Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The combination of the visitors’ running game and special teams spelled doom for the hosts on Friday near Pikeville.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds had two punt returns and saw junior running back Jacob Smith run wild in a 43-16 Class 2A semifinal win over the Shelby Valley Wildcats (11-3).
NewCath (8-5) won its 13th straight semifinal contest using its experience. Teams have to generally win three playoff contest to make it to the state semifinals. The Thoroughbreds have only lost in the state semifinals once to Somerset back in 1983.
“We jumped on them early,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “With the offense they run, we knew they’d be in trouble. It worked out the way we wanted it.”
Shelby Valley had only won two playoff games between 1998 and last year. The last one came in 2009.
The Wildcats outgained the Thoroughbreds, 257-250 in total offense and gained nine first downs to three for NewCath. But most of those yards came in the second half.
Smith rushed for 218 yards on nine carries and three touchdowns. He also returned a punt for a touchdown and John Harris rushed for another.
The Thoroughbreds returned two punts for a touchdown. Nate Enslen had the other.
NewCath focused on Shelby Valley running backs Chandler Rowe and Kasey Tackett. Rowe rushed for 173 yards on 22 carries and Tackett finished with 56 on 14 carries in the Double-Slot Wing-T offense.
“They’re more athletic than you think,” Wagner said. “They have some nice players. We had to take (Rowe) and (Tackett) out of the ballgame and we did a good job of that. They had just one big drive in the first half of 60 yards.”
The teams combined for four yards passing. Shelby Valley quarterback Donavon Layne completed one of his two passes for those four yards.
NewCath forced the running clock in the second quarter. They led 28-0 after the first quarter. Smith recorded a 53-yard touchdown run just 22 seconds into the game before Enslen returned a punt 65 yards with 9:19 left in the quarter.
The Thoroughbreds had two more rushing touchdowns in the quarter. The first came with 5:25 remaining when Harris scored from five yards out and the other came with 3:28 left in the game when Smith recorded a 48-yard run.
NewCath put the game away in the second quarter. Smith had a 78-yard touchdown run and quarterback Patrick Henschen completed the two-point pass to Brandon Gray to give the Thoroughbreds a 36-0 advantage.
The final Thoroughbred score came with 1:46 left in the half. Smith had a 71-yard punt return to put NewCath up 43-0 at halftime.
Shelby Valley scored its two touchdowns in the third quarter. Tackett had a 20-yard run with 7:41 left in that stanza and Rowe ran it in from 31 yards out.
The Thoroughbreds take on Louisville DeSales (13-1) for the Class 2A state championship at Western Kentucky University on Friday at 3:30 p.m. DeSales beat NewCath, 34-26 in the title game last year.