Ashland's football team had to know stopping Newport Central Catholic's Mac Franzen would go a long way toward a win.
The Tomcats didn't often enough, which gave the Thoroughbreds a 37-26 win at Newport Stadium.
Franzen threw for 115 yards and a touchdown and ran 10 times for another 92. He wasn't sure at first which he did better.
“I'd say … definitely a better runner,” Franzen said before he was told about his passing yardage. “I got the edge on passing, I guess. Obvously blocking (was) tremendous. The passing game was a little rough with the two picks, but it got better.”
The only problem Franzen had was interceptions – he threw two – but he also hit sophomore Jacob Smith for a touchdown.
All of which gave new NewCath coach Dan Wagner a water cooler shower afterward. He said Franzen gained most of his rushing yards between the tackles.
“I like the way (Franzen) runs the ball,” Wagner said. “He's a dual threat. “What we do need to work on is our defense.”
New Ashland coach Tony Love said there were some fundamental mistakes.
“We know that we have a young squad,” he said. “We're going to focus back on the fundamentals of what we need to do, and we're going to get better at it.”
Like Love, NewCath coach Dan Wagner made his debut last night – he was a long-time defensive coordinator before taking over from Eddie Eviston. He was “a little bit nervous” before the game.
“I taught my classes, Wagner said before the game. “I was able to sit in a chair and watch some film, and (I) dozed off; it was a power nap.”
Friday was the first time since 1976 Ashland and NewCath have faced off. The Tomcats are 7-2 overall, and NewCath beat the Tomcats for the first time since a 19-0 shutout in 1965.
Ashland's loss hardly dulled what sophomore running back Quinton Baker did. He ran 13 times for a career-high 236 yards, which included an 80- and a 46-yard score.
“He does what he does,” Ashland coach Love said. “He makes people miss. He has great speed.”
What didn't work for Ashland was the screen pass – Hunter Prince was 11-of-19 for just 27 yards.
“Part of it has to do with (NewCath) has an extremely talented team,” Love said. “They have kids that can absolutely run all over the football field … We're going to be fairly balanced, but the balance is going to come from running the ball to set up the pass.”
Besides Baker's game, Ashland (0-1) had two other highlights. The Tomcats narrowly out-gained NewCath, 361 total yards to 353, and Dylan Blevins and James Queen each intercepted a pass.
Franzen played his first game under center last night, but he was a major reason NewCath has won two of the last three Class AA state titles – he caught 59 passes for 1,143 yards and eight touchdowns. Wagner said Franzen was not a quarterback before because former Thoroughbreds Brady Hightchew and Josh Cain were just as good.
Ashland had a bit of trouble before the two charter buses ever made it to Campbell County. One started overheating on Interstate 64 near Grayson and shut down twice more on Ky. 9 between Grayson and Vanceburg.
You could summarize Ashland's defense in two words: arm tackling. And NewCath took advantage – Smith broke two on the way to a 53-yard screen touchdown pass from Franzen less than three minutes into the game.
“I didn't see an opening, but I just did my footwork and saw my blocking,” Smith said.
Give Queen credit for the Tomcats' opening score: he recovered a Smith fumble, and two plays later ran up the middle for 13 yards and the TD.
Franzen was effective both on the ground and through the air – by halftime he's thrown for 83 and ran for 70. A good example was on NewCath's second drive – four carries for 46 yards – which Jack Sutkamp converted into a 13-6 Thoroughbred lead on an eight-yard run over right guard.
NewCath (1-0) effectively put the game away with 16 points in the second quarter – a Jack Sutkamp eight-yard run, Franzen's 22-yard run and a John Caudill 26-yard field goal on the last play of the half. After Baker's 46-yard score less than three minutes into the third stanza, the Thoroughbreds countered with Kalvin Moore's three-yard plunge.
Moore carried 10 times for 54 yards, and Sutkamp added another 62. Ashland's Josh Vaughn carried 16 times for 60 yards.
Ashland hosts Raceland next Friday at Putnam Stadium.