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What a Start to the NKY High School Football Season!

It was a wild Friday night in Northern Kentucky as high school football action returned with some unexpected outcomes.

For the first time since 2010, a Northern Kentucky school knocked off mighty Highlands, as Cooper ran away with the game Friday, downing the Bluebirds, 37-13. Fort Thomas Matters has the full story.

Elsewhere, Scott pulled a surprise win over Newport Central Catholic in a defensive battle in Taylor Mill. The Eagles nipped the Thoroughbreds, 8-7.

In Park Hills, Ryle upended Covington Catholic, 35-38 in a quirky and thrilling game.

Outside of the atypical kickoff time, as the Colonels typically play Saturday afternoons at home, there was also a different playing surface, a different quarterback, a different coach, and a different result in their opener.  The last time the Colonels lost the opener was 2010 to Ryle.

Cov Cath didn’t make a kick all night including two extra-point misses in the first quarter and a missed field goal later on. They also fell victim to a squib kick off that was recovered by the Raiders. Conversely, though, the benefited greatly from two nice kick returns, both of which were initially dropped by the return man, only to have them brought back deep, one for a touchdown by Ryan McGinness, who made the most plays all night for the Colonels despite battling leg cramps throughout the game.

“We always emphasize our special teams,” said Ryle head coach Mike Engler.  “You win or lose football games because of special teams. We spend a lot of our practice time on it and we’ll just get better as the year goes on.”

As important as special teams were, though, it was the play of Ryle quarterback Tanner Morgan that allowed the Raiders to escape as victors. Morgan was poised and in control all night, even when he left the pocket and was forced to improvise with his arm and his legs.

“A lot of people thought I couldn’t run, but big-time players make big-time plays in big-time situations, and as an offense, we have a ways to go, but we were a well-oiled machine tonight, but we have to keep our momentum rolling into next week and the rest of the season,” Morgan said.

Morgan threw for an astounding 449 yards with two passing touchdowns and a pick.  He also ran it 10 times for 58 yards and two more touchdowns. His ability to keep his eyes downfield as he scrambles away from pass rushers is as impressive as his arm strength.  He showed the ability to fire to the sidelines on crisp out routes, loft a pretty deep ball down the sidelines in the second half, and hit cutting receivers running the opposite direction in stride.

“(Morgan) made great, great decisions all night. The first game, the big rivalry, and all the hype, for him to walk in here and perform like performed tonight, I can’t say anymore,” Engler said after the game.

On the other side, sophomore A.J. Meyer was also excellent for his first start. The sophomore that the coaching staff has groomed since spring was not quite as commanding as Morgan, but still finished with 234 passing yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. There were times when he looked terrific like the first score of the game where he threw an arching pass to receiver Ian Summe at the pylon for the touchdown, but the pass rush did him in down the stretch.

In the third quarter, Cov Cath took the lead, 28-21, after McGinness took a short pass and ran it in from 31 yards out.  Then Ryle immediately responded with an 82-yard passing touchdown from Morgan to Grant Beagle where Beagle broke a tackle and took it to the house, tying the score.

The score remained even down the stretch in the fourth quarter when Morgan hit Bryce Ashley down the sideline on a play where it took Ashley three bobbles before luring it in and gaining 77 yards on the play. Both Ashley and Beagle finished with over 100 yards receiving on the day. Shortly after, Morgan scrambled out of the pocket, found a seam in the middle of the field and took it 27 yards for the go-ahead score.

“It was a called pass, but I broke the pocket,” Morgan said.

That put the onus on the defense.  It was a unit that played admirably.  They weren’t necessarily dominant, but they were physical and hard hitting, and stayed disciplined on their assignments.

Cov Cath took over on the ensuing drive with under two minutes left and down by a touchdown, but moved the ball downfield relatively quickly thanks to the hard running of Ben Darlington.  The rugged tailback was effective all night, racking up 111 yards on the ground, and one of his longer runs came on that last drive to put the Colonels inside the red zone, looking to tie the game. Unfortunately, though, the good run came at a terrible cost as it looked as if he might have broken his leg on the play. He was clearly in immense pain, the medical staff on hand bandaged it on the field before moving him, and he had to be taken off the field on a stretcher. His loss is huge for the Colonels offense.

In the remaining series, the Ryle defense hurried Meyer into a sack on third down and forced a short throw for a minimal gain on fourth, preserving the win for the Raiders.

With the win, Ryle is starts the year 1-0, while new head coach Eddie Eviston has to live with the loss, 0-1, on his Cov Cath premier.

Meanwhile, in Ludlow, the Panthers blew out the Newport Wildcats in a cat fight on the river, 34-0.

The game was virtually over by halftime when Ludlow leaped out to a 27-0 lead.  Sophomore quarterback Justin Blackburn was all over the field on both offense and defense as his big plays in the first half helped the Panthers establish such an early cushion.

For Newport, quarterback Ryan Ochoa seemed to be running for his life all night. He was hit hard many times in the second half alone, and by the end was battered and spent.  Ochoa made the switch to quarterback from wide receiver this season as new coach Tim Viox has had to scramble to put the team in place after taking over as head coach only a short time ago. Previous coach Matt Schmitz was arrested and his contract was not renewed.

Ludlow starts 1-0, and Newport 0-1. The Panthers travel to Bracken County next week while the Wildcats host Scott in their home opener.

In Covington, Holy Cross beat crosstown rival Holmes to start a season where both teams are looking to rebound from a dismal 2014 where the Indians and Bulldogs combined for just 3 victories.

HC started strong, scoring on its first drive with a 15-yard run by Scott Hamilton, then pushed the lead to 14-0 with a 6-yard touchdown run by Xavier Abernathy. 

Holmes got on the board with a 2-yard run by Andrew Arnold, a play that followed an impressive 50-yard pass. With the extra point blocked, the score was 14-6. 

The Indians added a field goal to take a 17-6 halftime lead. (For more photos from the Holy Cross-Holmes game, click here)

In the second half, both teams struggled with penalties. Arnold added 2 more rushing touchdowns in the second half, giving him 3 touchdowns on the night for Holmes, and a 20-17 lead.

Abernathy and the Indians responded with another trip to the endzone and took the lead for good at 24-20. Holmes recovered a fumble late in the 4th quarter but could not score. 

Other scores: Beechwood knocked off Dixie... Bellevue put the hammer on Gallatin Co., 28-6... Bishop Brossart had no trouble with Dayton, 35-0... Lloyd held off Walton-Verona, 28-20... Simon Kenton won big over Christian Academy, 54-20... East Central (IN) squeaked past Campbell Co., 24-21... and Lexington Catholic romped over Boone Co., 51-6.

-Bryan Burke, Brian Frey, and Michael Monks contributed to this story


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