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Game of the year has Dixie Highway neighbors Beechwood and CovCath going at one another again

By Dan Weber
NKyTribune sports reporter

They’re just seven minutes apart, 2.3 miles according to Mapquest, from Park Hills to Fort Mitchell.

But that stretch of the Dixie Highway is where the power of Northern Kentucky High School football is centered these days as the unbeaten, three-time Class 2A state champion Beechwood Tigers (4-0) host another unbeaten program in Covington Catholic’s Class 4A Colonels, also 4-0, Friday (7:30 p.m.).

CovCath Crazies will be our in fall force Friday. (Photo by Dan Weber/NKyTribune)

Not that this should surprise anyone. Between them, the Kenton County neighbors – one public, the other private, neither with big enrollments – have combined for 25 state championships.

Beechwood, enrollment 496 boys and girls, has won 17 of those in Classes A and 2A. CovCath, enrollment 475 boys, has eight in Classes 3A and 5A.

But it wasn’t always that way. Until Bernie Barre got things going in 1984 that saw a trio of Tiger coaches over the last half-century, Beechwood’s Tigers were the classic “cake-eaters,” the non-tough suburban small school program left behind as their fellow Class A schools – Dayton, Ludlow, Bellevue and Lloyd Memorial – all were winning state titles.

No longer, of course, with Mike Yeagle and then Noel Rash each winning eight state titles, with Rash retiring after his team’s 2022 championship, Beechwood flew past all of them. And with new coach Jay Volker, after surviving squeakers against big schools Dixie Heights (49-48 in overtime and 58-54 against Simon Kenton), here they are again.

CovCath, for more than a decade of its existence, didn’t even have a football team. And couldn’t get most local teams to schedule it once it did. The Colonels’ path to another “game of the year” in Fort Mitchell has been a different one.

While Beechwood had just three head football coaches in a half-century, CovCath had nine. And while the legendary Lynn Ray stayed for 30 years and five state championships, two others were in Park Hills for just one season before moving on, three more for just two.

Beechwood’s Xavier Campbell will be a ‘game-time decision’ Friday as he returns from last week’s injury. (Photo by Dan Weber/NKyTribune)

But now the coaching stability edge has flipped to CovCath. Eddie Eviston has headed the Colonels since 2015 and has four state championships to his credit – two at CovCath, two at Newport Central Catholic.

Interestingly, these teams will look a lot alike when the whistle sounds Friday. Beechwood is the state’s No. 2 passing team with junior Clay Hayden throwing for 365 yards a game. CovCath senior Evan Pitzer is No. 14 with 240 yards a game in the air.

Hayden has thrown for 18 touchdowns with just two interceptions. Pitzer for nine TDs with no interceptions. Hayden’s accuracy of 71.9 percent (87 of 121) almost replicates Pitzer’s 72.0 percent accuracy (67 of 93).

In No. 4 Luke Erdman (24 receptions for 470 yards and seven TDs) and No. 10, freshman Tyler Fryman (19 for 422, 5 TDs), Beechwood has two of the state’s Top 10 receivers, averaging right around 20 yards a catch. And sophomore running back Chase Flaherty has carried it 54 times for 228 yards and four TDs.

CovCath depends more on its run game with Owen Leen carrying it 15 times a game for 73.0 yards while Pitzer adds nearly 50 yards a game himself. But the Colonels have shared the ball among 11 receivers with four in double figures – Braylon Miller 22 receptions, UK-bound tight end Willie Rodriguez 11 (with 5 TDs), Noah Johnson and Oliver Link, 10 each.

However they do it, these teams put points on the board, with Beechwood’s 47.0 points a game No. 2 in scoring. At 38.2 points a game, CovCath is tied for No. 25. CovCath has been outscoring opponents by 18.5 points a game, Beechwood by 16.2.

Best news for Beechwood going into this game is that two-way team leader and five-year starter Xavier Campbell’s injury last Friday, for which he was taken to the hospital, turned out to be just a muscle issue, not a spinal/neck problem. He’s working back into things this week and according to Volker, his availability will be a “game-time decision.”

Recently, the trend here has been the home team winning. Last year, CovCath gave Beechwood its lone loss in a 14-1 season, 31-14 in Park Hills. The year before, Beechwood’s 15-0 team spanked CovCath 27-7 in Fort Mitchell.

Get there early or you’ll be parking at Kroger’s, if that.

Kyle Niederman’s Lloyd Juggernauts dominate in defensive stats in Northern Kentucky. (Photo by Dan Weber/NKyTribune)


Last week we looked at the individual leaders across the state in football, this week we’ll take a look at the team leaders. And for Northern Kentuckians, the first place to look is scoring, where five of the top 36 scoring teams are from Northern Kentucky.

We already noted No. 2 Beechwood at 47.0 points a game. And CovCath tied for No. 25 at 38.2. In between those two is Highlands at No. 8 at 43.5 points a game. Lloyd Memorial, also 4-0 like CovCath and Beechwood, is No. 35 at 36.2 while Newport is No. 36 at 36.0.

That gets us to the next category, team defense, where Lloyd is holding opponents to 7.2 points a game, seventh-best in the state, and despite all the offense here, six local teams are in the top 40. A resurgent 3-1 Bellevue team is No. 28, allowing 12.5 points a game. Newport is No. 33 (13.8 ppg) while Ludlow is No. 36 (14.0 ppg). Dayton and Cooper are tied at No. 38 (14.5 ppg.)

Lloyd tops Northern Kentucky in scoring margin, as you might expect, at 29.0, good for No. 11 in the state. Newport is next with a 22.2 margin, good for No. 26. CovCath at 18.5 and Beechwood at 16.2 are Nos. 34 and 43 respectively.

Lloyd also tops local schools as the state’s No. 14 in rushing offense at 274 ground yards a game. Dixie Heights is next at No. 24 with 248 yards a game. Conner at 242 yards is tied for No. 31 while Simon Kenton’s 239 yards a game is No. 39.

Keeping its streak going, Lloyd defends the run best here, holding opponents to 56 yards a game, good for No. 16. Campbell County (80 yards allowed a game) and Conner (81) are Nos. 29-30 with Highlands No. 39, giving up 93 ground yards a game.

Between No. 2 Beechwood (365 passing yards a game) and No. 18 CovCath ( 240 yards) are two more local teams. Highlands is No. 8 (298 yards a game) while Cooper is No. 16 (246 yards). Newport (204), Ryle (197), Campbell County (192), Scott (192) and Simon Kenton (181) give Northern Kentucky nine teams in the Top 41 as Nos. 28, 32, 34, 35 and 41 respectively.

As might be expected, local teams don’t fare as well on pass defense with just three Top 50 teams there. Ludlow is No. 19 with 51 passing yards allowed a game. Newport is No. 27 with 60 yards a game allowed while Boone County is No. 35 at 69 yards a game.

Lloyd, who else – is No. 1 in the state in sacks with 25 – a 6.2 average. Dixie Heights is next at No. 4 in the state with 17 – a 4.2 average. Cooper is No. 9 (3.6 a game). Bishop Brossart is No. 19 (2.8 a game). Holmes (2.5 a game) is tied for No. 25. Ludlow is No. 31 (2.3 a game) with Highlands No. 32 (2.2) , the same as Holy Cross.

Not so many leaders in fumbles recovered, which might be a good thing, signaling not as many fumbles here. Conner is tops here at No. 24 with four (1.0 a game) after forcing five while Dayton has four as well on its four forced fumbles good for No. 46.

In the final team category, Bishop Brossart leads Northern Kentucky with seven interceptions, No. 7 in the state with a 1.8 average. Dixie Heights is No. 16 with six INTs, a 1.5 average, the same as Beechwood. At 1.2 a game on its five INTs, CovCath is tied for No. 32.

Contact Dan Weber at dweber3440@aol.com. Follow him on X (formerly Twitter) @dweber3440.

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