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Story: Newport Catholic Dominates Ludlow, 69-28

Dan Weber writes a sports column for The River City News. Contact him at dweber3440@aol.com.

There was a day when this game would have been inconceivable. For a couple of decades through the 1970s, Newport Central Catholic competed in one of the nation's toughest high school football conferences - the Greater Cincinnati League.

And the Thoroughbreds regularly sent players to Notre Dame, not just to fill out the roster but to star for the Irish as tailback Ed Ziegler did, or the last to do it for Notre Dame's most recent national champ, tight end Frank Jacobs.

Or had in Bob Schneider, who coached for 44 seasons and won 345 games, Kentucky's third-all-time-winningest coach and the No. 2 spot in Greater Cincinnati.  

Now the Class A Thoroughbreds, five-time Class 2 A state champs, are the 17th smallest school in the state to field a football team with 131 boys in the 2020 school year.

"Little" Ludlow would have never been mentioned in the same breath as a NewCath team that once traded blows with the likes of Cincinnati powers Moeller, Elder, St. Xavier & Co. Not that Ludlow hadn't had its moments. Just as all the original four Class A teams in Northern Kentucky have - with Beechwood, Dayton, and Bellevue - they'd each won a state championship in football.

Bear Bryant recruited Ludlow's Dale Waite to play for him at Kentucky. Bill Young would go on to play for Kentucky and Xavier. The Caple twins - Denny and Danny - would play at Western Kentucky and the leader of the Ludlow state champs in 1975, Jim Lokesak, would also play at Kentucky.

But you know that none of that mattered – especially to these players – as they faced off Thursday night at Newport Stadium. As NewCath coach Stephen Lickert, who was just 24 when he got his first head coaching job at Dayton High, responded to the history question, "Heck, I was seven when Frank Jacobs went to Notre Dame."

This Class A game was not about history although the score - 69-28 in favor of big-play-making NewCath, now 5-2 - was somewhat historic despite game stats that seemed pretty even. Ludlow’s Panthers, dressing just 19, led in time of possession (24:45 to 22:12), number of plays (52-41), and rushing yards (304 to 78) but could not keep up on the scoreboard where NewCath put up 21 points in each of the first three quarters on Kolton Smith’s 15 of 23 passing for 302 yards (to Ludlow’s 52 on five of 10) resulting in five touchdowns that made NewCath’s 19-16 edge in first downs irrelevant.

“We can’t catch a break,” Ludlow coach Greg Taphouse said as he shook his head walking up the sideline after two of the first NewCath TDs in jumping out to a 21-7 first-quarter lead were of the long ball and almost circus variety. One TD – from 49 yards out – bounced off a Ludlow defender’s shoulder pads into the receiver’s hands as he stepped into the end zone. The second came on a deep kickoff after a first squib kick was disallowed only to see NewCath return it for a long TD.

“I think small school football is a blast,” said Lickert, who played for a state championship team at Highlands and also coached at Holmes and Campbell County. He learned to deal with short numbers at Dayton and Holmes, he said, and how to keep players healthy.

“Our kids are extremely hard-working and we work hard at developing them into varsity players,” he says. “Our guys get to play regardless of size.”

Right now, NewCath is not sending any players to Notre Dame. “We have just one Division 1 athlete, Kyle Kelly at Ohio U.,” he said, although “I think we have a couple of D1-level kids in our program currently.”

And as impressive as the offensive numbers are that put up most of those 69 points, Lickert cited his defenders first after the game. “Dom Morgan had 13 tackles and a strip for touchdown on defense. Kwintin Gilliam had seven tackles.”

On offense, it started with QB Smith, he said. But didn’t end there. , with his 75 percent completion mark and more than 300 yards passing for those five TDs. “Matthew Landrum had seven catches for 168 yards and three TDs. Nick Rouse had three catches for 90 yards and a TD.”

But the big numbers were not all on NewCath’s side. Ludlow senior running back Braxton Newborn time and again darted tirelessly inside and out for 194 yards and one TD. Nick Tackett, listed as a wide receiver, quarterback and linebacker, had four catches for 31 yards and a TD while Brogan O’Brien, another three-position guy as a QB/WR/CB hit on five of 10 passing while converting a fourth-and-nine with a tough run that ended up in the end zone.

With the victory, NewCath improves to 5-2 (1-0 district) after its fourth straight win with games against Dayton and Bellevue coming up before the regular-season finale against Class 2A power Beechwood.

Ludlow, meanwhile, fell to 1-6 (0-1 in the district) as it looks to complete district play against Bellevue and Dayton before its regular season ends against Class 2A Covington Holy Cross.

--Dan Weber