Newport Central Catholic falls at Pikeville in state semifinals

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The Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds relied on their quickness up front to run around bigger defensive linemen and create havoc in the backfield.

It helped the Thoroughbreds (11-3 overall) make it to the Kentucky Class 1A football state semifinals.

But the state’s top-ranked Pikeville Panthers (11-2) have linemen on both sides that are big and quick and it showed in a lopsided 50-14 loss on a foggy Friday at Pikeville’s Hillard Howard Field.

“You just line them up and let your kids go play football,” said Stephen Lickert, NewCath head coach. “I’m really proud of the effort our kids gave all night long. That’s all you can ask of them. Our young men work as hard as possible. We had to withstand their initial punch in the mouth and they kind of stunned us. I think our guys figured out these guys are the bar. We have a lot of work to do to get to the state championship level.”

Pikeville’s offensive line paved the way for senior standout running back Blake Birchfield and company outgaining NewCath, 395-210 in total offense including a 259-137 advantage on the ground. Birchfield carried the ball 20 times for 166 yards and three touchdowns for an average of 8.3 yards per carry and caught two passes for 43 yards and a touchdown.

“Our offensive line is special,” said Chris McNamee, Pikeville head coach. “Those guys show up to work every week and just take of pride in being linemen, which we love. Then you have Blake Birchfield behind them. He can do some special things. I’m really proud of them.”

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The Thoroughbreds could not load up the box to focus on Birchfield because the Panthers are as balanced out of their spread offense as usual even though speedy junior wide receiver Tayvian Boykins did not play. Sophomore quarterback Isaac Duty completed 6 of 13 passes for 136 yards and two touchdowns. One went to sophomore running back Brenden Anthony for 55 yards.

NewCath senior running back Luke Runyon led the Thoroughbreds, rushing for 84 yards on three carries. But the majority of it came on a 72-yard touchdown run with 10:59 left in the game, making the final score.

The Thoroughbreds tried to throw the ball around, but could not consistently give junior quarterback Kolton Smith enough time to make the necessary throws. Smith completed 12 of 22 passes for 73 yards and an interception.

Runyon and junior linebacker Demetrick Welch led the Thoroughbreds with five tackles each defensively. Welch, sophomore safety Louie Collopy and junior defensive lineman Evan Turpin had one tackle for a loss each.

The Panthers scored on their first three possessions to go up 22-0 before NewCath responded with a nice drive. Smith scored on a 7-yard quarterback scramble with 7:39 left in the first half and senior kicker Ryan Barth booted the extra point to cut the lead to 22-7. But Pikeville scored two more touchdowns to go up 36-7 and added two more in the third quarter to force the running clock.

“They’re just big, physical and old and we’re not. Not that we’re not physical. We’re a good, solid, physical football team,” Lickert said. “They were just on another level. They graduate a bunch of guys. So do we. We also return some key guys as well. I hope they get into the weight room and be willing to put in as much work as needed to play an extra game next year.”

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