COVINGTON, Ky. -- The Holy Cross football team is looking for a little history -- an elusive third all-time victory over district rival Newport Central Catholic -- and the Indians will have another shot this week.
Holy Cross (9-3) will visit district rival NewCath (7-5) at 7 p.m. Friday at Newport Stadium in the Class 2-A state playoffs with each team two wins from the state final.
The Indians have beaten NewCath only twice on the football field since the program was founded in 1998 -- a 10-7 win on Sept. 16, 2006, and 24-21 final on Nov. 18, 2011, during the playoffs as Holy Cross was making a run to the Class 2-A state title. NewCath owns a 22-2 all-time record against Holy Cross, including a 6-1 record in the state playoffs, according to the KHSAA website.
“From the very beginning of our program, it’s always been Newport Central Catholic that has been the thorn in our side,” Holy Cross coach Bruce Kozerski said. “We’ve been fortunate enough to beat them a couple times, but not nearly enough.”
The Thoroughbreds ended the Indians’ season in the playoffs in 2003, 2006 when the Breds avenged their first regular-season loss to Holy Cross with a 41-7 win, and again in 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2015 when NewCath eliminated Holy Cross with a 46-15 win Nov. 13, 2015.
Despite the overall domination by NewCath as far as wins and losses go, the Thoroughbreds have never seen the Indians as a pushover.
“They are who we need to take care of and who we need to beat and it’s been that way for a while,” NewCath coach Dan Wagner said. “They always have very good athletes and we’ve been fortunate a few years to end up on the winning side. I’m not sure we always should have been, but we have been. There’s definitely a rivalry there and we expect everything they have.”
NewCath beat the Indians 21-0 this season on Oct. 7, a game in which Kozerski thought his team could have executed better offensively.
“They scored early,” Kozerski said. “We drove the ball right down the field on the very next drive and turned it over at the goal line. Then it was back and forth and they scored right before halftime. We weren’t efficient with the ball and got caught behind the chains too many times and were forced to punt the ball too often."
In the return matchup, NewCath will have to limit the production of senior running backs Derrick Barnes and Xavier Abernathy. Barnes has carried 121 times for 1,346 yards and 19 touchdowns and Abernathy has added 822 yards on 124 carries and 15 touchdowns.
“It’s pretty simple,” Wagner said. “Control 21 (Barnes) and 3 (Abernathy) and keep the quarterback under control. He can throw pretty well. But 21 and 3 are key. If we’re able to stop those two, it’s what it comes down to.”
The key for Holy Cross is to get those two runners the ball, mix in an efficient passing attack behind junior quarterback Dylan Couch and to eliminate the turnovers that plagued them in the first matchup.
“We can’t turn it over,” Kozerski said. “All year long we’ve had only a few turnovers, but we turned it over in that game. And against good teams, you can’t turn the ball over and be successful. That’s something we have to get better at this week or we’ll be watching the playoffs from the outside.”
Holy Cross will also have to slow down the NewCath offense, which senior quarterback Patrick Henschen leads. They’ll also have to match the battle-tested intensity NewCath is sure to display after fighting through a grueling schedule.
“You can’t judge their success by their record because they’ve played difficult games all year long," Kozerski said. "They can’t get games against lesser opponents and they’ve weathered the storm and they’re ready for the playoffs. This is their history. This is the way they’ve been doing it for a long time.”
The Thoroughbreds finished the regular season with a 5-5 record after a 2-4 start that included losses to Class 6-A Cooper, Campbell County and Conner, and Class 3-A power Belfry. Wagner said Belfry was the best team NewCath will play all season.
They bounced back from a similar start in 2015 to reach the state final.
“It just makes you better,” Wagner said. “(Belfry is) as big as a college on the offensive line. It just makes you tough. You find out what your kids are made of.”
Yet, Wagner doesn’t like the idea of having to beat a team twice in one year, especially a district rival.
“I didn’t like playing Lloyd last week and I don’t like playing Holy Cross this week,” Wagner said. “I wish we could do something different. It’s just hard. The kids all know each other. They know what we’re going to do and we know what they’re going to do.”
The Indians see that as well.
“It’s tough to beat a team once a year, let alone twice,” Kozerski said. “We have an opportunity. We just have to execute.”