By John Lachmann
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – He had caught just five previous passes this season, so when he scored the decisive touchdown in the final minute, media members in the press box scrambled to see who No. 45 was.
It was junior Tyler Lyon, a junior wide receiver who had two TD catches and 44 yards receiving entering the Class 2A final, which Newport Central Catholic won, 30-26 at Feix Field at Western Kentucky University on Saturday.
Lyon’s four-yard touchdown reception with 26 seconds remaining on a pass from senior Josh Cain capped off a 60-yard scoring drive in the final 2:30, and represented the fourth lead change in a frenzied final 14 minutes.
“I think everybody expected us just to run it and to go for the field goal, but we worked on that play and the way they were stacking the box we thought we might’ve had a shot at it,” NewCath coach Eddie Eviston said.
The Caldwell County defense came through the middle after the snap, and Cain lobbed the ball over the middle to a wide-open Lyon for the go-ahead score.
The win gave the Thoroughbreds their fifth state championship and third at the 2A level, and it was NewCath’s second title in three years under Eviston. NewCath blanked Owensboro, 42-0 in 2010.
In addition to the crazy ending, this game also featured some unorthodox coaching strategy. Both teams refused to punt, with each team faking one and NewCath going for it on fourth and short at its own 15 with the lead late in the third quarter.
Thoroughbreds senior Dylan Hayes lost a fumble on the second play of the game, giving Caldwell County the ball on the NewCath 24. But the defense held and the Tigers surrendered the ball on downs.
This time the Thoroughbreds would drive 87 yards on 11 plays for the game’s first touchdown, with Hayes going 15 yards on a handoff to set up his two-yard score on a handoff left.
But after NewCath pinned Caldwell County at its six, Tigers sophomore quarter Elijah Sindelar connected for four 10-plus yard passes, including a 21-yard TD strike to cap off a 94-yard drive.
Caldwell County missed its extra point and the Thoroughbreds answered with a 59-yard, nine-play drive that made it 14-6.
Then it was the Tigers’ turn to respond, driving 79 yards on 12 plays and scoring on a 15-yard pass from Sindelar to senior Martez Sivils. A two-point conversion tied it with 8:25 remaining in the first half.
After both teams failed to score, and a failed fake punt by Caldwell County gave NewCath the ball at the Tigers’ 38 with 4:10 until halftime, the Thoroughbreds ran the ball seven times and overcame two offensive penalties to take a 21-14 lead in the closing seconds on a two-yard run to the right by Hayes.
NewCath appeared to have taken the momentum into the locker room, but that vanished when Caldwell County came out with back-to-back 25-yard passes and Sindelar found the end zone two plays later on a 21-yard run. But the Tigers again missed the point-after attempt and the Thoroughbreds retained a 21-20 lead.
A strong kickoff return gave NewCath the ball at the Caldwell County 44, but the Thoroughbreds went four-and-out, and a fake punt on fourth and 10 generated just one yard.
Caldwell County drove to the NewCath 12, but on third down Thoroughbreds senior defensive back Dan Ruwe jumped a route and picked off a pass at the six.
NewCath brought it out to the 15 and went for it on fourth and one, but Hayes was stuffed and Caldwell County took over in the red zone.
“I’m an idiot there, I am,” Eviston said. “But our defense was struggling and I figured maybe we try to sneak one, and it didn’t work. But it was great for our defense to hold them to three and our kids just fighting even though I made some mistakes.”
The Thoroughbreds’ defense held, but junior Brett Seymore’s 24-yard field goal on the first non-PAT kick from scrimmage gave the Tigers a 23-21 lead.
The teams traded interceptions on their next possessions, and NewCath took over on its 21 after senior defensive back Noah Freppon’s pick 34 seconds into the fourth quarter.
The Thoroughbreds methodically marched down the field but were ultimately stopped at Caldwell County seven. After refusing to turn to his kicking game on five previous fourth downs, Eviston sent senior Nathan Grosser onto the field for a go-ahead field goal.
Grosser delivered, putting NewCath up, 24-23 with 6:50 left in regulation.
The Tigers started at their 25, and four of their first five plays went for at least 10 yards, taking them to the Thoroughbreds’ 21. After runs of two and five yards, NewCath was called for 12 men on the field, giving Caldwell County a first down and goal at the nine.
Sophomore Jaylen Boyd was cut down for a two-yard loss at the 11 by senior defensive lineman Elliott Rust. Sindelar gained nine on the next play and was taken down at the two.
Boyd went up the middle on third and goal from the two, but junior defensive