By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
BOWLING GREEN – Neither team deserved less than a gold trophy after this edge-of-your-seat Kentucky Class 2A football state championship game.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds found themselves on the short end of all three games decided by eight points or fewer during the regular season. But they came through with a 30-26 victory over the Caldwell County Tigers on Saturday at Western Kentucky University’s Houchens/L.T. Smith Stadium.
The Thoroughbreds (11-4) scored the game-winning touchdown with 26 seconds left. Quarterback Josh Cain faked a dive to Dylan Hayes, dropped back a few steps and threw a 4-yard score to a wide-open Tyler Lyon in the middle of the end zone. Cain then tried to score the two-point conversion on a draw, but Caldwell County (11-4) stopped him.
“It’s not one person that wins the game. But if I drop that, what do we do right now,” Lyon said. “They have certain guys they’re keying on. If you get someone they’re not paying attention to, you can sneak by them.”
The NewCath defense still had to hold off the Tigers to end the game. Caldwell County quarterback Elijah Sindelar completed a 30-yard pass to Martez Sivels to midfield after Sivels returned the kickoff to the Tiger 25 and the Tigers received a delay-of-game penalty. After Sindelar spiked the ball, he dropped back to pass. But NewCath linebacker Jack Sutkamp sacked him at the Tiger 35 and time expired.
This marked the second state championship for the Thoroughbreds in three seasons under head coach Eddie Eviston. NewCath improved to 35-8 in those three seasons.
“Caldwell County is a young team,” Eviston said. “I give them a lot of credit. They took it to us. It was great to see our kids fight through all that adversity. They were hungry. This game sums up our season.”
NewCath overcame a 1-3 start to win the state championship. The Thoroughbreds own 12 double-digit win seasons since 2000.
This game was almost as even as it could be. Both teams ran 66 offensive plays averaging about 6.1 a play. NewCath outgained Caldwell County, 405-404 in total offense. The Thoroughbreds rushed for 162 and passed for 243 and the Tigers ran for 146 and passed for 258.
Hayes again led all rushers with 27 carries for 106 yards and two touchdowns for an average of 3.9 a carry. Cain completed 14-of-23 passes for 243 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Thoroughbred wide receiver Mac Franzen finished with four catches for 81 yards and a touchdown.
The Thoroughbreds wanted to contain the Tigers’ offensive leaders. They held Jaylen Boyd to 92 yards rushing on 21 carries for an average of 4.4 yards a carry.
But Sindelar completed 21-of-29 passes for 258 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Sivels finished with 10 catches for 123 yards and a score.
The Thoroughbreds attempted to convert six on fourth down in the contest because their defense struggled. They made it 3-of-6 times and 6-of-13 on third down. The Tigers made 1-of-3 on fourth down and 3-of-9 on third.
The one failure on fourth down gave Caldwell County the ball at the NewCath 15 after the Thoroughbreds failed to convert a 4th-and-1 run. But the Tigers earned just a Brett Seymore 24-yard field goal to take a 23-21 lead with 1:40 left in the third.
“I’m an idiot there,” Eviston joked. “We figured we’d try to sneak one and it didn’t work. Fortunately, the defense held them to three. Our kids kept fighting.”
NewCath took the lead back when Nathan Grosser made a 24-yard field goal with 6:50 left in the final stanza. But Caldwell County drove down the field and took the lead on a Seymore 19-yard field goal with 2:30 left in the game. But before the field goal on 3rd-and-goal from the Thoroughbred 2, Boyd tried to dive into the end zone and Sutkamp and Ross Meek met him in the air for no gain.
“I had to watch wherever (Boyd) went,” Sutkamp said. “I realize now that was probably a bigger play than (the game-ending sack). You have to run straight, read your guards and fill (the space).”
NewCath then received the ball at its own 40 after Seymore kicked the ball out of bounds. Two plays later, Cain threw a nice pass to Franzen for a 54-yard gain to the Caldwell County 4.
“Before the play, (Franzen) said he’d run a deep post and go as far as he could,” Cain said. “I looked and saw he was open so I chucked it downfield. It wasn’t supposed to be a long play. I thought someone was going to come knock it down. I didn’t think he was going to catch it.”
The Thoroughbreds ran two running plays before Cain threw the game-winner to Lyon. NewCath did not score a touchdown in the second half until that point.
NewCath did sack Sindelar three times. Sutkamp and Lyon had one each with Quinn Anost and Elliott Rust combining for the other. Noah Freppon and Dan Ruwe recorded interceptions in the second half in Thoroughbred terriory. Ruwe’s pick came at the NewCath 6 in the third and Freppon’s came at the NewCath 21.
“I was waiting on (balls) the whole game,” Ruwe said. “Thankfully when I got my chance, I capitalized. The coaches drew up some good defensive schemes and we ended up pulling it out.”
The Thoroughbred defense also came up huge in the first quarter. NewCath fumbled the ball to Caldwell County at its 22. But on 4th-and-14, Boyd ran to the left sideline before Kalvin Moore stopped him just short of the first down.
The Thoroughbreds took the ball down the field and scored when Hayes plunged in from two yards out. But the Tigers responded when Sindelar hit Boyd for a 17-yard touchdown. NewCath still led 7-6 after Seymore missed the extra-point attempt.
The Thoroughbreds then scored when Cain found Franzen in the left side of the end zone from 13 yards out. That came on 4th-and-7 at the Caldwell County 13.
But the Tigers responded with a long drive and tried the game at 14 with 8:25 left in the first half. Sindelar found Sivils for a 15-yard touchdown and Dee Cain scored on the two-point conversion run.
Both teams came up short on 4th-down on their next possessions. NewCath drove to the Tiger 15, but Jacob Burke intercepted Cain in the end zone on 4th-and-11 from the Caldwell County 16.
The Tigers drove to the 37 after Sindelar completed a 1-yard screen pass to Boyd that Rust stopped. Sindelar tried to go around the left on a fake punt on 4th-and-2 but Anost stopped him at the 38.
The Thoroughbreds then scored when Hayes ran in from two yards out. Nathan Grosser hit his third of three extra-point attempts to give NewCath a 21-14 lead with 10 seconds left in the half.
The Tigers cut that margin to 21-20 just 1:34 into the half. Sindelar broke around right and scored on a 23-yard touchdown run.
NewCath graduates 15 seniors from the team. They are Cain, Freppon, Ruwe, Hayes, Rust, Anost, Grosser, Pete Collopy, Tyler Duke, Mason Myers, Jake Haas, Brady Thacker, Steve Schneider, Doug Meadows and Jimmy Raleigh.
The Thoroughbreds improved to 5-6 in championship games. They finished 2A state runner-up in 2007 and 2008 after winning consecutive Class A titles in 2005 and 2006.