G. Michael Graham Photo. Newport Central Catholic linebacker Jack Sutkamp lays out Ashland wide receiver Rj Washington in Friday's win while teammates Logan Neff (54), Kole Zenni (9) and Colin Hoover (6) converge. The Thoroughbreds hope for more hits like that during the year defensively.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds football team tends to reload with the best in Kentucky.
Their opponent Friday hopes to develop that same consistency. The Thoroughbreds face the Cooper Jaguars for the first time in school history at 6 p.m. in the Skyline Crosstown Showdown at Dixie Heights.
Both teams are coming off successful 2012 campaigns. The Thoroughbreds won their fifth state championship with a 30-26 win over the Caldwell County Tigers in the Class 2A state championship and the Jaguars lost to Bowling Green, 34-20 a few hours later.
The two squads experienced different results in their season-openers on Friday. NewCath defeated Ashland Blazer, 37-26 and Cooper lost at in-town rival Ryle, 17-10.
Cooper’s head coach is Randy Borchers. Like NewCath Head Coach Dan Wagner, Borchers graduated from NewCath in 1996 so they both played for longtime head coach Bob Schneider.
“I look at (Cooper) and I see (the program) as first class all around. When we scrimmaged them last year, there’s no jawing,” Wagner said. “They take care of what they need to take care of. That’s probably the big thing Coach Schneider has instilled in pretty much everyone he’s been in touch with.”
Both teams have things they need to improve upon entering Friday’s game. The Thoroughbreds want to tackle better in their 4-4 defense. Ashland running back Quentin Baker recorded 238 yards rushing on 18 carries and two touchdowns Friday.
“It’s been a lot better focus (this week),” said Stephen Brooks, NewCath senior offensive lineman/linebacker. “We’ve been getting better at that by doing a lot of motor drills. We need to bring out feet through the hit instead of diving at (opposing running backs). We need to wrap up and follow through.”
NewCath faces another good skill position player on Friday in Cooper Senior wide receiver/defensive back Aaron Morgan. Morgan had one rushing for a minus-6 yards but did haul in four catches for 79 yards and a touchdown against Ryle. Morgan recorded 37 catches for 734 yards and seven touchdowns last year.
“He’s very shifty and if he gets in the open field, forget about him,” Wagner said of Morgan. “He’s very aggressive on defense. He breaks as well on the ball as any kid I’ve seen in a long time. I’m impressed with him.”
Both teams run Spread offenses. Cooper’s inexperience showed in the loss to Ryle. The Jaguars gained just 168 yards of total offense in the game. They graduated their leading rushers from last year in A.J. Morgan and Tyler Morris.
“Our players have the taste of success and they were able to learn from a very talented senior class last year on what it takes to be good,” Borchers said. “I tell our players every day that there is no pressure on them because everyone outside of our team feels this is going to be a down year. Our players do not like to hear this and believe that they have a chance to compete for a district title again this year and they want to prove all the naysayers wrong.”
The Thoroughbreds put up 360 yards in total offense against Ashland, including 304 on the ground. Quarterback Mac Franzen rushed for 103 yards on 11 carries and sophomore Jacob Smith had 86 on nine rushes. Franzen completed 3-of-7 passes for 56 yards. NewCath would not mind seeing more offensive balance and not turn the ball over four times like Friday. But things worked out there against Ashland.
“It will take some time,” Wagner said. “But to be honest, we didn’t need it (Friday). He dropped back a couple times. We have this deal where if he sees something, he’ll take it. That’s where he got a lot of his yards.”
Cooper runs 4-3 and 4-4 defensive sets. Aside from Morgan, Will Ludwing is the Jaguar quarterback and senior running back/linebacker Avery Bricking returns along with senior wide receiver/defensive backs Corey Fussinger and Richie Pauls.
NewCath is trying to rotate in more people defensively, especially in the trenches. The four teams that beat the Thoroughbreds last year did that.
“We always try to play a lot of kids,” Wagner said. “Sometimes we can and sometimes we can’t. I think we have more depth. I said this at the beginning of the year. We have what I think is a talented sophomore group. We can work them in. One time Friday, we had three sophomores in on the defensive line at the same time. We’ll take a few lumps here and there. But all in all, they did pretty well.”
Borchers hopes to see the offensive balance they displayed last year. The Jaguars rushed for just five yards in the loss to Ryle and suffered from two blocked punts, a short punt and what Borchers called “terrible kickoff returns.”
“We need to find a way to get the ball in our playmakers’ hands and allow them to make plays,” Borchers said. “NewCath is very aggressive and fundamentally sound defensively. We need to be patient and take what they give us.”
NewCath takes on three 6A opponents after this game. The Thoroughbreds will battle Campbell County, Dixie Heights and Simon Kenton following this game.