|G. Michael Graham Photo. The Ashland Tomcats (white uniforms) and Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (blue uniforms) face off in the season-opener on Friday again this year. NewCath won last year's meeting 37-26.|
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
It is a name that rings bells not only in eastern Kentucky, but for any opponent of the Ashland Blazer Tomcat football team.
Ashland standout running back Quentin Baker has been on the minds of the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds for a few weeks as they prepare for their usually tough non-district grind against bigger schools. Eventual Class 2A runner-up
NewCath beat Ashland 37-26 at Newport Stadium to open last year. Baker rushed for 238 yards on 18 carries and two touchdowns in that contest.
The Thoroughbreds travel southeast to face Baker and company on Friday. Game time is 7:30 p.m. at the newly-renovated Putnam Stadium in Ashland. The trip may take a couple hours. But the Thoroughbreds are not concerned about it.
“We know what we’re doing. We’ve been through it,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “We’ll drink plenty of fluids, take a nice, short bus down. We’ll let them eat their granola bar, some fruit and Gatorade and that’s it. We’ll be down there about 2.5 hours before gametime and start thinking about what we need to do.”
Baker, the son of former University of Kentucky running back Al Baker, rushed for 1,607 yards on 185 carries and 17 touchdowns last year. The Tomcats finished 8-4 last year losing 56-6 at Highlands in the second round of the 4A playoffs.
The scarier thing about Baker is the help around him looks to be much improved from last year with Ironton (Ohio) transfer Jake Long and senior quarterback Hunter Prince. Ashland ran out of the pistol formation last year, but has shown some shotgun looks in scrimmages.
“We have to realize both of them are good, shifty backs,” said Luke Kues, NewCath junior defensive end. “We have to make sure we have the tackle first. We can’t be lunging for the tackle. If we get the whole team there, we can make sure we secure the tackle that way. It has to be a team effort.”
Ashland ran a lot of fakes in that formation last year. That is where assignment football comes into play for the Thoroughbreds defensively.
“We’re still in the process of growing,” Wagner said. “Do not leave where you’re supposed to be. Let them come to you. If you’re in your hole or gap where you’re supposed to be, you’ll make a play. If we’re running all over, we’re going to be in for a long night. We’ve been working on that for two weeks. Hopefully, we’ll get it.”
The Thoroughbreds did get in the backfield and disrupt plays at times last year. They ultimately wore down the Tomcats on a hot, muggy day. The weather could be the same Friday.
Prince could throw the ball more this year. He completed just 9-of-62 passes for 356 yards and six touchdowns last year. One of his top targets could be senior Shawn Gilliam.
But games are ultimately won in the trenches and NewCath has a lot of experience on both sides of the ball there. The Thoroughbreds are led by players like seniors Colin Hoover and Jacob Raleigh.
“In games like this, it’s good to have a lot of experience up front,” Hoover said. “We had some bumps and bruises last year. We had guys who had to go in for a game or series. They got experience there. That helped them out a lot.”
NewCath also returns some solid skill players in junior running back Jacob Smith and senior wide receivers Nate Enslen and Brandon Gray. Smith rushed for 1,020 yards on 190 carries and 13 touchdowns last year.
The battle for the starting quarterback job is down to junior Erik Anderson and sophomore Patrick Henschen after senior Grant Schilling went down with an injury in the scrimmage against Covington Holmes. The Thoroughbreds run a spread offense.
“It’s neck and neck,” said Dave Schneider, NewCath Offensive Coordinator. “No one has stepped forward to take the job yet. We’ll have to take another week and figure it out. To get things rolling until (the new QB) gets his feet wet, we’ll have to spread it around and take the pressure off him.”
Ashland struggled to stop the NewCath offense last year allowing 360 total yards. The Tomcats have question marks defensively. They are led by junior linebacker/defensive end Drew O’Bryan there.
“You have to get in the game and see how the game flows,” Schneider said. “You adjust as you go. If we need to hold the ball, we’ll hold the ball. If things are going well and we’re moving the ball, we’ll do our thing. We won’t do any preconceived tactics.”
Ashland leads the all-time series, 8-2. The other NewCath win in the series came in 1965.