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NEWPORT, Ky. – Facing one of the longest drives of any Kentucky team on Black Friday to play the state title favorite all season in Class 1A, the Newport Catholic Football Team Central does not lack confidence.

NewCath travels to Pikeville on Friday for the Class 1A Semifinals of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association Football Playoffs. Pikeville, the defending state champions, is 10-2 overall, while NewCath is 11-2.

“I’m thrilled,” said NCC Senior Matthew Landrum. “We haven’t been there (in the final) since the second year and I’m ready to go.”

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NewCath will travel 220 miles to the southeast corner of the state to take on the Panthers. This is the second longest trip a team will make to get to next week’s finals.

Newport Central Catholic running back Demetrick Welch Jr. takes over from quarterback Kolton Smith against Kentucky Country Day on Nov. 18.

Newport Central Catholic prepares for Class 1A State Semifinals

NewCath won’t be at school on Friday and Likert said the team plans to get there at a calm and leisurely pace to be in top form and energy for the game.

“Our kids will be able to get some sleep,” Likert said. “The most important thing is to be able to divide the trip. Get off the bus, take a little guided tour, eat our pre-game meal, talk to the kids a bit about the game plan. Then, board the bus for another 1.5 hours. Then we get there an hour or two early so we can get used to where we are and get into our rhythm. We’ve been on road trips before, so we’ll be fine.

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NewCath is seeking its first state finals appearance since 2015 and its sixth state championship overall, which would be its first since 2012.

Newport Central Catholic head coach Steve Lickert talks to his team after football practice November 22, 2022, in preparation for this week's State 1A Semi-Finals.

Pikeville has six state championships, including three in the previous seven seasons in 1A. Pikeville hasn’t had a losing season since 1997.

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“I think we’ll have a good chance of beating them,” senior lineman Eli Morgan said. “It depends on how we play. It’s a good football team and we just have to be strong and be the best we’ve ever played in our lives.

Newport Central Catholic quarterback Kolton Smith heads the ball against Kentucky Country Day on Nov. 18.

“They are really big up front. They want to exhaust you’

Pikeville running back Blake Birchfield, a senior, is a top contender in Kentucky Mr. Football. He has 1,629 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry.

“They’re really big up front,” Likert said. “They want to wear you down, give the ball to Birchfield and let him make plays with his feet. They have a real solid defense and I think they rely on their defense to tire you out and at the end of the game they score enough points to win.