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Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why might NewCath's game with the in-town rival be closer this year?

G. Michael Graham Photo. Newport Central Catholic quarterback Patrick Henschen (16) hands off to junior running back Jacob Smith (right) in the game earlier in the season against Dixie Heights. 
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter

A year ago, no one guessed the annual city championship would also decide the District 6-2A championship.

But the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds handled the challenge doubling up the Newport Wildcats, 42-21 on their way to their ninth straight district crown. That could again be the case this year as the two squads lock horns Friday in the annual Fireman’s Bell contest at 7 p.m. at Newport Stadium. NewCath has won 14 in a row in the series dating back to 1999 and leads the all-time series, 41-18-1.

“They are doing what their talent is allowing them to do,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “He’s doing a really good job down there. They’re well-coached. We have our work cut out.”

The Thoroughbreds (1-4) hope to stay unbeaten in district play with a perfect 25-0 record in such contests since 2006 while the Wildcats (3-3) hope to take a huge step in the building process. Both teams enter the game 1-0 in district play. NewCath shut out Lloyd Memorial, 28-0 two weeks ago and Newport took care of Bishop Brossart, 55-0 a week ago.

“You get banged up so our bangs are pretty much taken care of (during the bye week),” Wagner said. “You watch film. We’ve been working on things we can control. That bell means a lot. Our kids don’t want to give it up and they want it. It should be a good atmosphere.”

This marks the second Matthew Schmitz as Newport Head Coach. The Thoroughbreds finished 10-5 last year falling to Louisville DeSales in the 2A title game while the Wildcats finished 5-6 last year losing 29-21 to Carroll County in the first round of the 2A playoffs.

The Wildcats have won two straight entering the contest. They pummelled Pendleton County, 62-13 after losing just 31-22 to defending Class 1A runner-up Williamsburg. Newport gave undefeated Mason County a scare on Aug. 23 losing just 32-28 before handing Walton-Verona its lone loss of the season, 36-26 on Aug. 29.

“I like the progress,” Schmitz said. “I think there is no doubt we are a better football team than at this point last year. But the goals stayed the same – keep getting better every week. We want to be playing our best football come November.”

The Wildcats received some major help in the offseason when senior offensive and defensive lineman Breandon Johnson transferred across the Licking River from Covington Holmes. He’s given headaches to opponents with 22 tackles.

“(Johnson) is a man up there,” said Dave Schneider, NewCath Offensive Coordinator. “He’s our biggest concern. It’s tough to get him blocked.”

Teams have rushed for 872 yards and passed for 612 against the 3-4 and 4-4 Newport defenses. The Wildcats could try to take away the Thoroughbred running game and make sophomore quarterback Patrick Henschen beat them.

Henschen has completed 43-of-72 passes for 438 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions in the spread offense. Senior Brandon Gray remains his top target with 23 catches for 208 yards and Nate Enslen has nine for 128 yards and two touchdowns.

Defenses have constantly put pressure on Henschen blitzing at many different angles. The Thoroughbreds have rushed for 225 yards and passed for 653. Junior Jacob Smith has 77 carries for 273 yards and four touchdowns.

“You have to be diverse offensively,” Schneider said. “You have to be able to use all the quadrants of the field. You can’t just sit there and plunge it up the middle all night.”

Senior linebacker Gage Jones leads Newport with 47 tackles and junior defensive back Ryan Ochoa follows with 43. The Wildcats have eight players with at least 20 tackles. Senior defensive back Brian Burton has three interceptions.

The Thoroughbreds hope to continue to play well defensively in the 4-4 defense. Junior defensive back Erik Anderson had two interceptions in the win over Lloyd Memorial.

A number of different players have emerged for NewCath defensively. Junior linebackers Kobe Tallon and Peyton Davis lead the Thoroughbreds with 49 and 42 tackles respectively. Teams have rushed for 898 yards and passed for 653 yards against the Thoroughbred defense.

NewCath will face a shotgun spread Newport offense that has put up 1,387 yards rushing and 615 passing. Quarterback Paul Price and running back Dominic Joseph have rushed for 464 and 416 yards respectively with five touchdowns each. They run the read option in many different directions.

“We just have to stay disciplined and make sure they don’t get on the outside (lanes),” said Ben Barbara, NewCath senior defensive back. “If we stop them outside, the inside (defenes) should take care of itself. We need to stay home and not follow the ball.”

But junior Tyree Bolden and senior David Lynam have helped out the Newport attack rushing for 249 and 191 yards respectively. Price’s top passing targets have been Brian Burton with 20 catches for 294 yards and six touchdowns along with Ochoa with 14 catches for 197 yards.

“Two main things that good defenses must be are disciplined and aggressive, and that’s exactly what Coach Wagner’s defenses are,” Schmitz said. “We know we are going to have to earn everything we get against their defense. We hope we get our guys in space where they can make some things happen.”

The two teams will be in the same district next year along with Covington Holy Cross and Lloyd Memorial. Bishop Brossart drops to 1A next year.

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