdown in the Region 3 title game against Walton-Verona.
The Thoroughbreds will counter offensively with their three main weapons with a mixture of other contributors. Senior Dylan Hayes leads NewCath with 1,601 yards rushing on 206 carries and 26 touchdowns for an average of about 7.8 a carry.
NewCath quarterback Josh Cain has completed 153-of-253 passes for 2,181 yards, 18 touchdowns and seven interceptions. Franzen leads the Thoroughbred receivers with 55 catches for 1,062 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Thoroughbreds have done well on special teams for the most part. Hayes and freshman Jacob Smith have returned kickoffs and punts for touchdowns this year. Nathan Grosser and John Caudill have done a lot of kicking off and extra-point attempts for NewCath this year.
“You have to vision yourself making (extra-point kicks),” Caudill said. “If you know your steps, you should be good. Special teams is a big part of the game. Last year, we lost to (Covington) Holy Cross (24-21 in the Region 3 title game) on special teams so we take it very seriously.”
One thing that could benefit NewCath is a tougher schedule. The Thoroughbreds faced three Class 6A opponents, a 4A opponent and one opponent from Ohio’s third-largest Division III. One of those opponents in Simon Kenton advanced to the third round of the 6A playoffs.
Caldwell County has faced one opponent that catches attention in western Kentucky. Class 1A power Mayfield handed the Tigers a 48-7 defeat on Oct. 26. Mayfield is playing Fairview for the 1A title on Friday.
The Tigers played four opponents in larger classes, but none finished with winning records. Caldwell County finished 2-2 against those opponents beating 5A Ohio County (56-20) and 2011 Class 4A runner-up Franklin-Simpson (49-13) and losing to 4A Calloway County (34-31) and 3A Trigg County (38-37).
Caldwell County earned its way into the title game with a 43-31 win over Louisville DeSales. The Tigers led 30-7 at one point before DeSales cut it to nine at one point. Boyd rushed for 288 yards and four touchdowns in the win for the Tigers.
The Tigers had to beat district rival Murray to earn their way into the state semifinals. They squeaked by Murray, 10-7 in the Region 1 title game after winning the regular-season matchup, 24-21.