After months of preparation, hard work, and sweat it all comes down this one game as the Newport Central Catholic Thoroughbreds and Owensboro Catholic Aces meet at Western Kentucky's Houchens-L.T. Smith Stadium with the Kentucky Class 2A title on the line on Friday afternoon.
NewCath has cruised through their first four playoff opponents – Owen County, Christian Academy-Louisville, Holy Cross, and Corbin. Their smallest margin of victory in those four games was their 30-point win in the second week of the playoffs. NCC has outscored their opponents by an average of 55-18 during those contests.
Head coach Eddie Eviston looks to lead his alma mater to a state title in his first year since replacing the legendary Bob Schneider, who is the state's all-time leader in wins and guided NCC to three state titles during his four-decade reign of the program.
Winners of 11 straight, O-Cath enters the championship round red hot. The Aces have lit up the scoreboard as well. They put up 61 points on Danville, a 10-time state championship team, a week ago. O-Cath knocked off Murray, Caldwell County and Reidland in their three previous playoff matchups.
We get you set for kickoff of the Kentucky, Class 2A state title game:
NEWPORT CENTRAL CATHOLIC (12-2) VS. OWENSBORO CATHOLIC (13-1)
Houchens-L.T. Smith Stadium, WKU
Friday, Dec. 3 - 4:00 p.m. Eastern
PLAYERS TO WATCH: Senior Chris Kelly is the heart and soul of Newport Central Catholic. He leads the team with 1700 yards and 30 touchdowns rushing and also is the Thoroughbreds' top tackler with 118 takedowns from the linebacker position. Owensboro Catholic dual-threat quarterback Isaac Hardesty presents tremendous challenges for opposing defenses. He has tallied 3,508 yards and 48 touchdowns through the air and picked up another 442 yards and four scores on 83 carries.
TEAM TRENDS: NewCath has won three state championships (1984, 2005, and 2006) and have made appearances in the state title games seven times over the past 11 seasons. O-Cath has never won a title, but played in the finals in 2004 and 2005. Both teams are coming off disappointing 2009 campaigns. The Thoroughbreds went 7-6 a year ago while the Aces finished with a 3-8 mark. NewCath averages 42.2 points per game while O-Cath puts up 43.9 points per contest this season.
NEWCATH'S KEYS TO VICTORY: The game will come down to defense for the Thoroughbreds in this contest. They've struggled to contain the edges at times and O-Cath will present many challenges on quick screens and quarterback keepers. NewCath must get pressure on Hardesty. Jake Cain and Jake Giesler need strong days up front. In addition, ball hawks Kelly, Brian Doyle, Logan Martin, and Nick Woltermann must make plays and capitalize on turnover opportunities. Offensively, balance will be important for NewCath. A good mix of Kelly and quarterback Brady Hightchew will help move the chains and keep the Aces' high-powered attack on the sidelines.
OWENSBORO CATHOLIC'S KEYS TO VICTORY: Establishing the run with heavy doses of running back Russell Hayden, who has rushed for 1,555 yards and 19 touchdowns, will keep NewCath's defense honest and open things up for Hardesty and talented wideouts Masden Riney, Ryan Hogg, and Zach Brett. The trio has combined to pull in 40 touchdown passes. If the Aces can establish balance it will be tough for the ‘Breds to stop them. O-Cath is a bit undersized up front on defense and that will leave stopping Kelly up to Alex Thompson and Paul Lopez, who each have over 110 tackles on the season. Defenders Austin Wood and Alex Bahnick need to help keep NCC's passing game in check and make NewCath one dimensional.
FINAL TAKE: NewCath has three titles already and a fourth seems within reach. This game promises to be one of the best games of the weekend in Bowling Green, but NCC's pedigree and size advantage gives them a slight edge. However, they must put four quarters together, something they've managed to do thus far in the postseason after struggling with it earlier in the year…NEWCATH 44, OWENSBORO CATHOLIC 38
Written by: Dan Clasgens, TriStateFootball.com