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The Revenge Round: Friday Football Pairings Offer Second Helping of Big Match-Ups

There are eight teams from Northern Kentucky still competing in their respective classes of the high school football playoffs. At least three will be knocked out Friday night as three games feature local rematches from the regular season. RCN's Bryan Burke has the preview:

Covington Catholic (8-4) at Highlands (10-2) Class 4A Quarterfinals

The last time these two teams played in Week 5, Highlands rolled to an easy victory by forcing turnovers and maintaining possession the vast majority of the game. The Colonels gave a good defensive effort despite the 42-7 score, but were simply on the field for too long.

“We've changed in a number of ways and that's one them.” Cov Cath head coach Dave Wirth said on Thursday about his defense “We played 82 snaps of defense against them last time. We flat out can't do that. We played some really tough, scrappy defense for about three quarters and then just died. It's hard to play when the adrenaline is flowing and emotions are running going, and when you have 80 snaps of that, the last 15 you go from 75 percent to 50 percent pretty darn fast.”

One way for the Colonels to limit the expenditure of energy on the defensive side is by putting together long sustained drives that keeps their defense rested and keeps Highlands star quarterback Beau Hoge on the sidelines.

“Against them, you want to move the chains; you just want to get first downs,” With said. “Every time you get a first down, that's three minutes their offense is going to be off the field which is a good thing. Hoge is probably the best player in the area so to keep his butt off the field is a good thing. We'll take explosive plays, we've gotten them before and we will certainly get them again tomorrow night. We've got some explosive athletes just like they do, but we have to do a better job taking care of the ball and we can't give up the big play.”

Another deciding factor the last time these teams met was the Cov Cath turnovers. It's hard for any coach to control turnovers during the games, but Wirth says his team is focused on the fundamentals of avoiding them from cropping up again on Friday. Now that quarterback Adam Wagner is back to being healthy after missing time in a number of games this season, the Colonels hope his leadership and decision-making will produce a better outcome than earlier this season.

“Turnovers are a result of only a few factors. When it's an interception, 90 percent of the time it's from a poor decision by the quarterback, ten percent of the time it's a great play by the secondary,” said Wirth. “The interceptions we threw last time were really poor decisions by us, but Adam has come a long way since then. When it comes to fumbles, it's usually one of two things: it's either poor ball security—not having the ball high and tight, or you don't cover both ends of it as you go into traffic—or you get that occasional credit to the defense where they get a good hard hat on the ball and there isn't a dang thing you can do about it.”

The Colonels put a lot of pressure on opposing defenses in the flats with quick passes to their speedy, yet smallish receivers. If the Bluebird defensive backs have trouble tackling those receivers, the Colonels may find moving the ball and scoring points easier this time around. If they are forced to gain yards on the ground though, it may be tough against the stingy Highlands front seven.

Highlands has come out victorious the last 12 times the two teams have played. This will be the fourth year in a row the Bluebirds have faced the Colonels in the playoffs.

Newport (8-4) at Newport Central Catholic (6-5) Class 2A Quarterfinals

When both teams play at the same stadium, there really is no home or away team. Newport and New Cath lock horns for the second time this season, after completing a thriller in Week 6 where NCC pulled out the win, 22-17.

New Cath has still not lost to a Class 2 opponent this season, but also has not beaten a team outside of their own class. To say the Thoroughbreds are built to beat their own class may not be a stretch, but Newport doesn't want to hear that.

The Wildcats completed a remarkable win last week at Walton Verona where they came away with an overtime victory after successfully completing a two-point conversion on the game's last play to come out on top. It was an emotionally draining game played in bitter cold temperatures. Whether the Wildcats are at all worn down from the grinding win remains to be seen, but the Newport players are a scrappy bunch that always give their best effort for head coach Matt Schmitz.

Like most games, the winner will likely be determined by the play of the offensive line. When New Cath gets a decent push up front and adequately protects quarterback Pat Henschen, they rarely have trouble, but if the pocket collapses like it did repeatedly against teams like Dixie and Beechwood, the Breds may be in for a long day.

Newport has the beef along their defensive line too. Defensive tackle Breandon Johnson and defensive end Kameron Covington certainly have the capability of disrupting the New Cath backfield and clog running lanes up the middle, but conversely, can they get their own running game going against a respectable Thoroughbred defense?

Junior Maleek Lawrence is a load in the middle of the D-line for the Breds and is stingy against the run. Newport has a variety of ball carriers, though, that can adapt to a number of styles. Running back Dominic Joseph is a down-hill sizable runner that looks to run over defenders rather than around them. The speedier Tyree Bolden is the outside threat with explosive-play potential when he gets into the open field, and quarterback Paul Price manages the flow of the offense by either running himself or looking for the deep pass when the opposing defense creeps up into the box to limit the ground game.

Simon Kenton (11-1) at Dixie (11-1) Class 6A Quarterfinals

In another revenge game, Simon Kenton looks to derail the runaway train of Dixie that has won 11 games in a row, including a convincing 36-10 win over the Pioneers in Week 8 that sealed the district for the Colonels. Because of that win, Dixie has home field advantage in this round and hope to copy the outcome from earlier in the season. The Colonels have scored 46 points the past two weeks and are led by one of the more dynamic quarterbacks in the region in senior Drew Moore. Earlier in the season, Moore was criticized for not developing more in his final high-school year, but it's hard to knock the signal caller these days as he has led an impressive offensive attack that can even gain yards when plays break down and Moore is resorted to making plays on his own.

Simon Kenton has talent of its own, primarily in receiver Logan Winkler who is as dangerous returning kicks as he is catching passes. Pioneer quarterback Cam Racke has settled in nicely in his sophomore season as he threw for 21 touchdowns during the season with only four interceptions. Racke, though, was bothered by the Dixie pass rush in their last meeting, led by the terrifying Branden Johnson in the middle of the defensive line. He and end Colson Machlitt form a fearsome front that proved to be a handful for the Pioneer blockers in the last game. If Simon Kenton wants to pull out the road win in the postseason, they offensive line must hold up against the Colonel pass rush.

Frankfort (10-2) at Beechwood (10-2) Class 1A Quarterfinals

Beechwood is also on a tear, having won their last 10 games in a row after losing their first two of the season. The Tigers have benefited from a consistently stout effort from their offensive and defensive lines. Coach Noel Rash has credited the group's strength to the amount of time each has spent in the school's new training facility, specifically the weight room. Beechwood is not a very fancy team. They win with Rash's four fundamental principles of tackling, blocking, running and protecting the ball from turnovers. They have many players that play both sides of the ball and have proven to be a resilient group that plays hard throughout all four quarters. Brett Slusher is always a player to keep a close eye on as he often pops up by either making great catches, getting sacks from his safety position, intercepting passes and even running for first downs on roll-out punt plays where he decides to run.

Frankfort has beaten Northern Kentucky teams Dayton and Bellevue to reach the quarterfinals of the tournament. The Panthers scored a combined 98 points in those two games.

In Class 5A, Cooper (8-4) travels to Anderson County.

Photo: Highlands dominates Covington Catholic earlier this season/RCN file