By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
When the Class 2A football brackets came out, the fourth-ranked Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds knew this was a possibility.
The last two 2A champions will meet in the second round of the playoffs Saturday at 7 p.m. at Newport Stadium. In the first round Friday, the Thoroughbreds (7-4) took care of the Gallatin County Wildcats, 49-13. At the same time, Covington Holy Cross Indians (4-7) took care of host Owen County, 42-32 to set up another meeting between the rivals on opposite sides of the Licking River.
“It’s about pride in our program,” said Eddie Eviston, NewCath head coach. “We want to be the best 2A program up here (in Northern Kentucky). We need to make sure we go out and play that way. We’ll let the guys know what they might see and go from there.”
The Thoroughbreds have won five in a row, including 49-10 over Holy Cross on Oct. 18 at Scott High in the anticipated rematch of the 2011 Region 3 title game. Holy Cross won that title game, 24-21 on its way to the state championship. That marked NewCath’s lone loss to a district opponent since 2006.
But the teams have gone in different directions this season. Holy Cross finished third in district action behind NewCath and Lloyd Memorial and lost five in a row at one point during the regular season after going 12-3 last year.
The Thoroughbreds have outgained opponents, 3,657-2,988 in total offense and 406-190 in total points. Opponents have outgained Holy Cross, and outscored the Indians, 427-327.
The Thoroughbreds have been dominating the line play on both sides of the ball lately. They outgained the Indians, 276-251 in total offense, including 262-154 on the ground in the regular-season meeting.
“We talked to those guys (linemen),” Eviston said. “We told them, ‘Football games are won up front.’ I think these guys have taken that to heart. They’re busting their tails and have improved each week. We hope to continue to run the ball like we have (lately).”
The Thoroughbreds built a 35-3 lead in that game behind senior tailback Dylan Hayes. Hayes had 11 carries for 168 yards and three touchdowns for an average of just more than 15 a touch and three punt returns for 116 yards and two touchdowns for an average of 38.7 a return.
NewCath distributed the ball well in that game in its spread offense against the Holy Cross 4-4 defense. Freshman Jacob Smith had 57 yards on eight carries and a touchdown and senior Mason Myers added 30 yards on three carries and a score.
Hayes leads NewCath with 1,307 yards rushing on 162 carries and 22 touchdowns for an average of just more than eight a carry. Smith is second on the team with 266 yards on 37 carries and four touchdowns.
The Thoroughbreds did pass the ball a couple times against Holy Cross. Quarterback Josh Cain completed 3-of-5 passes for 17 yards. Cain has completed 117-of-196 passes for 1,657 yards, 13 touchdowns and five interceptions. Mac Franzen leads the Thoroughbreds with 39 receptions for 782 yards and four touchdowns.
“We have to get everyone into the play,” said Tyler Lyon, NewCath junior wide receiver/defensive end. “You can’t have a couple guys slack off. Once we get the whole team into the play, we all shine.”
Defensively in the 4-4, NewCath made a huge goal-line stand early in the Holy Cross game and held Holy Cross’ main weapons in check. The Thoroughbreds held junior Jalen Beal to just 78 yards on 12 carries rushing the ball and Burt Pouncy to nine yards on three carries. Beal did not have any receptions and Pouncy had two for 45 yards. Quarterback Mitch Trail completed just 5-of-17 passes for 97 yards out of a spread formation. The Indians like to motion skill players in one direction and run the ball the opposite direction.
Emotions could be high again in this game. The teams totaled 11 penalties for 118 yards including seven personal fouls in the regular-season contest. Lyon said the Thoroughbreds coaches advise the players to “play with their pads and not their mouths.”
NewCath is 17-2 all-time against Holy Cross. NewCath’s only other loss to Holy Cross came in 2006. The winner faces either District 5 winner Walton-Verona (9-2) or Lloyd Memorial (8-3) for the Region 3 title next weekend.