By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
For the second straight year, it came down to the experience against a first appearance with experience winning out.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds had to use a 21-0 run in the third quarter to do it. But they managed to pull away from the hungry 10-3 Gallatin County Wildcats on Friday in Warsaw by a 34-12 count.
NewCath has appeared in 14 consecutive regional championship games and won it for the ninth time dating back to 2000 to go with four region championships in the 1980s. But it definitely did not come easy playing on a grass field for the District 6 champions.
The Thoroughbreds have also won 21 district championships including 10 in a row. They are 9-4 following their eighth straight win.
“We started off rough as everyone could tell,” said Wyatt Boberg, NewCath senior wide receiver. “At halftime, our coaches told us to get it together and we did exactly that.”
NewCath advances to the state semifinals for the third time in four years against a familiar opponent in the Somerset Briar Jumpers (8-4). Somerset rallied at Prestonsburg, 28-21 on Friday. The Thoroughbreds have beaten the Briar Jumpers in the state semifinals in 2005, 2006 and last year on the way three of their five state championships.
“I think they got the (anything can happen message) loud and clear,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “We came out and did what we wanted to do. Give (Gallatin County) credit. They played with a lot of emotion. We knew we were going to get that. We battled and battled and finally got it back.”
The Thoroughbreds avoided the same fate suffered by the team they beat 30-26 to win the state championship last year. Undefeated and top-ranked Class 2A defending runner-up Caldwell County (12-1) lost 27-14 to the District 1 foe Murray Tigers – a team Caldwell County had beaten 42-13 on Oct. 18. Murray (9-4) plays host to District Louisville DeSales (12-1) in the other 2A semifinal Friday.
NewCath used more offensive balance to stave off the upset bid. The Thoroughbreds gained 348 yards on 59 plays to 281 on 66 for the Wildcats.
NewCath used Jack Sutkamp more out of the backfield than usual. He finished with a team-high 103 yards on 15 carries. Sophomore Jacob Smith followed with 12 carries for 73 yards.
Senior quarterback Mac Franzen had another good night passing the ball. He completed 9-of-11 passes for 102 yards and three touchdowns and added another rushing touchdown. The offensive line protected well for NewCath.
“I think (solid protection) begins in practice,” said Matt Lenz, NewCath senior offensive lineman. “Each and every day, we just work as hard as we can. The (younger linemen) work just as hard as us. Each and every game, their confidence is getting better. We need that because they’re a valuable part of this team. Without them, I don’t think we’d be where we are.”
Smith and Wyatt Boberg led the Thoroughbreds with two catches each for 44 and 29 yards respectively. Smith had two touchdowns and Boberg added one.
“There weren’t any major (offensive) adjustments,” said Dave Schneider, NewCath Offensive Coordinator. “We just did a better job with what we were doing. We had our opportunities in the first half. We had the ball inside the (Gallatin County) five twice where we should have scored. It’s been a long time since we played in the mud. It probably had some effect. But it seemed like we had good footing.”
Gallatin County quarterback Austin Champan completed 14-of-31 passes for 220 yards and two touchdowns. Most of that came on the 88-yard drive to end the game that resulted in a Nate McCoy 34-yard touchdown as time expired. McCoy finished with five catches for 108 yards and Eversole had four for 72.
The Thoroughbreds keyed on Gallatin County fullback Chris Brown. He had just 35 yards on 12 carries.
“We did okay,” Wagner said. “They scored on their first and last drives. In between, we shut them down. We shut the run down.”
NewCath scored first when Sutkamp scored from 20 yards out. But Gallatin County responded when Chapman hit Jeff Eversole on a 29-yard touchdown pass to tie the game at 6-6. The score remained the same entering halftime as neither team converted on point after touchdown attempts.
But the Thoroughbreds came out on fire in the third quarter holding the Wildcats to zero net yards of offense. Franzen hit Smith for a 29-yard score and John Caudill made the kick to put Newcath up for good at 13-6.
Franzen then hit Smith for a 15-yarder at 20-6. Junior Brandon Gray set up the play with a 23-yard interception return to the Gallatin County 22-yard line.
Franzen then hit Boberg for a 13-yard score in the third quarter before he scored his touchdown from a yard out in the fourth quarter. The Thoroughbreds led 34-6 at that point.
NewCath finished with 14 first downs and held Gallatin County to just nine. Some of the Wildcat first downs came on Thoroughbred penalties.
The Thoroughbreds have eliminated the Wildcats from the playoffs for the third straight year. But this marked the deepest playoff run for District 5 champion Gallatin County (10-3) since it started playing varsity football in 2006.