Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Many may be saying they’ll benefit from playing bigger schools like past teams have done.
But the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds football team goes into those games with the same approach. That’s to win the game.
The Thoroughbreds (0-3) would especially love to earn one before entering district play. They take on the Dixie Heights Colonels (2-1) at 1 p.m. Saturday at Newport Stadium.
NewCath lost 30-17 to Campbell County and 46-13 to Simon Kenton also from Class 6A, District 6. The Thoroughbreds face their third straight opponent from 6A-6 this week.
“We did get after it a little (Tuesday and Wednesday). We had a little fun,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “That’s what we’re asking for. Sometimes we’re forgetting it’s a game. Let’s quit being so tight, relax and go out and see what happens.”
Dixie Heights enters the game on a two-game winning streak. The Colonels beat Beechwood (48-21) and Cincinnati Turpin (27-19) after opening the season with a 41-7 defeat to Covington Catholic.
“After getting off to a slow start, our team has improved with two big victories over two very good football teams,” said Dave Brossart, Dixie Heights Head Coach. “(Against) Beechwood and Turpin, our kids got back to running the football well and playing sound defense and special teams. We have mirrored last year’s football team and success by playing physical up front and playing to the football defensively. Most importantly, our confidence has increased.”
The Thoroughbred seniors are staying positive despite not hitting the win column yet. Their first game against Ashland was cancelled because of excessive rain. They opened with a 31-0 loss to Cooper.
“We make sure people are keeping their heads up,” said Logan Neff, NewCath senior slotback/linebacker. “We’ve been through this before. It only makes us better for district play.”
NewCath finished 1-4 against bigger schools last year before finishing Class 2A state runner-up. The Thoroughbreds also went 1-4 against bigger schools in 2012 and 5-0 against them in 2011. They won the 2A state championship in 2012.
Despite their struggles, Brossart expects a tough battle against the Thoroughbreds. They came within several plays of beating Campbell County and the game at Ashland was rained out.
“When you play against NCC, you are playing against great kids, great coaches and a rich tradition of football,” Brossart said. “Programs try to model programs like NCC, Beechwood and Highlands. So at 0-3, we will not take them lightly as their kids play very hard and will expect to win this Saturday afternoon. The psychology of preparing a team is always difficult and I worry about NCC because they did some great things against two very good teams in Campbell County and Simon Kenton. They just came up empty in the end. They will be prepared for us this weekend.”
NewCath has struggled to run the ball this season. The Thoroughbreds have 76 carries for zero net yards. NewCath faces a 4-2-5 Dixie Heights defense led by Eastern Michigan University commit Branden Johnson at 6-feet-3-inches and 290 pounds.
“That’s more of a product of who we’re playing,” said Dave Schneider, NewCath Offensive Coordinator. “There’s been nowhere for us to run the ball. We’ll keep working on it. (The offensive linemen) are taking it seriously. It’s a matter of having a little success and maybe we can build on that. They’re a great group of kids and doing what we ask of them.”
Sophomore quarterback Patrick Henschen has come along for the Thoroughbreds. He’s been sacked a lot. But he’s completed 33-of-53 passes for 311 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. Senior Brandon Gray leads the Thoroughbreds with 20 catches for 162 yards.
“We’ll just keep working at it,” Schneider said. “He’s working on his drops and trying to get rid of the ball faster. It’ll be a challenge this week. (Dixie Heights) is going to come after us.”
The Colonels like to run the ball first to set up the pass for senior quarterback Drew Moore. Seniors Ben Owens and Luke Zajac have carried the load out of the Pro-Style Colonel offense. Moore likes to throw to seniors Andrew Hedger and Andrew Shearhouse off play-action passes.
“If we’re in man, we’re supposed to look at the receiver,” said Erik Anderson, NewCath junior defensive back. “If we’re in zone, you read and keep your eyes on the quarterback and do not let anyone get behind you. You have to make that decision on the field and try to balance (watching the quarterback and receivers) out.”
Wagner said a big focus defensively this week has been on knowing where defenders are supposed to line up. They take on huge offensive linemen again this week.
“We’re used to playing big kids now,” Wagner said. “If you wrestle a bear, you’re going to lose. You have to figure out a way to beat (the bigger lineman).”
NewCath takes on undefeated Lloyd Memorial to open Class 2A, District 6 action. The Thoroughbreds have not lost a district regular season contest since the Kentucky High School Association added two classes in 2007.