By Dan Wright
NEWPORT, Ky. – There was one key difference between Newport Central Catholic and Walton-Verona in the Class 2A regional finals Friday night at Newport’s Wildcat Stadium – speed.
The Thoroughbreds used it to blitz the Bearcats for 28 first-quarter points on their way to a 49-14 win.
“It took us a little bit of time to adjust to the speed of the game, but that’s a good football team and I wish them luck and I hope they win a state championship,” said Walton-Verona head coach Jeff Barth.
Nowhere was NewCath’s speed more evident than in 5-foot-9, 150-pound freshman Jacob Smith. Smith returned the opening kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown, returned a third-quarter punt 34 yards to set up his own 2-yard touchdown run, and intercepted a pass.
“There’s something special there with that kid, and he showed it,” said NewCath head coach Eddie Eviston. “I’m excited to continue to see him grow in our program, but he did some good things tonight to kind of spark us.”
Senior Dylan Huff also returned a punt 43 yards for a touchdown in the first quarter and junior Tyler Lyon recovered a fumble in the end zone for a third-quarter touchdown as the Thoroughbreds were able to win by 35 despite being outgained by Walton-Verona, 260 yards to 242.
“That’s kind of been our thing,” said Eviston. “We haven’t had much offense the past few games, because our special teams have been scoring a lot and our young defense has been doing good things too.”
The defense held Walton-Verona without a first down for the first 10 minutes of the game, repeatedly setting the offense up in Bearcats territory throughout the first quarter.
Already staked to a 7-0 lead on Smith’s game-opening score, NewCath started its second possession at Walton-Verona’s 24, scoring six plays later on a 1-yard run by senior Brady Thacker.
Another punt following a three-and-out set NewCath up at Walton-Verona’s 42-yard line, and senior quarterback Josh Cain ran in a 27-yard touchdown three plays later.
When Huff returned a punt for a touchdown after a third-straight three-and-out for the Bearcats, NewCath held a commanding 28-0 lead with 2:03 remaining in the first quarter.
Walton-Verona, making its first ever appearance in a regional final playoff game in the program’s fifth season of varsity football, rallied to play with the Thoroughbreds the rest of the night, but never could overcome the early deficit.
“Obviously we didn’t come out in the first quarter like we were wanting to,” Barth said. “It’s just tough to simulate that speed and I think once we got up to it we were at least more competitive.”
Early in the second quarter, the Bearcats mounted a drive to the Thoroughbreds 1-yard line.
That drive ended in a lost fumble, but sophomore defensive back William Latimore intercepted a pass on the next play and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown.
NewCath responded by scoring on a 24-yard pass from Cain to senior Pete Collopy to restore its lead to 28 points, 35-7, by halftime.
Smith halted Walton-Verona’s opening drive of the second half with an interception, then returned a punt 34 yards to the 10-yard line later in the quarter.
“I love returning kicks and special teams,” said Smith. “There’s more openings and you can use your speed.”
Smith got one last chance to show off his speed by racing to the corner of the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal to extend NewCath’s lead to 42-7.
Lyon added to that lead by falling on a fumbled punt snap in the end zone later in the third quarter.
A 37-yard touchdown run by Walton-Verona junior running back Chris Latimore finished off the scoring with 8:40 remaining in the game.
The Bearcats ran 44 times for 179 yards, led by 67 yards on 13 carries by Will Latimore and 49 yards on six carries by Chris Latimore. Senior quarterback Logan Foley ran for 30 yards and completed six of nine passes for 81 yards.
Playing much of the game without leading rusher Dylan Hayes, NewCath gained just 60 yards on the ground.
“It’s just one of those things we just shut him down and I think he’ll be fine for next week,” said Eviston after Hayes gained just seven yards on four carries and sat out the entire second half.
Senior quarterback Josh Cain completed 16 of 23 passes for 182 yards for NewCath, which will travel to play Somerset (11-2) in the Class 2A semifinals next week.
at NEWCATH 28-7-14-0—49
NCC-Smith 92 kick return (Grosser kick)
NCC-Thacker 1 run (Grosser kick)
NCC-Cain 27 run (Grosser kick)
NCC-Hayes 43 punt return (Grosser kick)
WV-W. Latimore 26 interception return (Bennett kick)
NCC-Collopy 24 pass from Cain (Grosser kick)
NCC-Smith 2 run (Grosser kick)
NCC-Lyon recovered fumble in end zone (Grosser kick)
WV-C. Latimore 37 run (Bennett kick)
RECORDS: Newport Central Catholic 9-4, Walton-Verona 10-3.
Top Sports Headlines
According to "Bull Durham" wisdom, sometimes you win, sometimes you lose and sometimes it rains. The screenwriters never came close to encapsulating Tuesday night's District 33 semifinal.