By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The two football squads enter the Class 2A playoffs with identical 6-4 records.
But that’s about the only similarity between the first-round opponents. The District 6 champion Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds play host to the Gallatin County Wildcats at 7 p.m. Friday at Newport Stadium. The Wildcats took the fourth seed out of District 5.
NewCath knocked off Gallatin County, 56-0 at the same location last year. A similar result could occur this year based on the schedules. The Thoroughbreds ended up losing 24-21 to district rival Covington Holy Cross in the regional title game after winning its fourth state championship in 2010.
The Thoroughbreds’ four losses have come to bigger Ohio and Kentucky schools in Covington Holmes, Simon Kenton, Campbell County and Cincinnati McNicholas while Gallatin County’s four losses came to 2A opponents. NewCath went 5-0 against teams in their class or smaller after beating 1A power Beechwood, 34-14 last week to conclude the regular season. The Thoroughbreds enter the playoffs with a four-game winning streak.
“The players have to understand that just because we are playing well right now, we still need to improve as a team,” said Eddie Eviston, NewCath head coach. “We still have to push ourselves to be better practice players. The kids have worked hard over the last month and that is why we are playing better and that needs to continue.”
The only common opponent between the two teams is Lloyd Memorial. The Juggernauts downed the Wildcats, 66-15 on Sept. 14. NewCath dismantled Lloyd Memorial, 66-23 on Oct. 6.
Four of Gallatin County’s wins have come against 1A teams in Ludlow (44-22), Berea (40-6), Bellevue (52-16) and Bardstown Bethlehem (15-14). The other two wins came against 1-9 Louisville Atherton (48-36) of Class 4A and District 5 rival Trimble County (48-0).
Gallatin County lost to Walton-Verona (42-6), Carroll County (57-27) and Owen County (59-22) in district action. That equates to an average margin of defeat of about 34.3 points.
On the season, Gallatin County has rushed for 1,422 yards and passed for 2,082. Opponents have rushed for 1,657 and passed for 1,401.
Senior Nick Brown leads the Wildcats on both sides of the ball. The running back has gained 887 yards on 145 carries and 10 touchdowns for an average of just more than 6.1 yards a carry. Brown has also hauled in 13 catches for 80 yards and a touchdown and leads the team with 102 tackles as a free safety.
“(Brown) is one of their best players who does good things on both sides of the ball,” Eviston said. “We just need to execute our game plan and play our game.”
Wildcat quarterback Austin Chapman has completed 133-of-242 passes for 2,065 yards, 24 touchdowns and 15 interceptions. His top two targets are wide receivers Nate McCoy with 48 catches for 704 yards and six touchdowns and Brady Lawrence with 38 catches for 799 yards and seven touchdowns.
On the flip side of the ball, NewCath has outscored opponents, 195-46 during the winning streak. The Thoroughbreds have gained 1,878 yards rushing and 1,497 passing while allowing 1,436 rushing and 1,317 passing this season.
The NewCath spread offense has thrived lately led by senior running back Dylan Hayes. Hayes has rushed for 1,229 yards on 154 carries and 20 touchdowns for an average of about eight yards a carry.
The Thoroughbreds have been balanced as quarterback Josh Cain has completed 111-of-188 passes for 1,496 yards, 11 touchdowns and five interceptions. Mac Franzen leads the NewCath receivers with 37 catches for 670 yards and four touchdowns. Dan Ruwe is second with 21 catches for 262 yards and two touchdowns with Pete Collopy haulding in 20 receptions for 158 yards and two scores.
Ross Meed continues to lead the NewCath defense with 69 tackles. Franzen has three interceptions to lead the Thoroughbreds and Myers has a team-high two fumble recoveries.
“Just like I am sure the majority of every other team does, we just emphasize that the focus and the will to win has to be at an all-time high each and every week from here on out,” Eviston said. “That is what separates the champions from all the others.”
This will mark just the second meeting between the teams all-time. The Thoroughbreds have not lost in the first two rounds of the playoffs since 1999. That also marked the last time NewCath has not advanced past the second round.