The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds came out on fire scoring on their first three possessions then held on for a 28-21 victory Friday over the host Kentucky Country Day Bearcats to advance to the Class 1A state semifinals for the second time in three years.
“They’re a tough team to beat so I was really pleased with our kids,” said Stephen Lickert, NewCath head coach. “We went out and made too many mistakes. But we needed that. We needed to be battle-tested going into next week. Luckily, we were able to make enough plays to win the game.”
NewCath senior running back Luke Runyon led the way scoring all four touchdowns – three rushing and one receiving. Runyon rushed for a team-high 95 yards on seven carries for an average of 13.6 yards per carry and caught three passes for 26 yards.
“(The offensive linemen) did an outstanding job reaching the edge, getting the blocks outside, not holding or anything,” Runyon said. “We just used my speed to get outside and get going. It’s hard to stop when we’re firing on all cylinders.”
KCD (9-3) could not stop Runyon on the jet sweeps in the first quarter allowing the Thoroughbreds (11-2) to build a 21-0 lead. Runyon ran behind his offensive line scoring on touchdown runs of 23, 59 and two yards and senior Ryan Barth hit the three point after touchdown kicks giving NewCath that lead with 2:35 left in the first quarter.
“Every single day, we’ve worked our tails off in practice,” said Grant Powell, NewCath senior lineman. “In the weight room, we push ourselves as hard as we can so we can play games like this.”
But the Bearcats made adjustments after that offensively and defensively to stick around. NewCath held KCD’s leading rushers in juniors Kassani Wilson and Alex Bahe to just 21 and 11 yards respectively trying to run in between the tackles out of the I-formation. The duo came into the game with 721 and 566 yards rushing on the season.
“They were well-prepared against Dayton,” said Nic Shafer, NewCath senior lineman. “They were well-prepared against us. We stopped them early and they got frustrated. But they bounced back fast. It’s all about our effort. It paid off.”
That forced KCD to go to the passing game and junior quarterback Ethan Harris delivered completing 20 of 30 passes for 302 yards, two touchdowns and one interception. The Bearcats threw a lot of quick outs to junior wide receiver Cameron Edwards and junior running back Troy Humphreys. Edwards and Humphreys finished with seven catches each for 159 and 82 yards respectively.
KCD scored its first touchdown with 7:28 left in the first half. Harris scored on a five-yard roll-out on 4th-and-2 from the NewCath five to cut the NewCath lead to 21-7. The Bearcats did drive to the NewCath one on their next possession after Harris completed a 47-yard pass to Humphreys. But Welch picked off a Harris pass on 3rd-and-goal to stop the drive.
“If we see that in the semifinals, we’ll know what to do,” said Kaleb Cole, NewCath sophomore linebacker. “We had to line up a certain way to certain offenses and they just played off that. Once we learned what they were doing, we were able to react and play off that. It was a game of chess.”
The Bearcats went on a long drive to start the third quarter but on 1st-and-10 from the NewCath 13, Wilson took the ball up the middle and the NewCath defense stuffed him. Runyon recovered the fumble.
But KCD did score on its next possession when Harris completed a 12-yard pass to Humphreys. But the Bearcats missed the PAT wide left leaving the score 21-13 NewCath with 2:48 left in the third quarter.
The Thoroughbreds responded on their next possession completing a lot of quick outs to Runyon and senior wide receiver Matthew Landrum. Runyon scored from seven yards out to go up 28-13 with 1:49 left in the third quarter.
After NewCath held on fourth down at its 22, the Thoroughbreds decided to punt on 4th-and-short at their own 30. The Bearcats scored on their next possession when Harris found senior wide receiver Dylan Keene for a six-yard touchdown with six minutes left in the game.
Landrum recovered the onside kick and NewCath had a touchdown run called back on a holding penalty. After a punt gave KCD the ball back with 3:59 left at its own 23, the Bearcats threw three straight incompletions. After a punt, NewCath earned a first down and ran out the clock.
KCD outgained NewCath, 344-247 overall. But the Thoroughbreds outrushed the Bearcats, 209-42 on the ground. Junior Demetrick Welch added 69 yards rushing on 14 carries for NewCath.
NewCath travels to Pikeville for the state semifinals the day after Thanksgiving. The defending 1A state champion Panthers (10-2) have won 10 straight since opening the season with two losses.
Newport Central Catholic 21 0 7 0 – 28
Kentucky Country Day 0 7 6 8 – 21
NewCath (10:55) – Luke Runyon, 24 run (Ryan Barth kick).
NewCath (8:59) – Runyon, 59 run (Barth kick).
NewCath (2:31) – Runyon, 2 run (Barth kick).
KCD (7:28) – Ethan Harris, five run (Filip Popa kick).
KCD (2:48) – Troy Humphreys, 12 pass from Ethan Harris (Popa kick).
NewCath (1:49) – Runyon, 7 pass from Smith (Barth kick).
KCD (6:00) – Dylan Keene, 6 pass from Harris (Harris run).