By Dave Malaska
NEWPORT, Ky. – The offense may have provided the flash, but it was Newport Central Catholic's defense that brought the thunder as the Thoroughbreds shut out Walton-Verona, 36-0, Friday night to advance to next week's Class 2A regional final.
In a cold drizzle at Newport Stadium, NewCath held the Bearcats' powerful ground game off the scoreboard and to just 164 yards of total offense. The Bearcats came in averaging 34 points per game behind the backfield of Mason Compton and Chris Latimore, who combined for more than 2,000 rushing yards this season.
Friday night, Mason fought hard for 97 yards on 26 carries. Latimore finished with 45 on 15 carries.
"We repped on them all week, knowing we had to stop 37 (Compton) and 39 (Latimore). They're big, strong ball carriers," said NewCath coach Dan Wagner. "We did a great job tonight, keeping them from hurting us. I think we've been tough against the run all year, but we did a great job tonight."
Meanwhile, senior quarterback Mac Franzen led the 'Breds with 181 rushing yards — including a second quarter 94-yard scoring run — and 153 passing yards as NCC galloped to the win. Franzen rushed for two scores and threw for another while sophomore running back Jacob Smith added 110 yards on 15 carries and his own score as the Thoroughbreds put up 494 yards of offense.
Early in the game, the it looked like the Bearcats would draw first blood, though.
Walton advanced to the NCC 30 on the opening drive of the game, helped by a roughing the punter penalty at midfield, but NewCath's defense made its first big play of the night to keep the game scoreless.
On third-and-11, NCC's Michael Runyon intercepted quarterback Justine Kline's throw at the 2-yard line. Pinned deep, the Thoroughbreds went three and out on the ensuing possession.
It would be their only ineffective possession of the night, getting five scores over their next six possessions and driving to the Walton 1-yard line the only time they failed to put points on the board.
NewCath went up, 7-0, on a 12-yard pass from Franzen to Brandon Gray a minute into the second quarter, capping an 11-play, 86-yard drive. The next time they touched the ball, Franzen broke through the line then beat the defense down the sideline for a 94-yard run that put NCC up 14-0 at the half.
The Breds opened the second half with another long drive, going 74 yards in 12 plays to go up by three scores on a 1-yard end zone dive by senior Jack Sutkamp. Later in the third quarter, Franzen ran for his second rushing touchdown from 20 yards out to cap a 59-yard drive.
NewCath put the final nail in the coffin of Walton-Verona's season at the start of the fourth quarter when Smith scampered in from nine yards out to make it 36-0.
NCC will face Gallatin County in next week's regional title game. The Wildcats beat Carroll County, 49-26, on Friday.
Along with bottling up Walton's running game, NCC also teed off on Kline, the Bearcats' quarterback. The junior completed only two of 11 passing attempts for 21 yards. The Thoroughbred defense added four hurries and two tips to Runyon's interception in the harassment of Kline.
"We've thrown better this year, but Newport has great pass rushers," said Walton coach Jeff Barth. "They're a great football team. Hell, they're the defending state champion. That's no secret."
"We started the year with 45 (players) and ended it with 27 and equipment," he added of his injury-riddle squad. "I'm damned proud of the 27 that finished the season. We're still building our program. Obviously, we're not where we want to be yet, but we're making the right strides."
at NEWCATH 0-14-15-7—36
NCC-Gray 12 pass from Franzen (Caudill kick)
NCC-Franzen 94 run (Caudill kick)
NCC-Sutkamp 1 run (Franzen run)
NCC-Franzen 20 run (Caudill kick)
NCC-J. Smith 9 run (Caudill kick)
RECORDS: Newport Catholic 8-4, Walton-Verona 9-3.