Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
It has a spine-tingling feeling of three years ago.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds football team (6-5) finds itself in another District 6-2A rematch on Friday. The Thoroughbreds battle the Newport Wildcats at Newport Stadium for the Region 3 championship at 7:30 p.m.
The Thoroughbreds the Lloyd Memorial Juggernauts, 39-17 in the second round of the playoffs for the second time this season to advance to its 15th straight region championship game. The Wildcats (8-4) edged the host Walton-Verona Bearcats, 37-36 in overtime, also for the second time this season to set up the rematch.
NewCath wants to avoid what happened in 2011. The Thoroughbreds beat the Covington Holy Cross Indians, 31-14 in the regular season. But the Indians came back to edge the Thoroughbreds, 24-21 in the region title game on their way to the Class 2A state championship. That came after they also beat the Lloyd Memorial Juggernauts in the second round of the playoffs.
“They’re eerily similar to Holy Cross in the fact they have a quarterback back there who can run around and make plays,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “That’s what Holy Cross had a few years back. Holy Cross had skill on the outside.”
The Thoroughbreds edged the Wildcats, 22-17 on Oct. 10 in a torrential downpour. NewCath has won 15 in a row in the series dating back to 1999. The Thoroughbreds lead the all-time series, 42-18-1.
NewCath hopes to continue to improve its offensive balance. The Thoroughbreds have outscored the opposition, 274-226. They’ve rushed for 1,441 yards and passed for 1,349.
Junior running back Jacob Smith had 26 carries for 177 yards and two touchdowns in the win. Smith has 1,082 yards on the season on 173 carries and 17 touchdowns. Smith also has 23 catches for 361 yards and three touchdowns.
“They’re big and physical,” said Dave Schneider, NewCath Offensive Coordinator. “They play good defense rallying to the ball. Our plan is to spread the ball around and play well.”
NewCath sophomore quarterback Patrick Henschen has put together some good games lately. He has completed 93-of-143 passes for 1,222 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions. Senior Nate Enslen has 24 catches for 411 yards and six touchdowns and Brandon Gray has 30 receptions for 285 yards.
“Throwing the ball opens things up more. Pat is reading the keys better,” Enslen said. “If we keep that going, we’ll be alright. It’s a matter of seeing what is open in the defense. If the opportunity is there, we need to take it.”
The Newport defense has allowed 1,847 yards rushing and 978 yards passing on the season. Gage Jones leads the Wildcats with 98 tackles and Deric Applegate has two fumble recoveries. Brian Burton has five interceptions.
The Wildcats also run a spread offense led by quarterback Paul Price and running back Dominic Joseph. Price has 1,091 yards rushing on 126 carries and 15 touchdowns with Joseph going for 890 yards on 150 carries and eight touchdowns. They like to run at different angles so junior defensive lineman Maleek Lawrence said it is important to get off blocks and make plays.
“It’s about having good hands and quick feet,” Lawrence said. “You also have to know what the player across from you is doing. You also have to know their offense well.”
Price also has a good arm. He’s completed 76-of-150 passes for 1,256 yards, 17 touchdowns and eight interceptions. Burton leads the Wildcats with 27 catches for 485 yards and nine touchdowns. Ryan Ochoa has 27 receptions for 456 yards and three scores.
“They’re executing better. They’re plays are more crisp,” Wagner said. “They’re able to distribute and Price can throw the ball a long way. We have our work cut out for us.”
The Thoroughbreds hope to continue to play solid defense. Junior linebacker Kobe Tallon leads NewCath with 124 tackles. Gray has a team-high three fumble recoveries and Erik Anderson has four interceptions.
Ít is expected to be another cold evening. Temperatures are forecast between 34 and 16 degrees Friday.
“You can’t pay attention to (the weather),” Wagner said. “You just have to go out and play. You try little things like keeping the ball warm on the sideline in the heater so they can be kicked. That’s the big difference.”
The winner of this game heads to the state semifinals. That will be at either Prestonsburg or Shelby Valley.