By Dave Malaska
ERLANGER, Ky. — Newport held Lloyd under 150 yards of total offense, taking advantage of a pair of turnovers and four failed fourth-down Juggernauts attempts to post a 27-6 win Friday night and clinch home field advantage for the first round of the playoffs.
The Wildcats, who lost their first four games of the season, also overcame a chilly night with temperatures dipping into the 30s by game's end to earn their fourth win in their last five outings.
"To be honest, we couldn't feel the cold at all, and we definitely don't now," said Newport senior quarterback Charlie Mullins amid the post-game celebration after running for two scores and throwing for another to lead the Wildcats.
Mullins completed 10 of 20 pass attempts for 123 yards and ran for 58 yards, while Dominic Joseph rambled for 71 yards on 21 rushes for Newport. Tyree Bolden chipped in another 48 yards on the ground to help Newport grind down the Lloyd defense.
Newport scored on its first possession, going 85 yards in 11 plays before Mulllins ran up the middle of the defense to score from 17 yards out just six minutes into play. The Wildcats didn't score again until their first possession of the second half, when Mullins dove in from a yard out to put the Wildcats up, 13-0.
Lloyd started its second half trapped deep in its own territory, and a bad snap on a punt attempt on fourth down gave Newport the ball back on 16-yard line to start its next possession. A Juggernauts personal foul and four plays later, Mullins connected with senior receiver Jayshawn Stanley on a five-yard scoring pass to give the Wildcats a 20-0 lead.
The Juggernauts got a spark in the form of a 69-yard return on the ensuing kickoff by Jared Gabbard to the Wildcat 21-yard line, then on fourth-and-6 from the 17, successfully executed a fake field goal attempt. Quarterback Hayden Molitor, serving as the holder, pulled down the ball, popped up and found Kyle Grant open on the left sideline. Grant outran the defense to the end zone, and Lloyd cut the lead to 20-6.
The Juggernauts could do nothing more, however, as Newport bled the clock then tacked on a late score on a Bolden five-yard run for the final tally — the drive sparked by sophomore Miles Hardin's 42-yard end around on a third-and-8 from midfield.
Molitor threw for 125 yards on eight passes and a touchdown, but also fumbled twice. Grant led Lloyd receivers with three catches for 45 yards, while Zach Riddle had two catches for 54 yards. The Juggernauts managed only 32 yards rushing.
Gabbard had only 13 yards rushing to lead Lloyd's running game, but had a strong performance on kickoff returns. He had a 62-yard return on the game's opening kickoff as well as the 69-yard return that later set up the Juggernaut's only score.
After the game, the Wildcats were focused on the season's turnaround that saw them going from 0-4 to locking up home field advantage for a playoff game.
Mullins said, even in the throes of a hard-luck start, Newport never lost doubt.
"We knew we had a lot of returning starters, like Dom Joseph, and a lot of good offensive linemen. And skill players, Newport always has an abundance of those guys, so we thought we'd be alright," he said.
Not everything was rosy on the Wildcat after-party, though. Coach Matthew Schmitz admitted to being concerned about penalties — his squad was flagged 10 times on Friday night, which accounted for 80 penalty yards and negated a Mullins 12-yard touchdown throw early in the second quarter.
"I just think it was just our night," he said. "To overcome those kind of penalties and beat a good team like Lloyd, it was our night. But we won't keep playing too much longer if we keep doing that. It's definitely a cause for concern."
It didn't take the coach long to revel in the Wildcats' turnaround, though.
"We knew the schedule coming in was tough, but we thought if we could just hold things together, we'd be fine. We believed it, and I think the kids believe it now, too," Schmitz said. "We've got a good football team and people are going to start noticing that."
at LLOYD 0-0-6-0—6
N—Mullins 17 run (Franco kick)
N—Mullins 1 run (kick failed)
N—Stanley 5 pass from Mullins (Fanco kick)
L—Grant 17 pass from Molitor (kick blocked)
N—Bolden 5 run (Franco kick)
RECORDS: Newport 4-5, 3-1 Class 2A; Lloyd 6-4, 2-2.