By G. MICHAEL GRAHAM
Fort Thomas Matters Sports Reporter
The season does not become any easier Friday.
The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds (0-2) football team plays host to the undefeated Simon Kenton Pioneers (3-0) at Newport Stadium. Game time is 7 p.m.
NewCath saw its season-opener at Ashland rained out. The Thoroughbreds opened with a 31-0 defeat at Cooper and played much better in a 30-17 loss to Campbell County on Friday. But the underdog role does not phase NewCath.
“We’re going over there with the idea of winning,” said Dan Wagner, NewCath Head Coach. “We’re not giving anything up. We know we’re in for a battle, especially when we play these bigger schools.”
Certain things need to come together quick if the Thoroughbreds are to upset the Pioneers. Simon Kenton is riding high coming off a 53-6 win over Conner. The Pioneers thumped Covington Holy Cross, 64-7 after opening the season with a 33-14 win over defending Class 4A champion Collins, 33-14 in Independence. They’ve outscored opponents by an average of 50-9.
Simon Kenton Head Coach Jeff Marksberry is in his 15th. The Pioneers are 93-72 during that time. They’ve made it to the Class 6A regional finals five times since 2008 when they finished state runner-up to Louisville Trinity. Simon Kenton made the playoffs just three times between 2000 and 2007 and lost in the first round in all three appearances.
“Our kids work extremely hard year-round,” Marksberry said. “I also believe that we have been blessed to have some talented players in our program since 2008. Our kids believe in our system and are coachable. They strive to improve each week.”
The Thoroughbreds have rushed for just 33 yards on the season and passed for 275 in their spread offense. Campbell County sacked sophomore quarterback Patrick Henschen a number of times Friday. Junior Jacob Smith has 74 yards rushing and two touchdowns on 28 carries to lead NewCath.
“It’s more a physical thing,” Schneider said. “We have a sophomore quarterback back there. Sometimes, he got caught staring things down. They all knew who they were supposed to block. They were just getting beat by better players.”
The Thoroughbreds settled on Henschen as the starting quarterback last week. He has completed 18-of-26 passes for 200 yards. Senior Brandon Gray leads NewCath with 13 catches for 121 yards.
“The senior captains help me out and the coaches teach me a lot,” Henschen said. “They tell me I need to be a leader and take control of the games and practices.”
The Pioneers run a 3-4 or 3-5 set. They’ve allowed just 265 yards rushing and 247 passing this year.
They’ve two-platooned for years attempting to wear down opponents with their depth. Senior linebacker Chris Hicks and junior defensive lineman Tucker Mueller lead Simon Kenton with 21 tackles each. Hicks is tied with junior defensive back Taylor Galbraith and sophomore defensive back Trent Kincaid with one interception each. Kincaid and junior linebacker Taylor Holtkamp have one fumble recovery each.
“They’re big, strong and very well-coached,” Schneider said. “The guys out there do an excellent job. The returning guys gave us fits last year. It will be quite a challenge.”
The Pioneers also run a spread offense out of the shotgun. Sophomore Cameron Racke has stepped in nicely for the graduated Brenan Kuntz. Racke has completed 30-of-49 passes for 493 yards, seven touchdowns and an interception. Senior wide receiver Logan Winkler has been his top target with 15 catches for 292 yards and five touchdowns.
“The games we saw, they blew (the opponents) out,” Wagner said. “They were able do whatever they want. We don’t know if they’re a running team or passing team.”
Senior wide receiver Kyle Heflin is having a great year rushing and catching the ball for Simon Kenton. He has rushed for a team-high 230 yards on 26 carries and five touchdowns and caught 10 passes for 124 yards.
The Thoroughbreds employ a 4-4 defense. They’ve allowed 360 yards rushing and 266 passing in two games.
“We cover the run first and pass second,” said Peyton Davis, NewCath junior linebacker. “We’re going to drop more in coverage because the run the spread. We know they can go over the top. We’re trying to shut them down as best as possible.”
The Thoroughbreds have five players that have at least 12 tackles. Davis leads the way with 17. Senior Brent Moore and junior Kobe Tallon have 14 each. Senior defensive back Clint Bartels has one fumble recovery.
“NewCath does get after you on defense,” Marksberry said. “We must have great play from our offensive line. If our offensive line plays well, we will be able to give (Racke) time to execute our offense and our running backs lanes to run in. Generally, the spread offense helps with this by getting defenses to be forced to defend the entire field horizontally and vertically.”
NewCath finishes its run against Class 6A, District 6 opponents on Sept. 20 when Dixie Heights comes to Newport Stadium. The Thoroughbreds lost to Campbell County, Simon Kenton and Dixie Heights last year after going 1-2 against them in 2012 when they won the 2A state championship.