By Dan Wright
FORT MITCHELL, Ky. -- Senior John Caudill’s 26-yard field goal with 12.4 seconds remaining capped Newport Central Catholic’s rally from an early 21-0 deficit as the Thoroughbreds knocked off rival Beechwood, 34-31, in the regular season finale for both teams.
It was just one more example of the Thoroughbred’s resilience, as they won their fifth straight game following a 1-4 start to the season.
Last year, NewCath overcame a 2-4 start to win the Class 2A state championship.
“We know we’re a good team,” said Caudill. “We know if we play right, communicate and everything, we can come back. We definitely had our heads down a little bit, but Coach Wagner kicked us in the butt and got us ready.”
While Caudill could have been speaking of the season as a whole, he was actually referencing Saturday’s game, in which quarterback Mac Franzen lost three fumbles in the first 3:28, enabling Beechwood to build a 21-0 lead with 6:35 left in the first quarter.
“We work on that stuff (stripping the ball) no matter who we’re playing against. It wasn’t necessarily designed for him,” Beechwood head coach Noel Rash said. “We were able to create some turnovers and do some great things early.”
The Thoroughbreds rebounded, however, and after a 52-yard touchdown run by sophomore running back Jacob Smith and a punt that senior Tyler Lyons blocked and recovered in the end zone, the Beechwood lead was just 21-14 before the first quarter was over.
“That’s on them (the players),” said NewCath head coach Dave Wagner. “They battled and battled and battled. You just can’t keep turning the ball over like we did. I think once we settled down they knew we could handle some things.”
Senior Miles Sletto’s 23-yard field goal put the Tigers lead back to 10 points, 24-14, with 9:19 left in the half, but NewCath controlled the rest of the quarter.
Franzen found Lyons for a 15-yard touchdown with 6:11 left in the second quarter, and a pass interference call helped set up senior Jack Sutkamp for a 1-yard touchdown run to put NewCath ahead 11 seconds before halftime.
“It was penalties, and not doing what we’re taught to do,” said Rash, whose team was flagged 11 times for 117 yards. “That just comes down to we’ve got some young kids and we’re not as mentally strong as we need to be, especially this time of year. The young thing, that excuse has got to stop this time of year. It’s not just the young kids, it’s across the board. We’re just not as mentally tough as we need to be and locked in as we need to be.”
“We lost that game in the second quarter,” Rash later added. “I was proud of our kids they way they fought in the second half.”
In contrast to the quick-strike, 52-point first half, both teams came out with long drives to start the second half.
Beechwood turned the ball over on downs at the NewCath 20 on a 12-play, 5:42 drive, and NewCath added to its lead with a 25-yard field goal by Caudill to cap a 14-play, 5:04 drive.
The Tigers followed with a possession in which junior running back Joe Studer caught two passes and carried nine times on a 13-play drive that ended when he scored from a yard out to tie the score at 31 with 7:45 remaining in the game.
Studer finished with 17 carries for 72 yards and three catches for 40 yards. Sophomore quarterback Kyle Fieger completed 18 of 30 passes for 215 yards and two first-quarter touchdowns for the Tigers, also rushing for Beechwood’s third touchdown as the Tigers gained 312 yards in the game.
Franzen bounced back from his rough start to complete 15 of 36 passes for 195 yards and a touchdown, also rushing 10 times for 60 yards for NewCath.
“Give him credit,” said Wagner. “He battled back and got himself back together.”
Jacob Smith added 89 yards on 12 carries as NewCath ran for 201 yards in gaining 396 in the game.
That included two scoring threats in the final seven minutes that Beechwood was able to stave off, but, with the Tigers unable to gain another first down on offense, they could not keep the Thoroughbreds from getting a third opportunity.
Caudill missed a 30-yard field goal wide right with 6:18 remaining, his only miss in five attempts this season, and NewCath elected to punt on fourth-and-24 from the Tigers 33 with 2:59 remaining in the game after stopping Beechwood on downs.
An offensive pass interference penalty on the Tigers eventually resulted in them punting the ball back to NewCath, and Franzen drove the Thoroughbreds 38 yards in 1:32 to give Caudill a chance to atone for his miss six minutes earlier.
“I knew the wind was a little bit of a factor, but that second time I had it lined up right,” said Caudill, who said it was his first game-winning kick since beating CovCath in overtime for the eighth grade championship.
“They both felt pretty good,” he said. “Any way you can get one, it feels good.”
Both teams will host playoff games next week, with NewCath hosting Owen County in the Class 2A playoffs and Beechwood hosting Bracken County in the Class A playoffs.
“Coach Schneider (former NewCath head coach
Bob Schneider) and I go a ways back and it goes back to us saying we’re going to keep this game in Week 10 since it’s not a district game anymore,” said Rash. “So we can get ourselves ready for the playoffs and what we’ve got to deal with.”
at BEECHWOOD 21-3-0-7—31
B-Stokes 11 pass from Fieger (Sletto kick)
B-Hayden 34 pass from Fieger (Sletto kick)
B-Fieger 6 run (Sletto kick)
N-Smith 52 run (Caudill kick)
N-Lyons recovered blocked punt in end zone (Caudill kick)
B-Sletto FG 23
N-Lyons 15 pass from Franzen (Caudill kick)
N-Sutkamp 1 run (Caudill kick)
N-Caudill FG 25
B-Studer 1 run (Sletto kick)
N-Caudill FG 26
RECORDS: Newport Central Catholic 6-4, Beechwood 6-4.