By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
Many expected a rematch of last year’s epic Class 2A state championship game in Bowling Green on Saturday.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds downed the Caldwell County Tigers, 30-26 when Tyler Lyon caught a four-yard pass from quarterback Josh Cain with 26 seconds left in the game. Caldwell County received the nod as favorites with the return of the majority of those players including quarterback Elijah Sindelar.
But the rematch will not happen. Murray upset the Tigers, 27-14 in the regional finals on Nov. 22.
So the Thoroughbreds (10-4) will instead defend their crown against the Louisville DeSales Colts (13-1) at Noon on Saturday. The game takes place at Houchens Stadium on the campus of Western Kentucky University.
“We’ve heard all year long that the west side of the state is going to win it,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “The east side doesn’t have a chance so the pressure is on (DeSales). We’ll just go down and see how it goes.”
This marks the third appearance in the state championship game in four years of high school for the 12 seniors. NewCath also beat Owensboro Catholic, 42-0 to win the crown in 2010.
“We’re stressing not getting ahead of ourselves in practice all week,” said Kalvin Moore, NewCath senior running back/linebacker. “Yes, it’s the state championship. But we still have to prepare like we do every week.”
A win would mark arguably the best four-year run in program history. The Thoroughbreds appeared in four consecutive state title games between 2005 and 2008 winning it in 2005 and 2006 before falling to Fort Campbell in 2007 and 2008. NewCath is 5-6 entering its 12th state championship appearance with nine coming since 2000.
NewCath enters the game on a nine-game winning streak. The Thoroughbreds have outscored opponents, 446-277 on the year. They’ve rushed for 2,238 yards and passed for 2,011. Defensively, they’ve allowed 1,760 rushing and 2,141 passing. They edged Somerset, 49-48 in double overtime in the state semifinals.
NewCath saw the importance of special teams in that game. Senior John Caudill made all seven extra-point attempts while Somerset missed it’s kick in the second overtime and that turned out to be the difference in the game.
“We’re going to work on (PATs in practice this week),” Caudill said. “Repetition makes perfect honestly. The snappers are getting good snaps and holders are getting good holds. It’s all there. You need all three to make the kick.”
DeSales comes in on a six-game winning streak with its lone loss coming 27-24 to Louisville Christian Academy on Oct. 18. The Colts are led by second-year Head Coach Harold Davis, a 1982 DeSales alum. Davis served as defensive backs coach for six years prior to becoming head coach last year. The Colts lost 43-31 to Caldwell County in the state semifnals last year.
They’ve outscored opponents, 633-132 with six shutouts this year. That includes wins over Class 5A schools Warren Central (40-27) and John Hardin (25-20) in consecutive weeks early in the season. Both those teams came within seven points of Highlands during the regular season.
“Our seniors have demonstrated a desire to get better every day,” Davis said. “They have set great examples for the underclassmen to follow. Our offseason workouts have made a big difference in our success this season.”
NewCath runs a Spread offense that could give the DeSales defense problems. The Colts do not have defensive backs to match up with NewCath 6-foot-5-inch senior wide receiver Tommy Donnelly. Donnelly has 33 catches for 624 yards and nine touchdowns. Brandon Gray leads NewCath with 35 receptions for 494 yards and three touchdowns.
DeSales runs a 4-4 defense like NewCath. The Colts have allowed 1,130 yards rushing and 1,155 passing defensively. Senior linebacker Matt Bouchard leads DeSales with 88 tackles. Senior safety Conner Shipley has five interceptions and senior defensive lineman Mario Morales had three fumble recoveries to lead DeSales.
“They’re a very aggressive defense,” said Dave Schneider, NewCath Offensive Coordinator. “They like to bring a lot of pressure so we have to be tuned in on our assignments and get off the ball and attack. They’re a very well-coached defense. We have to relax, see their defense, let them bring their pressure and get the ball to the right guy. If we do that, we’ll be fine.”
NewCath senior quarterback Mac Franzen has completed 127-of-215 passes for 1,983 yards, 24 touchdowns and 11 interceptions and rushed for 599 yards on 143 carries and six touchdowns. Jacob Smith leads NewCath with 954 yards rushing on 175 carries and 13 touchdowns.
“It’s difficult for us to prepare for a quarterback that throws the ball as well as (Franzen) does,” Davis said. “We don’t throw very much offensively, so it’s hard to simulate a quarterback in practice like Mac. We’ll work on our technique and zone drops. Hopefully, we can put some pressure on him with our front four.”
DeSales runs a Wing-T offense that averages about 7.5 passes a contest. The Colts have rushed for 4,110 yards and passed for 1,066. They run a play called the tackle trap.
“I used to coach the Wing-T when I was (coaching) at (Cincinnati) Indian Hill so I’m fairly familiar with it. It’s not new,” Wagner said. “It’s been around a long team. If you pay attention to what you’re supposed to be paying attention to, the linemen will take you exactly to the ball. We tell them all the time not to buy what they’re selling (in the backfield), but stick with your key and lineman because it’s designed to block a certain way. You can blow the play up before it ever starts if you do what you’re supposed to do.”
Senior running back Dylan Byrd leads DeSales with 1,889 yards rushing on 231 carries and 34 touchdowns. Colt senior quarterback Nathan Rousch has rushed for 928 yards on 140 carries and 14 touchdowns and completed 58-of-104 passes for 1,055 yards, 10 touchdowns and two interceptions. Byrd also leads the team with 17 passes for 308 yards and two touchdowns.
Senior linebacker Jack Sutkamp has 195 tackles for NewCath and Lyon has 97. Lyon leads the Thoroughbreds with five fumble recoveries and Nate Enslen has three interceptions.
“Jack may be the best linebacker we will have faced this season, and we’ve played against some good ones,” Davis said. “We may have to put two people on him. He’s a great player.”
This will mark the fourth meeting between the two teams. NewCath leads the all-time series, 2-1 beating DeSales in 2007 (31-3) in the state semifinals and in 2008 (54-19) in the regional title game before DeSales beat NewCath, 23-10 in the 2009 2A Regional title game.
DeSales is seeking its first state championship. The Colts lost 29-9 to Fort Campbell in the 2009 2A title game and 20-7 in the 1981 4A title game to Lexington Henry Clay.