By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds football team would love for nothing more than to pick up a win or two these next two weeks, especially before district play begins.
The Thoroughbreds (1-2) felt like one got away in Friday’s 21-20 loss at Campbell County. They missed an extra-point attempt with less than four minutes left in the loss.
But they are in for a huge challenge in Independence on Friday against the Simon Kenton Pioneers at 7 p.m. This marks the second of three consecutive games against teams from Class 6A, District 6 of Northern Kentucky. NewCath Head Coach Dan Wagner has continued the tradition of facing bigger schools before district play begins.
“That means a lot to us,” Wagner said. “The Cooper game (a 31-22 loss in the second game of the year) is a perfect example. We know it was a game we were in position to win, but we kind of let it get away. We learned some things about ourselves that we would not get from a blowout win.”
Simon Kenton enters the game undefeated just like last year’s contest. The Pioneers opened the year with wins over 2012 Class 4A runner-up Collins (23-21), Covington Holy Cross (48-0) and Conner (42-35).
Simone Kenton escaped Newport with a 28-20 win in last year’s game. NewCath drove inside the Pioneer 20 in the game’s final minutes but lost a fumble allowing on the potential game-tying drive.
Simon Kenton comes into the game with a depth advantage. The Pioneers do not play guys on both offense and defense.
“This allows us to play fast,” said Jeff Marksberry, Simon Kenton Head Coach. “We are able to sub people in and keep people fresh. We have been able to get opponents tired.”
The Thoroughbreds know they must tighten things up defensively against the Pioneer Spread offense led by three-year, dual-threat starting senior quarterback Brenan Kuntz. Kuntz has completed 35-of-46 passes for 439 yards, four touchdowns and one interception and rushed for 256 yards on 36 carries and two touchdowns. Kuntz completed 17-of-30 passes for 241 yards and three touchdowns in the win last year.
Kuntz likes to fake or hand the ball off to Dillion Powell in the read option behind a big offensive line. Powell has 45 rushes for 250 yards and five touchdowns. Grant Wassom leads all Pioneer receivers with 13 catches for 183 yards and three touchdowns and Logan Winkler has 10 catches for 101 yards.
“We are working on responsibility football,” Wagner said. “If we do our job and get in the right spots, we will take our chances of slowing him down a little. We have to keep working hard and pay attention to the little things.”
Defensively, three individuals have rushed for more than 100 yards against NewCath. Campbell County quarterback Avery Wood carried the ball 32 times for 154 yards and three touchdowns.
“We have a lot of fast guys on the (defensive) line so we should be able to keep (Kuntz) contained,” said Tyler Lyon, NewCath senior tight end/defensive end. “Campbell County kept running the quarterback up the middle so we have something to fix there. That’s what killed us. They definitely controlled the clock.”
Opponents have scored 78 points against the Thoroughbreds and put up 1085 yards of total offense. That includes 738 on the ground.
The Thoroughbreds will face a Pioneer 3-4 or 3-5 defensive scheme. Conner quarterback and University of Kentucky commit Drew Barker had success against the Pioneers last week completing 27-of-44 passes for 344 yards and four touchdowns. The Pioneers have put up 1,077 yards of total offense and allowed 809. That includes 539 passing yards.
Junior linebackers Chris Hicks and Barry Deaton lead the Pioneer defense with 25 and 20 tackles respectively. Simon Kenton has recovered two fumbles and intercepted one pass defensively.
NewCath’s Spread offense is led by quarterback Mac Franzen. Franzen has completed 25-of-41 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns and rushed for 152 yards on 46 carries. Sophomore Jacob Smith along with seniors Kalvin Moore and Jack Sutkamp have shared the load in the backfield this year. Moore and Sutkamp also lead the NewCath defense.
“Those three guys (Franzen, Smith, Sutkamp) are great runners,” Marksberry said. “We have to make solid tackles against them.”
NewCath leads the all-time series against the Pioneers, 10-3. The Thoroughbreds won the 2011 meeting, 24-14.