Preview: Newport Catholic, Beechwood Go for State Football Titles
Out of all the viable contenders that Northern Kentucky supplied the high school football ranks this season, only Beechwood and Newport Central Catholic have made it all the way to the state championship in Bowling Green this weekend.
Their roads to such a lofty plateau have been different but not unusual to either.
Listen to RCN's Bryan Burke and Michael Monks discuss New Cath's and Beechwood's chances:
Beechwood is a perennial Class 1A powerhouse that expects to win every game no matter the competitor. Coach Noel Rash knows his system of power running and hard-nosed defense and has players who are tough enough to perform well on both sides of the ball. This season, the Tigers have only suffered a single loss—to Covington Catholic earlier in the year—and have rarely even been tested by any team within their own class. Their 34-25 win over Russellville in the semifinals last week was the smallest margin of victory all season for Beechwood.
The final game will be played on the campus of Western Kentucky University against Pikeville at 7 p.m. central time on Thursday night. Those who make the trip will witness a team competing for a chance to earn their 11th state football championship against a team that hasn’t won one since the late 1980’s when the Panthers claimed three in a row.
The Tigers have multiple key seniors who fully intend to conclude their high-school football careers as champions including quarterback Kyle Feiger, running back Ethan Stringer, and Mr. Do Everything, Brett Slusher. Whether Pikeville has the talent to overcome the Beechwood attack remains to be seen, but there is no question of the heart and intensity that Beechwood displays in every game.
New Cath also has a history of playoff success, earning five state championships—four of which have come in the last ten years. Coach Dan Wagner is another leader comfortable running his schemes and in the last two seasons he has turned to the strong legs of running back Jacob Smith. This season alone, Smith has 1,414 yards rushing and 17 rushing touchdowns.
The Thoroughbreds are in familiar territory playing in the final game in Bowling Green, having lost in the championship last season to (Louisville) Desales, 26-0. Also like last season, the 'Breds got off to a slow start against bigger schools which Wagner said better prepares his team for deep playoff runs like the one they’re enjoying so far in 2015.
With a gritty 15-7 win over Danville at home a week ago, NCC takes on Mayfield at 2 p.m. central time on Sunday afternoon for all the marbles.
Whether Beechwood and New Cath bring home trophies or not, it’s certainly been a terrific high school football season for Northern Kentucky. Simon Kenton played the part of Class 6A heavyweight and won 13 straight games. Scott had its best season in school history. Highlands overcame an awful start to make a deep playoff run that ended last week, and teams like Ludlow and Bishop Brossart were pleasant surprises this year. It will be nice if both teams from Northern Kentucjy win over the weekend, but it is nearly certain that the region will once more be locked and loaded for another terrific year next season.
-Bryan Burke, associate editor
Photos by RCN's Brian Frey