By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
It turned out to be the “tooth and nail” game that first-year NewCath Head Coach Dan Wagner said it would be.
But when the dust settled, the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds won their 12th straight semifinal contest, 49-48 in double overtime over the visiting Somerset Briar Jumpers on Friday at Newport Stadium. NewCath lost 8-7 to Somerset in its first state semifinal appearance in 1983 and has not lost in any since then.
“(Victory) is what you strive for,” Wagner said. “I can’t take many of these. My heart won’t handle it, but it feels great.”
Defending Class 2A champion NewCath (10-4) marches on to the state championship with its ninth straight win. The Thoroughbreds take on the Louisville DeSales Colts (13-1) at Noon on Saturday at Western Kentucky University. NewCath will be seeking its sixth state championship and third in the last four years.
The Thoroughbreds moved to 5-1 all-time against the Briar Jumpers. They won state championships in 1984, 2005, 2006 and last year after beating Somerset in the state semifinals.
The Briar Jumpers (8-5) won their fifth straight and 16th overall regional championship. This marks the closest they’ve come to winning in five semifinal contests since 2005 against Northern Kentucky teams.
In the second overtime, Somerset received the ball first from the NewCath 10 and scored quickly when Bryson Jones ran it in from 10 yards out. But the extra-point kick sailed wide left and NewCath took full advantage of it.
The Thoroughbreds drove to the Somerset 2 in two plays. Jacob Smith then scored the game-winner and John Caudill made the extra-point kick to seal the deal.
Somerset outgained NewCath, 428-314 in total offense and had 16 first downs to 14 for the hosts. But the Thoroughbreds took advantage of two interceptions.
“I thought we were in pretty good shape then,” Wagner said. “They couldn’t stop us either. We moved up and down the field on them. We stopped ourselves twice. John Caudill was 7-for-7 on extra points and the last one obviously made a big difference.”
NewCath ran for 125 yards and quarterback Mac Franzen completed 12-of-22 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns. Jack Sutkamp had 53 yards rushing on 11 carries and Smith ran for 50 yards on 14 carries and two scores.
Brandon Gray and Tommy Donnelly once again led NewCath with four catches each. Gray had 80 yards receiving and Donnelly had 25 yards and two touchdowns. Smith added three catches for 76 yards and a score.
The Thoroughbreds had a hard time stopping the Briar Jumper passing attack. Sophomore quarterback Castle Hatcher completed 21-of-29 passes for 365 yards and six touchdowns. Cam Cheuvront recorded nine catches for 184 yards and three touchdowns with Will Lange making six for 130 yards.
“They threw it more than we thought they would,” Wagner said. “We somewhat allowed that. We had a few missed tackles. (Hatcher) is pretty good. He throws the ball better than we saw on tape. We tried some different things to slow them down.”
NewCath did hold Somerset to just 63 yards rushing on 32 carries. Lange led the Briar Jumpers with eight carries for 24 yards.
The teams consistently answered one another throughout regulation. Hatcher completed a 16-yard pass to Lange for the game’s first score before Collin Hoover blocked the extra-point attempt for NewCath.
The Thoroughbreds responded when Smith scored from six yards out. Caudill’s PAT gave NewCath a 7-6 lead after the first quarter.
NewCath extended its lead to 14-6 when Donnelly scored on a 7-yard pass from Franzen. But Hatcher completed 29 and 3-yard passes to Lange and Cheuvront respectively. After Lange’s score, Hatcher hit Chandler Dobbs for a two-point conversion to tie the game at 14. The Briar Jumpers led 21-14 at halftime.
NewCath tied the game at 21 after the third quarter. Sutkamp scored from a yard out.
Somerset answered both NewCath scores. Sutkamp scored from three yards out before Hatcher hit Cheuvront for a 60-yard score to tie the game at 28.
Franzen then hit Donnelly for a 7-yard touchdown pass later in the game. But Hatcher hit Brysen McWillams for a 6-yard score with 1:57 left in regulation to tie the game at 35.
Both teams then scored on their first overtime possession. Franzen hit Smith for a 6-yard score before Cheuvront hauled in a 10-yard reception from Hatcher.
Both teams had a lot of penalties. Somerset had 11 for 127 yards and NewCath made eight for 80 yards.
NewCath is 2-1 all-time against DeSales. The Thoroughbreds beat the Colts in 2007 and 2008 on their way to state runner-up finishes before losing to them in the 2009 regional championship.