Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
It is no surprise both teams have made it back to the Class 2A title game.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds football team just hopes for a different result after last year’s 34-26 loss to the Louisville DeSales Colts. That marked the first state championship in school history for the Colts.
NewCath is making its third straight state championship game appearance and its 10th since 2000. The Thoroughbreds (8-5) own a record of 5-7 in state championship games. They beat Caldwell County, 30-26 in the 2A title game two years ago.
Game time is 3:30 p.m. EST in Bowling Green. Western Kentucky University Feix Field, Houchens/LT Smith Stadium will play host to the state football championships through 2018.
The Thoroughbreds go into the game as underdogs. The only blemish for the Colts (13-1) from District 4 came Oct. 17 when the Christian Academy of Louisville knocked them off 17-0. DeSales came back and avenged that loss with a 7-6 win in the region finals on Nov. 21. DeSales then beat Murray, 14-7 in the state semifinals last week. DeSales has scored 456 points this year and allowed just 101.
But the Thoroughbreds have been playing their best football lately. They enter the title game off a 43-14 win at Shelby Valley in the semifinals.
“I like the way this team has matured individually and as a team,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “It took a little while. They’re taking the coaching, doing what they’re asked to do and doing it well. It’s huge when they buy into it. That makes a big difference.”
The Thoroughbreds will face a Wing-T formation. The Colts have chugged out 3,195 yards on the ground and 1,198 through the air. They’ve done it with balance as Matt Ruxer leads the Colts with 666 yards rushing on 119 carries and eight touchdowns.
“It’s still a basic play,” Wagner said. “From a defensive standpoint, if you take care of what you are supposed to take care of, it really doesn’t matter if it is this guy or that guy who gets the ball. We’re a gap defense. We try not to get into all the other stuff. We have to read keys and go off that.”
Eleven different DeSales rushers have a touchdown on the season. Bryant Pirtle is second with 75 carries for 582 yards and eight touchdowns and quarterback Austin Johnson is third with 81 rushes for 481 yards and 10 touchdown.
“This is more how we have been in the past,” said Harold Davis, DeSales Head Coach. “I think it makes it a little difficult on defenses not being able to concentrate on just one ball carrier.”
When teams load up on the run, DeSales throws the ball. Johnson has completed 73-of-137 passes for 1,198 yards, 13 touchdowns and just seven interceptions. His top two targets have been Ruxer with 17 catches for 286 yards and three scores and Austin Craig with 16 receptions for 316 yards and three scores.
The Thoroughbreds have played the tougher schedule. They’ve allowed 266 points, 2,317 yards rushing and 1,609 passing on the year in their 4-4 attack. Junior linebacker Kobe Tallon continues to lead NewCath with 143 tackles and Peyton Davis has 100. Defensive back Erik Anderson has a team-high four interceptions and Brandon Gray has three.
“We’re going to focus a lot on knowing their formations,” Davis said. “They do spread the wealth quite a bit. I think we plan on getting a lot of pressure on their offensive line. It’s about winning the battle up front.”
The Thoroughbreds take on a talented DeSales defense. Pirtle leads the Colts with 77 tackles and five fumble recoveries. Craig owns a team-high four interceptions for DeSales.
“They’re very well-coached on defense,” said Dave Schneider, NewCath Offensive Coordinator. “They have a nice team. We just have to do our stuff and play very well. We need to play our best football. We’re playing with a lot of confidence. I like our chances.”
The Thoroughbred offensive line has been blocking well lately. That’s been the big reason why junior running back Jacob Smith has rushed for 1,477 yards on 208 carries and 25 touchdowns on the season.
But quarterback Patrick Henschen could again be key for the Thoroughbreds. NewCath has scored 359 points, rushed for 1,918 yards and passed for 1,536 this year.
Henschen has completed 105-of-165 passes for 1,409 yards, 12 touchdowns and three interceptions. Nate Enslen surpassed the 500-yard receiving plateau with 28 catches for 503 yards and seven touchdowns. Gray has 35 for 363 yards and Smith owns 23 receptions for 361 yards.
“The seniors have me a lot with my leadership role,” Henschen said. “We’ve worked hard all season. I feel like we’ve developed a lot from the season so we’re ready. We’re pretty confident.”
NewCath does not change classes next season. The Thoroughbreds stay in 2A next year.