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NKY Football: New Cath Beats Holmes; Highlands Over SK; Scoreboard

The River City News's coverage of Northern Kentucky high school football this week includes a column from Dan Weber who was at the Highlands-Simon Kenton game, a game recap from Jason Finnell who was at the Holmes-Newport Central Catholic game, and a photo slideshow from that game by Brian Frey, and the full regional scoreboard below.

Dan Weber writes a sports column for The River City News. Contact him at

First-year Highlands football coach Bob Sphire has pretty much seen it all in a 40-year career. The Meade County native has pretty much done it all, too, from coaching at little Knott County Central in the heart of eastern Kentucky to creating a state-of-the-art Lexington Catholic program from scratch.

He's had nationally competitive programs at two Georgia powerhouses where he was one of that football-crazy states highest-paid, in-demand coaches. And yet when he took the Highlands job last March, he knew the tradition he was stepping into.

It didn't hurt that as soon as it was announced that he'd be moving back to Kentucky from Georgia, he got a note -- and a copy of the note-writer's book with a chapter on Highlands -- from a man, Homer Rice, who went the other direction, from Northern Kentucky to Georgia. Rice started his career, and the Bluebird tradition, in Ft. Thomas before retiring as athletic director at Georgia Tech.

"He said he was really happy for me," Sphire recalled after checking out the pinball machine offensive numbers from the 2-0 Bluebirds' 53-38 highly entertaining win at a gritty Simon Kenton Friday night in a game that delayed by an hour and 40 minutes by lightning and a monster rainstorm over Independence.

But one thing Rice would have taken for granted, because there was nothing more important for a Ft. Thomas teen 60 years ago than to play football for Highlands. After all, even with a few flat seasons in recent years, the Bluebirds, depending on which national record book you check, are either tied for the third-winningest high school football program in America with 901 wins or are No. 5  with 906.

"It's great to be here with that kind of tradition," Sphire was saying, "but . . . " And this was the classic big "but." "I thought it was becoming a huge anchor. My kids would tell me they didn't want to walk into Wendy's as a Highlands football player . . . we were losing kids as a result."

 Indeed. After asking a long-time fan about how big a deal it was that the Bluebirds are still top five in the nation, here was his response: "We used to be No. 2, second only to Valdosta, Ga."

"I leave that to the historians," Sphire said. He'd rather concentrate on one innovation he brought from Georgia -- a giant screen TV in a cabinet set up in a tent studio at the end of the bench for his offense and defense units to go over the previous series with their coaches showing them in almost real time exactly what's going on and what they should be doing.

The numbers that matter to Sphire "are 2-0," he says. He'll put that record against anybody right now.

Although on this night his Birds were going against a never-quit Simon Kenton team that racked up 603 yards of offense on the Pioneers' fast artificial turf against a Highlands team that put up 605 behind quarterback Charlie Noon.

"Charlie's a fabulous athlete," Sphire said of the 6-foot-2, 180-pound  speedster with a strong arm and absolutely no fear. All Noon did, after sitting out last week's opening win over Bowling Green for undisclosed reasons, was throw for 394 yards and five touchdowns on 20-of-35 passing while rushing for another 164 on 13 carries with one TD.

Do the math. That's 558 yards of offense. "He's just scratching the surface," said Sphire, who's put players in big-time college programs and the NFL. "This dude can play anywhere."

He wasn't alone on this night. Simon Kenton featured a pair of junior "dudes" who could play a lot of places. "I have a ton of respect for those guys," Sphire said, "that's a good football team."

Pioneer quarterback Chase Crone threw for 319 yards and a couple of passing TDs completing 16 of 35 while running for another two. Smooth-running Jayden Larson picked up 233 on 25 carries. Sphire did not like the sound of those numbers as much as he respected them.

"It's a product of modern day football, the schemes . . . " Sphire said. And something else, although he said he didn't want to make excuses. His quick, pursuing defenders may not be all that big but they had been getting better until the last couple of weeks when, thanks to the heat wave, they haven't been able to practice in pads.

"We've had to stop tackling," Sphire said. And it showed, as the Simon Kenton pair took advantage, rallying from a 29-8 halftime deficit with Crone throwing for a 27-yard TD to Chase Williams and then keeping it for a seven-yard TD to close it to 29-25 after an opening field goal. 

Noon quieted the Pioneer crowd with a 70-yard scramble from his own 10 that led to a 10-yard Jake Welch 10-yard power sweep TD to make it 36-25. Welch had eight carries for 194 yards and two TDs. Clayton Lloyd got things going for Highlands with TD catches of 20 and 28 yards to put the Birds up 14-0 after a quarter.

"You've got a long way to go, especially with your tackling," Sphire told his team after the game as he scheduled them in for a short workout Saturday morning at 8 a.m. and then to cheer on the JV team's 10 a.m. game. "We've got to play 48 minutes," he said. "If we play 48 minutes, good things will happen."

Tackling or no, one good thing that has happened for the Bluebirds the last two weeks is their opportunistic defense has scored a decisive TD each game. Last week, it was a 30-yard Sam Robinson interception. This week, sophomore inebacker Carson Class scooped up a slightly backwards screen pass -- also at the 30 -- when it was mishandled and alertly beat everyone to the end zone to give Highlands a 46-25 lead with 8:06 left.

"We're 2-0 but we're just scratching the surface," Sphire told his team.

And the next time they walk into Wendy's, they can hold their heads up.

"Look at that crowd," Sphire said of the celebrating Highlands fans and student section who sat out the storm and filled the visitors grandstand.

-Dan Weber

Newport Central Catholic holds off Holmes

-Jason Finnell

The game was delayed and so were the offenses as Newport Catholic and Holmes battled to a 6-0 score through three quarters. However, the fourth quarter brought fireworks to a game in which neither team could move the ball nor produce any sustained drives.

After the Bulldogs were forced to punt near midfield to begin the second quarter, Thoroughbreds quarterback Kolton Smith converted a screen pass to Demetrick Welch out of the backfield and the sophomore back found daylight ahead of him until he was tackled by a host of Holmes defenders and coughed up the ball near the Bulldogs 30-yard line.

But NewCath’s Luke Runyon was Johnny on the spot, picking the ball off the turf, taking it the rest of the way into the end zone for a Thoroughbred score. The extra point attempt was blocked and NewCath held a 6-0 lead with 10:27 remaining in the half. The Calloway twins – quarterback Tay and running back, Tez – were held in check by the NewCath defense during the half as the Thoroughbreds held on to their six-point advantage into halftime.

Receiving the second half kickoff, NewCath’s offense was unable to gain any momentum and punted away and likewise for the Bulldogs, as each team traded punts until the final quarter when it appeared the pendulum was finally swinging in Holmes’s direction. Bulldogs’ linebacker Emauryon Arnold intercepted Smith deep inside NewCath territory to put Holmes in great field position to put its first points on the board.

However, a facemask penalty on the Bulldogs during the play set them back 15 yards. But two plays later, Arnold’s nine-yard carry to the Thoroughbred 30 gave Holmes a fresh set of downs. Tez Calloway then shot through the middle of the line for 12 additional yards and another first down. But once the Holmes offense came within 10 yards of the end zone, they went backwards.

Tay Calloway’s scramble to the right lost three yards on third down and the Bulldogs fourth down attempt to the opposite side of the field fell short of first down yardage as Tay was tackled by Thoroughbred defenders just shy of the sideline first down sticks.

NewCath’s defense was in a celebratory mood keeping the Bulldogs off the board, but it would not last for long. Holmes pinned NewCath deep in its own territory and the Thoroughbreds punter was near his own goal line.

Holmes’s defense broke through the line and blocked the punt, recovering in the end zone for their first points of the night and their first lead, 8-6, after a successful two-point conversion with five minutes remaining in the fourth quarter. But after being knocked around much of the game, it was NewCath’s young quarterback who came up big when his team needed him the most.

“He had a lot of moxy. He got knocked down, he had a (injured) finger thing and wasn’t throwing it to the best of his ability and when we were driving the ball down the field, he made plays and I’m proud of the way he played. It’s going to be exciting to watch him improve and our team improve,” Thoroughbreds Head Coach Steve Lickert said.

Down two and on their own 20-yard line, Smith found Matt Landrum for eight yards. Landrum’s second consecutive reception was a lucky one, as the pass intended for Welch deflected to him and he was able to gain 20 yards down the left sideline. NewCath’s hope for a comeback appeared to be running out as two incompletions on overthrows, a sack, and a drop by Landrum left Holmes feeling hopeful.

But on fourth-and-17 from midfield, Smith scrambled left and threw back against his body on the run finding Landrum in the middle of the field for a first down to keep NewCath’s hopes alive. A screen pass to Runyon placed the Thoroughbreds at the 10, then Smith found his fourth quarter target once again, as Landrum became open in the back left corner of the end zone for a touchdown, setting of a celebration in the stands and on the sidelines of Thoroughbreds.

With under two minutes left, the Bulldogs still had a chance. Tay Calloway led the Bulldogs down the field on a 55-yard drive with seconds winding off the clock but on first-and goal at the NewCath five, Calloway’s keeper was stopped short of the goal line as time ran out and the Thoroughbreds held on, 12-8.

NewCath (1-1) returns home next Friday to face Cincinnati’s Roger Bacon, while Holmes (1-1) travels to Florence to meet Boone County.


Metcalfe Co. 53

Bellevue 7

Bellevue's home opener saw the team's second straight loss to start the season at 0-2. The Tigers stay home next week to welcome Bishop Brossart.

Bishop Brossart 21

Newport 7

Brossart continues its swing against Campbell Co.'s river city teams with a second straight win. After beating Dayton at home last week, the Mustangs (2-0) had no trouble at Newport. Next week, Brossart travels to Bellevue. Newport (0-2) goes to Pendleton Co. next week.

Boone Co. 27

Scott 7

The Rebels rolled into Taylor Mill and beat up on their hosts to improve to 1-1 on the season. Next week, Boone Co. welcomes Holmes to Florence. Scott (1-1) will look to rebound next week at Holy Cross.

Ludlow 13

Lockland (Oh.) 20

The Panthers were downed on their trip across the Ohio River on Friday and fall to 1-1 on the season. Next week, Ludlow is back at home against Paris.

Grant Co. 26

Lloyd 62

The Juggernauts bounced back from last week's scoreless defeat to run up the scoreboard on their guests from Grant Co. Lloyd is now 1-1 on the season and welcomes Providence (In.) to Erlanger next week.

Woodford Co. 34

Campbell Co. 13

The Camels fall to 1-1 on the season and will leave Alexandria for the first time next week for a date at Highlands.

Covington Catholic 42

Belfry 13

After last week's loss at Elder in Cincinnati, the Colonels traveled to the Pike Co. Bowl and beat up Belfry. Now at 1-1 on the season, Cov Cath is back in Park Hills next week for a date with Lexington Catholic.

Conner 7

Ryle 40

Both teams are now 1-1 on the season after this game in Union on Friday night. Next week, Ryle goes across town to Cooper while Conner visits Dixie Heights.

Beechwood 49

Paintsville 0

It was another shutout, blowout win for the Tigers. To open the season 2-0, Beechwood has won both games on the road by a total of 84-0. The Tigers are at home in Ft. Mitchell for a date with Somerset next week.

Dixie Heights 10

Cooper 19

The Jaguars improve to 2-0 with the win on Friday night and next week will host Ryle. Dixie (1-1) welcomes Conner.

-Scoreboard assembled by Michael A. Monks, editor & publisher

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