By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
It is a rivalry game that gets the juices flowing in the final warm-up for the playoffs.
The Class 2A Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds and Class 1A Beechwood Tigers meet Saturday at Noon in Fort Mitchell in their annual battle between two state championship contenders. The Tigers lead the all-time series 23-13.
“We’re still learning,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “We just want to keep on getting better. Beechwood has been doing the same. It’ll be an interesting game. We’ll have our work cut out for us.”
It may not be the same as when the teams battled for district and region championships. But it is still meaningful to the point it turns into a playoff atmosphere. The Tigers handed the Thoroughbreds their only loss in the regular season by a 29-20 count in 2011.
“It’s a fun game. I enjoy it. It’s always a clean game,” Wagner said. “That’s what I was talking to (Beechwood Head) Coach (Noel) Rash about at a coach’s meeting. There are no cheap shots. It’s been that way for years. It’s obviously a test to see where we are against them.”
Both teams again rolled through their districts. NewCath (5-4 overall) outscored its four Class 2A, District 6 opponents by a combined 153-28 and Beechwood (6-3) beat its three Class A, District 4 opponents, 168-22.
The Tigers have developed a more balanced approach this year. Wagner said the Thoroughbreds have not seen a team that can throw the ball that well since Simon Kenton.
Beechwood sophomore quarterback Kyle Fieger has completed 120-of-209 passes for 1,712 yards, 17 touchdowns and four interceptions. His leading targets have been senior wide receivers Jalen Hayden with 27 catches for 366 yards and four touchdowns and Max Shover with 20 receptions for 249 yards and three touchdowns.
Sophomore Ethan Stringer leads the vaunted Beechwood rushing attack. He has 104 rushes for 607 yards and nine touchdowns.
The Tigers will face a NewCath defense that has allowed 1,411 rushing on the year and 1,149 passing. Senior linebacker Jack Sutkamp continues to lead the Throughbred 4-4 defense with 128 tackles.
NewCath will counter with a spread offense. The Thoroughbreds have rushed for 1,133 yards and passed for 1,361. Sophomore Jacob Smith leads NewCath with 508 yards rushing on 112 carries with seven touchdowns.
“We’re still searching there a little bit,” said Dave Schneider, NewCath Offensive Coordinator, of the NewCath running game. “We’re not overly big up front so we’re probably pass first, run second right now. We’ve been working on it.”
NewCath quarterback Mac Franzen has completed 83-of-134 passes for 1,353 yards, 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. Tommy Donnelly leads the way with 22 receptions for 513 yards and seven touchdowns. Brandon Gray is second with 21 catches for 320 yards and two scores with Nate Enslen recording 14 catches for 181 yards and three touchdowns.
Wagner said the Thoroughbreds still want to eliminate mistakes. They had an interception and a lost fumble in the most recent win against Covington Holy Cross.
The Tigers mix up 4-4, 4-3 and 50 fronts defensively. The most any team has scored against Beechwood this year is 41 points by Dixie Heights.
The teams have a combined 16 state championships. The Tigers own 11 titles good for the fourth-most in the state with their most recent one coming in 2008 and the Thoroughbreds have five titles. NewCath has won two of the last three Class 2A state championships.