G. Michael Graham Photo. Newport Central Catholic defenders Jacob Smith (3), Logan Neff (diving) and Kole Zenni (9) chase Simon Kenton quarterback Brenan Kuntz (26) in Friday's game in Independence. The Thoroughbreds hope to break their three-game losing streak Friday at Dixie Heights. Game time is 7 p.m.
By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The defending Class 2A state champions would love nothing more than to go into District 6 action with a win.
But the run through the Class 6A, District 6 has been tough so far and will not get any easier on Friday. The 1-3 Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds travel to Crestview Hills for the second time in four weeks to face the improved Dixie Heights Colonels.
This marks the third straight week facing a team from that district. NewCath lost 31-22 to 2012 Class 5A runner-up Cooper in the annual Crosstown Showdown on Aug. 30 before suffering consecutive losses at Campbell County (21-20) and Simon Kenton (30-7).
NewCath is facing a rough stretch like last year. The Thoroughbreds started last year 2-4 before reeling off nine straight wins to capture the fifth state championship in school history. All four losses also came to bigger schools.
“Dixie Heights is a quality opponent,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “Getting a quality win would be huge for us. We’re going through growing pains. But they’re learning and staying aggressive. You can’t fault their effort at all.”
Dixie Heights finished just 3-8 last year. The Colonels had a new Head Coach in Dave Brossart after longtime Head Coach Tom Spritzky retired. Dixie Heights lost a tough one, 57-50 to Lexington Henry Clay in the first round of the playoffs.
The Colonels enter the game just one win shy of last year’s total at 2-1 overall. They opened the year with a 21-13 against rival Covington Catholic before beating Beechwood (41-20) and Cincinnati Turpin (38-7). Dixie Heights has outscored opponents by an average of about 31-16 while opponents have outscored NewCath by about a 27-22 average.
“We asked our kids to expect more out of themselves and their teammates,” Brossart said. “To show up is not enough. We expect great effort and this started about halfway through last season. Our kids realized that things needed to change, too. Our offseason and spring football session was much improved from the previous year and right now, we are seeing the dividends.”
The Colonels have rushed the ball well in their two wins. They ran for 420 yards against Beechwood and another 258 at Turpin. Senior running back Darion Washington paced the attack against Beechwood with 161 yards on 15 carries and junior quarterback Drew Moore had 123 yards rushing on 12 carries against Turpin. Moore also threw for 140 yards and two touchdowns completing 11-of-16 passes.
“We have some special drills for quality mobile quarterbacks,” Wagner said. “(Drew) Moore is special. This is how you find out if you’re any good or not.”
Dixie Heights likes to run a multiple-formation offense. Brossart said the Colonels use a tight end and two-back base offense before branching off to spread formations. Brossart said they like to establish the run then go to the pass. Both teams have players going both directions.
That does not bode well for a NewCath team that has struggled defensively this year allowing 836 on the ground and 442 through the air for a total of 1,251. A lot of that has to do with some youth and inexperience.
NewCath played Simon Kenton without seniors Stephen Brooks, Matt Lenz, junior Jacob Wieland and sophomore Luke Kues leaving them in a tough situation on both sides of the ball. Brooks, Wieland and Lenz are options at offensive center.
“During the summer, we’d been working everyone in,” said Nathan Kling, NewCath senior offensive and defensive lineman. “We always say, ‘Next Guy in.’ The younger guys have to know that they have to play. We’re trying to stay in there and do the best we can.”
Senior linebackers Jack Sutkamp and Kalvin Moore continue to lead the 4-4 Thoroughbred defense. Sutkamp has 65 tackles and Moore has 36. Tyler Lyon leads NewCath with three fumble recoveries and Nate Enslen has the team’s lone interception.
NewCath hopes to get its run-and-shoot offense on track this game. The Thoroughbreds have rushed for 474 yards and passed for 442 for a total of 916 yards. They did not move the ball consistently other than one possession against Simon Kenton as the Pioneers dominated the line of scrimmage.
“They played hard,” said Dave Schneider, NewCath Offensive Coordinator. “They have a lot of work to do, but I think we’ll get there. We’re not giving up on them.”
Sophomore Jacob Smith leads the NewCath rushing attack with 172 yards rushing on 42 carries to go with two touchdowns and quarterback Mac Franzen has 154 yards rushing on 54 carries and a touchdown.
Franzen has completed 36-of-67 passes for 442 yards to go with four touchdowns and six interceptions. Tommy Donnelly leads the Thoroughbreds with nine catches for 167 yards and a touchdown. Enslen is second on the team with eight catches for 45 yards.
“We (wide receivers) just need to run crisper routes,” Donnelly said. “I know we can do it. We just need to get out there and work hard.”
Despite the start, Brossart said the Thoroughbreds are still dangerous. Brosssart said NewCath played “the toughest schedule in Northern Kentucky.”
“When you play any NCC team, you are up against great kids who are a part of a great tradition,” Brossart said. “We have to put pressure on (Franzen). They have some nice skill players and we must prepare to defend their run game.”
The Colonels run a 4-2-5 defense. Senior linebacker Seth Caple looks to go for more than 200 yards in his career. Senior defensive back Shawn Brown and senior linebacker Brendan Fisk also lead the Dixie Heights defense.
NewCath won last year’s meeting 37-22 for its third straight in the series. But the Colonels lead the overall series 13-7.