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Friday Night Preview: Playoffs, Round 2

A preview of Northern Kentucky high school football teams in Round 2 of the playoffs from RCN's Bryan Burke:

Newport (7-4) at Walton Verona (10-1) Class 2A

For Newport to advance past Walton Verona, the Wildcats must control the line of scrimmage and not let the stable of running backs run roughshod over them. The Bearcats have put up tremendous rushing totals this season with fullback Mason Compton getting the heaviest load and racking up 1,420 yards so far in 2014. Running back Will Latimore has also carried for over 1,000 yards this year.

Newport has a stout defensive line led by Breandon Johnson and Kameron Covington that can negate the rushing prowess of Walton Verona. The Wildcats won the first match between the two schools in Week 2, 36-26, at home. A road playoff victory is a much harder game to win, though, and coach Matt Schmitz and his defense need to be the utmost prepared to beat the Bearcats again. Schmitz was pleased with his quarterback Paul Price last week, noting the senior had played perhaps his best game of the year managing the game. If Price can do the same on Friday night, the Wildcats have a chance to reach the quarterfinals.

Ashland Blazer (6-4) at Highlands (9-2) Class 4A

Highlands has yet to lose to a team in Kentucky this season, and have no intentions of starting this week. Ashland Blazer has earned a winning record on the season and beat Holmes 49-14 a week ago at home. Traveling to Ft. Thomas, though, is a different beast and the Bluebirds feature a deadly passing attack highlighted by senior quarterback Beau Hoge who has thrown for 30 touchdowns this season. His top target is wide out Alex Veneman who has piled up 1,344 receiving yards and caught 20 of those Hoge touchdowns. If Ashland Blazer will have a chance on Friday, Highlands would have to hurt itself with turnovers and penalties.

The winner of this game will play the winner between Covington Catholic and Johnson Central in the quarterfinals.

Lloyd (8-2) at Newport Central Catholic (5-5) Class 2A

Don't let the records deceive you, New Cath proved itself to be the top team in its district after struggling against higher-classed competition earlier in the year. In fact, these two teams met in Week 5 at Lloyd where the Thoroughbreds blanked the Juggernaughts, 28-0, to start their streak of district perfection. Newport Central Catholic purposefully schedules difficult non-district opponents to better prepare themselves for a tough postseason schedule.

Lloyd, on the other hand, has played far less talented teams, losing to both New Cath and Newport, arguably their two toughest challenges on the schedule. If they can get payback on the Breds and pull out an upset on the road, it would go a long way toward legitimizing their impressive record.

Ryle (5-6) at Dixie (10-1) Class 6A

It looked like it would be a depressing season early on for Ryle, as they began the year 1-5, before getting their act together and pulling out impressive wins over Covington Catholic and Campbell County, and then upsetting George Rogers Clark on the road in the first round of the playoffs last week. The Raiders feature a variety of running backs to get the ball to as they have six players with 20 or more carries on the season.

Dixie has gone about their business this season in opposite fashion. Not many had the Colonels winning their district at the beginning of the year, but after 10 straight victories, no one is doubting them now. They beat Tates Creek for the second time of the year last week, and took out Ryle, 35-24, in Week 9. It should be a physical game as both teams feature big kids on both sides of the line of scrimmage.

Paris (10-2) at Beechwood (9-2) Class 1A

In a match up that features the most combined wins out of all the area games this weekend, Beechwood faces one of the tougher competitors they have seen since beating Cov Cath on the road. The Tigers had zero problems last week, smashing Bracken County 62-0 in the first round, but the Paris Greyhounds are of a much higher caliber. They ended Ludlow's season last week in resounding fashion, stomping the Panthers 55-19. Beechwood will enjoy their homefield advantage, but the Tigers will have to stick to head coach Noel Rash's three keys of running, blocking and tackling if they want to push their winning streak to nine by beating a stiff Greyhounds team.

Bellevue (7-4) at Frankfort (8-2) Class 1A

Bellevue has been a difficult team to discern. They are a scrappy bunch of players that put up big passing totals led by quarterback Tate Grainger who has thrown for 33 touchdowns this year. They seem unable to beat the better competition though. They lost to a bigger Walton Verona team and to two Cincinnati teams but then won six of their last seven with the only loss coming to district winner Beechwood.

This will be the sixth meeting between the two schools with Frankfort winning the last three. They faced off in the 1977 state championship game with Frankfort winning 21-0.

Covington Catholic (7-4) at Johnson Central (11-0) Class 4A

For as quality as the Colonels record looks, it feels like the team has been somewhat snake-bitten this season. Starting quarterback Adam Wagner has suffered at least three seperate injuries this season, the last coming a week ago when he suffered what looked like a knee injury. They lost two games they expected to win at home to Beechwood and on the road to Ryle. Cov Cath was able to get by Greenup County pretty easily last week with their backup quarterback Ryan McGinness, but the upcoming showdown with undefeated Johnson Central may be the team's biggest test of them all.

After last week's win, Colonel coach Dave Wirth said his team must emphasize stopping the run against the Golden Eagles.

“They can lull you to sleep with the stuff they do and hit those passes,” Wirth said last week after the win against Greenup County. “They still have a lot of size and a lot of speed, but yeah, you go down there and stop the run and force them to do the things they aren't as good at.”  

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