By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
It is fitting for the district champions to meet for the Class 2A, Region 3 football championship Friday at 7 p.m. at Newport Stadium.
The host and fourth-ranked Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (8-4) and Walton-Verona Bearcats (10-2) bring respectable records to the table thanks to nice winning streaks. The District 6 champion Thoroughbreds have won six straight since starting the year 1-3. The District 5 champion Bearcats have won eight in a row since starting the season 2-2.
Both teams also run similar offenses and defenses. They like to run spread offenses that look like Wing-T formations as times and 4-4 defenses.
But after that, the similarities taper off making NewCath a huge favorite. The Bearcats started their program in 2008 while the Thoroughbreds’ first season came in 1935 and continued in 1945 after a nine-year absence. NewCath’s record is 444-334-10 all-time.
The Bearcats are 32-23 in their short existence and their third consecutive playoff appearance. The record-setting year includes their first district championship in school history and first appearance in a regional championship.
But the Thoroughbreds do not need to be reminded what happened when they came into the regional championship as a favorite last year. They fell 24-21 to eventual state champion Covington Holy Cross.
NewCath erased some of that string with a 52-0 shellacking of the Indians on Saturday in the second round of the playoffs. That followed a 49-13 win over Gallatin County in the first round of the playoffs for combined scores of 101-13.
“I think (the fire) has shown in their play,” said Eddie Eviston, NewCath head coach. “They’ve been making sure they go out there and play every snap like it’s their last. That’s what any team that wants to win a championship has to do.”
Walton-Verona struggled to 4-6 and 2-8 in 2008 and 2009 before winning eight games in each of the past two years. The only other playoff win for the Bearcats came in 2010 with a 46-0 win over Bracken County in the first round followed by a 49-7 loss to Frankfort. The Bearcats lost 13-0 to Lloyd Memorial in the first round of the playoffs last year.
On the other hand, NewCath is making its 13th straight trip to the regional title game and owns 20 district championships in school history. The Thoughbreds own four state championships including 2010 and six state runner-up finishes. They’ve gone 32-8 since Eviston took over as head coach in 2010.
“We have high expectations here,” Eviston said. “We have a tradition of being in this position. I hope these guys understand that. I don’t know if it will be an advantage or not. We still have to play the game. But we hope our guys are hungry enough to go after what we want. If we can play like we have been, we’ll be in good shape.”
Both teams did go undefeated in district action. But while NewCath dominated its district competition in the regular season by a combined 219-32 and no team coming closer than 39 points, Walton-Verona did receive a scare from Owen County winning just 21-14 on Sept. 28 in what turned out to be the district championship. The Bearcats outscored district opponents, 152-34.
The Thoroughbreds have clearly played the tougher schedule. The 1-3 start came against three Class 6A opponents and another from Ohio’s third-largest Division III. The Bearcats have played just two teams in the larger 3A class against winless Estill County (a 42-7 win on Oct. 26) and 3-8 Henry County (a 27-24 loss on Aug. 24).
The Bearcats and Thoroughbreds have three common opponents. They happen to be NewCath’s district opponents and one matchup stands out. Walton-Verona fell 38-33 to Lloyd Memorial on Sept. 7 before beating the Juggernauts, 33-26 in the second round of the playoffs last week. NewCath dominated Lloyd Memorial, 63-22 on Oct. 6.
The other two common opponents are Bishop Brossart and Newport. Walton-Verona downed Bishop Brossart, 45-0 on Oct. 19 and Newport, 42-7 to open the playoffs. NewCath shut out Bishop Brossart, 58-0 on Sept. 21 and Newport, 49-0 on Oct. 12.
Walton-Verona has a huge right tackle in senior 6-foot-6-inch, 320-pound Cole Mosier. He’s paved the way for a Wildcat offense that has rushed for 2,825 yards and passed for 556.
Senior Logan Foley quarterbacks the Bearcats. He’s rushed for 603 yards on 96 carries and eight touchdowns for an average of about 6.3 a carry and completed 19-of-35 passes for 398 yards, four touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Bearcats have seen five backs rush for at least 395 yards. They run a lot of dives, jet sweeps and quarterback keepers. Sophomore Will Latimore leads the way with 894 yards on 71 carries and nine touchdowns for an average of 12.6 a carry. He had 132 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown for an average of 11 a touch last week against Lloyd Memorial.
Walton-Verona has seen eight players catch passes. But only one has more than three in Latimore with 16 receptions for 337 yards and three touchdowns.
Defensively, senior linebacker Cory Bennett leads Walton-Verona with 72 tackles. Foley has four interceptions and senior defensive end Keith Graue has two fumble recoveries.
“We have to do a good job winning the trenches and getting on the perimeter,” Eviston said. “If we do that, we should be fine.”
The Thoroughbreds will counter with a balanced offense that has gained 4,019 yards and allowed 3,246. Dylan Hayes leads the rushing attack with 1,468 yards on 173 carries and 24 touchdowns for an average of about 8.5 a touch. Quarterback Josh Cain has completed 122-of-206 passes for 1,823 yards, 16 touchdowns and five interceptions. His leading target has been Mac Franzen with 41 catches for 875 yards and six touchdowns.
“We base our offense a lot around our run game,” Franzen said. “But it’s important to get the pass in there too, especially when (defenders) start creeping up (to the line of scrimmage against) the run. We can go over top, keep everything balanced and keep teams guessing.”
Defensively, Ross Meek leads NewCath with 80 tackles and Franzen has three interceptions. Mason Myers and Pete Collopy lead the Thoroughbreds with two fumble recoveries.
The winner of this game will travel to either District 7 champion and second-ranked Somerset (10-2) or fifth-ranked Danville (9-3) in the state semifinals. NewCath met both teams in its state championship runs in 2005 and 2006. The Thoroughbreds beat Somerset in the state semifinals both years and beat Danville in the Class A title game in 2006, 37-34.