Not a lot of mystery as we finish up district play in a full Thursday-Friday-Saturday high school weekend. But still some intriguing games. Here we go.
THURSDAY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Newport (3-6) at Beechwood (7-1), 7:30 p.m.: It’ll be a mixture of apprehension and sadness in Ft. Mitchell as the Tigers finish off Class 2A play without Mitchell Berger, out with a torn ACL injury that will require season-ending knee surgery. How exactly do the Tigers replace his senior leadership, his toughness, his 20.2 points a game as the state’s leading scorer, his 1,119 yards gained and 21 TDs rushing, his two-pass receiving TDs, his rugby punting ability, his field goal and PAT kicking, his shutdown defense when needed? Good questions all. Coach Noel Rash correctly says he’s “got some good dudes” who will step in. But what will this look like without Berger? That’s why they play the games, so we can find out. And as luck would have it, here comes a Newport team coming off its toughest loss in a tough year – 26-22 to Class 2A rival Holy Cross last weekend. Big challenge for Ryan Hahn’s Wildcats to get it together in this one, their regular season finale, after losing five of their last six.
FRIDAY HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL
Conner (2-6) at Covington Catholic (6-2), 7 p.m.: After last week’s shocking end-of-game turnaround loss to Highlands in a game determining 5A district supremacy, heretofore high-flying CovCath has to get it together and finish strong in this district game. The challenge for Conner, of course, after winning their first district game before losing two district games to Cooper and Highlands by a combined score of 96-7, is to just find something that works and will get them to play hard. Don’t look for any sympathy from CovCath here. They’ve got Ryle next week and then down the road, they hope, a rematch with Highlands. Conner is barely a blip on the Colonels’ GPS. Not that CovCath can afford to look ahead but . . .
Campbell County (3-5) at Dixie Heights (2-6), 7 p.m.: The end of the regular season hasn’t been all that kind to these two Class 6A teams as they’ve lost 10 of their last 12 between them with Dixie responsible for five straight of those losses while giving up 257 points. Campbell County has given up 85 points in its last two games, both losses, so this could be a matter of which defense shows up not so much which offensive stars make an impact. But if it comes down to offense, look to the Camel run-pass combo of Nathan Smith and Keegan Hill and Colonel QB Armani Gregg to be where it’s decided.
Cooper (5-3) at Highlands (7-2), 7 p.m.: Now this one has the potential to be interesting as the ever-improving Jaguars visit David Cecil Stadium in Ft. Thomas to see if the Union kids have the stuff to stay with the “We’re back” Bluebirds in Ft. Thomas as they’re coming off that big win at CovCath last Friday. Cooper, behind sweet-throwing freshman QB Cam O’Hara has won three straight including two in 5A district play since dropping the opener, 14-7, to CovCath. In those wins over Conner and Boone County, the Jags have scored 95 points while giving up just seven. The problem here when looking at scores is the realization that Highlands has scored 321 points in its seven straight wins. Heck, they scored 40 in their last loss eight games ago – and have a run/pass/catch/kick/return attack that can put up a ton of points in a hurry from a lot of different people in a lot of different ways. Good challenge for Bob Sphire’s Birds to prove they can be ready the week after that CovCath win. Good challenge for Cooper to show a moment like this isn’t too big for the relatively new guys from Union.
Scott (4-4) at Holmes (5-3), 7 p.m.: Go ahead, pick this one, we dare you. Holmes looked like the Bulldogs had it going with three straight wins over Boone County, Newport and Holy Cross, only to get crushed when they hit Class 4A play and were rocked by Rowan County and Boyd County. Scott also won three in a row before also getting socked as well by Boyd County. But at least the Eagles beat Rowan. But can they beat Holmes? The good news here is that both have beaten winless Harrison County so the five-spot in the district is secured for the Cynthiana team. Will Scott’s ability to finish higher than Holmes matter here? Or will the better overall Holmes record in the regular season be the difference? Just don’t look to last year for any guidance. Holmes won the regular season game 40-0 at Scott. Two weeks later in the playoffs, Scott won 35-8 at Holmes.
Lloyd Memorial (5-3) at Holy Cross (2-6), 7 p.m.: This one seems a bit anti-climactic as the Juggernauts got their Class 2A district shot at Beechwood last week and came up on the short end of a 34-7 Tiger romp while the Indians snuck up on Newport 26-22 for their first district win, keeping the Wildcats winless. Lloyd’s ground game, which took a hit from the Beechwood defense, should get back in gear against the Indians.
Dayton (3-5) at Ludlow (3-5), 7 p.m.: Dayton’s Greendevils have seen both ends of Class 1A the last two weeks, losing 55-0 to Newport Central Catholic and whipping up on neighborhood rival Bellevue, 46-0. Now they get a Ludlow team somewhere in between those two. The Panthers lost to NewCath, but by a much closer 60-30, before getting a 1-0 forfeit against a Bellevue team that has canceled the rest of its season. So give the edge to the Kenton-County-river guys in this one at Rigney Stadium.
Trimble County (3-5) at Walton-Verona (7-2), 7:30 p.m.: With four straight wins and the chance to host a Class 2A rival that’s lost four of its last five, Walton-Verona closes out the regular season at home and ready for a pre-postseason week off.
SATURDAY HIGH SCHOOL
Ryle (5-3) at Simon Kenton (5-3), 5 p.m.: Maybe the biggest game of the weekend, this Saturday Class 6A clash of neighboring county schools will decide the district between the two unbeaten rivals. With its offensive stars back and scoring the ball – 151 points in their past three games, the Pioneers have it going. They also have a 42-40 win over Highlands in Ft. Thomas before tailback Jayden Lawson had returned to the lineup. And now that quarterback Chase Crone is healthy, the Pioneers have the ability to line up behind that big offensive line and make things unpleasant for any defense. Ryle, meanwhile, hasn’t been as productive on offense but some of that might be a schedule as tough as, maybe right there with Simon Kenton’s challenging schedule against the likes of unbeaten Southwestern and Corbin, CovCath, Beechwood, and Highlands. Ryle with QB Logan Verax running the show, has faced the likes of Lexington Catholic, Highlands, Louisville St. Xavier, Cooper, and next week, CovCath. So make the schedules a wash. Simon Kenton is at home and that may matter for this Saturday evening game.
Thomas More (4-3) at NAIA No. 6 Bethel (Tenn.) (7-0), 2 p.m.: Not only will the Saints be traveling to McKenzie, Tenn., to face the No. 6 NAIA team but they will be facing an unbeaten Bethel team the Saints beat 24-14 a year ago, also on their field. Heck of a challenge for the Saints who have won two straight to get above the .500 mark for first-year coach Chris Norwell. TMU seems to be firing along behind a Tennessee guy themselves in QB Blaine Espinosa, out of Cookeville, who had his second two-rushing-TD game last week in a 24-16 win over Cumberland (Tenn.). But TMU will need to keep coming up with the heads-up defensive plays like the blocked field goal with a Colton Sandhas scoop-and-score that flipped the Cumberland game.