By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
They went into the second-round Class 2A football playoff game at Newport Stadium confident.
But the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds were not overconfident unlike last year’s playoff meeting with the arch-rival Covington Holy Cross Indians. The fourth-ranked Thoroughbreds had beaten the defending state champions, 49-10 on Oct. 18 at Scott in the regular season and did not want a repeat of last year.
That did not prove to be an issue. NewCath (8-4) recorded an even bigger 52-0 victory Saturday over its rivals across the Licking River to advance to its 13th consecutive regional championship. NewCath has won six in a row and seven of its last eight contests since starting 1-3.
They avoided the fate of last year’s team as a result. The Thoroughbreds beat the eventual state champion Indians, 31-14 in the regular season before falling 24-21 in the Region 3 title game. Holy Cross finished 12-3 on its way to the state championship last year, but stumbled to 4-8 this year.
A couple ranked 2A teams lost Friday. Murray took down previously unbeaten and top-ranked Owensboro Catholic, 29-22 in double overtime and third-ranked Bardstown (10-2) lost at Glasgow, 42-33.
Newport Central Catholic will take on District 5 champion Walton-Verona (10-2) on Friday. The Thoroughbreds are 7-5 in regional title games since the run started in 2000. They’ve won three state championships and finished state runner-up on four other occasions during that span.
NewCath left no doubt about the outcome after holding Holy Cross to a failed field-goal attempt following a 13-play drive to the NewCath 24 on the opening. Thoroughbred running back Dylan Hayes scampered down the left sideline for an 80-yard touchdown and NewCath never looked back on its way to its third shutout of the year, all against District 6 opponents.
The Thoroughbreds finished 5-0 against district opponents. They outscored the district competition, 271-32 for a 47.8-point average margin of victory.
“We have to take it one game at a time,” said Eddie Eviston, NewCath head coach. “Our guys were ready and focused. We were going to make sure from play one to the final horn that we were going to give everything we got.”
NewCath outgained Holy Cross, 356-260 in total offense, including 166-81 through the air. The Thoroughbreds also won the turnover battle, 4-0 recording three picks by Kalvin Moore, Dan Ruwe and Michael Runyon and Pete Collopy recorded a fumble. Moore returned his interception back 26 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter to put the Thoroughbreds up 14-0. Ruwe also returned an interception for a touchdown on Holy Cross’ next possession, but NewCath received a block-in-the-back penalty and could not convert the 4th-and-7 pass.
“That (interception) really helped out a lot,” Moore said. “It got all my teammates excited. Once I got the ball, I was trying to see which way I could cut so I could score. My teammates helped blocking for me.”
NewCath’s big weapons had big games. Hayes ran for 160 yards on 11 carries and two touchdowns for an average of about 14.5 a touch. Quarterback Josh Cain completed 5-of-10 passes for 166 yards and three touchdowns. Mac Franzen had two touchdown receptions for 93 yards and Collopy had two catches for 55 yards and a score. Moore scored another touchdown from 51 yards out on his lone carry of the game.
“They were playing really tight coverage,” Eviston said. “We got some guys that we hope can run some good routes. We were able to throw it over the top a couple times and make plays happen.”
The Thoroughbreds took advantage of good field position the whole game. They started six drives at midfield or deeper into Indian territory. They did not punt once compared to four punts for an average of 7.25 yards a boot for the Indians.
Burt Pouncy had a good game for the Indians rushing for 99 yards on 19 carries for an average of about 5.2 a touch. But Holy Cross could not pass the ball consistently. Quarterback Travis Gabbard completed 3-of-12 passes for 24 yards and three interceptions and teammate Mitch Trail completed 3-of-4 for 57 yards. Holy Cross did play without junior standout wide receiver Jalen Beal.
“Obviously, (Beal) is a dynamic player for them,” Eviston said. “We prepared for him. But we prepared for their offense. We expected if Beal was out, Pouncy would get a lot more carries, which made sense. (Pouncy) is a heck of a football player. He had not quit in him until that final horn. We bent some (defensively), but we didn’t break.”
The Thoroughbreds added two more touchdowns in the second quarter. Franzen caught a 17-yard touchdown pass from Cain and Collopy scored on a 39-yard pitch and catch from Cain. NewCath led 28-0 at halftime.
The Thoroughbreds scored quickly to start the third quarter. Franzen burnt Holy Cross freshman Markel McClenden for a 76-yard score just 58 seconds into the half to give NewCath a 35-0 advantage.
McClenden appeared to be trying to trip Franzen on Franzen’s way back to the NewCath huddle with about 1:15 left in the first half. Fans could see an official talking to McClenden shortly thereafter.
The Thoroughbreds enforced the running clock later in the period. Hayes ran 55 yards untouched for a touchdown and Nathan Grosser kicked a 36-yard field goal to put NewCath up 45-0 with 6:52 left in the third.
NewCath added one more score in the fourth. That came on Moore’s 51-yard score.
The Thoroughbreds improved to 18-2 all-time against the Indians. They’ve never played Walton-Verona even though the two schools are not far from each other.