By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
NEWPORT – Friday’s victory gave great signs toward another big year based on the way they tend to improve as the season progresses.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds held off the visiting Ashland Blazer Tomcats, 37-26 to open the season. The two teams had not met since NewCath Head Coach Dan Wagner’s senior year in 1976 – a 21-7 Tomcat win.
“They had trouble stopping us, which I didn’t really think they could stop us after the second or third series,” Wagner said. “But then by the same token, we had trouble stopping them. In Mac (Franzen’s) first football game (at quarterback), we’re not going to come out and play perfect football. It doesn’t work. But we stopped when we had to. I just told them that was the worst we’ll play all year.”
It marked just the second win in the series against eight defeats for the Thoroughbreds. The other NewCath win came 19-0 in the Class AA playoffs in 1965.
The defending 2A champion Thoroughbreds appeared to be in better condition, especially in the second half. Temperatures reached the 80s.
“It doesn’t matter if you are there at 6:30, quarter til 7 or 7 p.m., it’s still muggy,” Wagner said. “They said the humidity was supposed to go away. It didn’t. We had some kids go down. But they had someone go down every other play, which seemed to benefit us in the long-run because it let us rest.”
It also marked the debuts as head coaches for both teams. Wagner and Ashland Head Coach Tony Love served as defensive coordinators last year before the schools promoted them. Love took over when longtime Head Coach Leon Hart retired and Wagner took over when three-year Head Coach Eddie Eviston took the Offensive Coordinator job at Georgetown College.
Ashland did outgain NewCath, 380-360 in total offense. But a lot of that came because the Thoroughbreds recorded four turnovers to two for the Tomcats. Both teams lost two fumbles each and NewCath threw two interceptions.
The inexperienced Tomcat defense that returned just two starters from last year’s 9-3 squad could not stop the balanced Thoroughbred Spread offense. NewCath ran for a combined 304 yards on 40 carries for an average of 7.6 yards a carry and five touchdowns. Franzen had 11 carries for 103 yards with Jacob Smith going for 86 yards on nine carries. Teammates Jack Sutkamp had 66 yards on nine rushes and Kalvin Moore had 40 yards on seven touches.
“Mostly what we do is have alley protection,” said Jacob Wieland, junior offensive lineman. “We’ll usually do that to the weak side of the ball. That gives Mac a lane to run through if the play is busted.”
The NewCath defense knew it had to stop Ashland sophomore standout tailback Quentin Baker on offense. Baker ran for 238 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns out of Ashland’s Diamond formation attack.
“We had a game plan for (Baker) going in,” said Luke Kues, NewCath sophomore defensive end. “The only reason he had any good plays is we missed tackles. We have to work on that. He’s a good athlete so we all needed to fly around to him because you don’t know if one person is going to take him down because he’s that good. We also need to wrap up, which I was guilty of not doing once or twice.”
Neither team passed a lot except for late when Ashland had to pass to try to get back into the game. Franzen completed 3-of-7 passes for 56 yards and Ashland’s Hunter Prince completed 7-of-15 for 42 yards. No receivers on either team had more than one reception.
The Thoroughbred defense may have bent some, but did come up with some crucial stops. Stephen Brooks came up on 4th-and-1 with 1:49 left in the third quarter and NC held Ashland on downs after the Tomcats drove into scoring territory late in the fourth quarter. Sutkamp landed a jarring hit on a screen on fourth down with 27 seconds to give NewCath the ball back.
“I saw more things we need to fix on defense than anything else,” Wagner said. “We’ll just keep working to get in better shape.”
NewCath took the lead with 9:30 left in the first quarter. The Thoroughbreds lined up trips left. Franzen swung the ball to Smith. Smith broke through several tackles and scampered 53 yards to the end zone to put NewCath up 7-0 after John Caudill made the extra-point attempt.
Ashland responded when James Queen scored from 13 yards out with 6:06 left in the quarter. The Thoroughbreds led 7-6 after the PAT failed.
NewCath drove down the field late in the first quarter and scored six seconds into the second when Jack Sutkamp. That gave NewCath a 13-6 lead before Baker broke free for an 80-yard scamper to tie the game at 13 with 9:38 left in the half.
But the Thoroughbreds promptly responded when Franzen scored from 22 yards out. NewCath worked the clock well in the final minute of the first half. Caudill hit a 26-yard field goal with 1.1 seconds left to put NewCath up 23-13 at halftime.
Baker broke free again for a 46-yard touchdown run with 9:25 left in the third. NewCath still led 23-19 after Moore blocked the PAT.
The Thoroughbreds came back with a touchdown drive of their own. Moore scored from three yards out with 5:08 left in the third quarter to put NewCath up 30-19.
Smith scored his second touchdown from 18 yards out with 10 minutes left in the game to put NewCath up 37-19. But Ashland did not quit as Prince completed a 13-yard touchdown pass to Queen with 7:33 left in the game to make the final score of 37-26.
The Thoroughbreds return to action on Friday at 6 p.m. at Dixie Heights. They take on the defending Class 5A champion Cooper Jaguars. Cooper and head coach Randy Borchers, a 1996 NewCath alum, lost 17-10 at Ryle to open the season.