Beechwood senior Brett Slusher caught three touchdown passes and racked up 198 yards on 10 catches Friday night as the Tigers knocked off rival NewCath, 31-14, at Edgar McNabb Field in Fort Mitchell.
All three of Slusher’s touchdowns came in the first half, helping Beechwood to build a 21-14 lead at intermission. He finished the game with 252 all-purpose yards and also recovered two fumbles in the final five minutes of play to seal the Tigers’ victory.
“He’s been doing it his whole life,” Beechwood coach Noel Rash said of Slusher’s performance. “I wish people could meet him off the field. The product you see on the field is out of this world, but the product off the field is better.”
“He’s everything every coach in America wants from their player, and then you add in that he’s a star player and it becomes even better. Kids look up to him, and he does everything right.”
Beechwood quarterback Kyle Fieger was 17-of-24 for 253 yards with four touchdowns and one interception.
NewCath fumbled the ball eight times during the game, and lost four of them.
Before kickoff the crowd was moved by a touching gesture on the field as Beechwood honored third-grader Hailey Noah from Beechwood Elementary. Noah was diagnosed with Metachromatic Leukodystrophy, more commonly known as MLD, over the summer, and a group of Beechwood students started the Hope for Hailey campaign.
The Hope for Hailey campaign is a series of donations and fundraisers setup by the Beechwood students. Friday night they presented Hailey and the Dragonfly Foundation with a check for over five thousand dollars. A representative from the foundation said the money raised will “go on to help many kids just like Hailey and will definitely be put to good use.”
After that tear-jerking moment, the first half provided the exciting back-and-forth action for which this rivalry has become known. Beechwood controlled the line of scrimmage and moved the football in a variety of ways, while NewCath stayed in the game with big plays.
The Tigers melted off over half of the first quarter on the opening drive of the game as they traveled 73 yards over 14 plays. Facing 3rd-and-9 at the NewCath 10, Fieger initially rolled to his right and then bought time with his legs and sprinted back to his left before he found his favorite target, Slusher, in the endzone to make it 7-0 with 5:10 left in the first quarter.
After Beechwood’s defense forced a three-and-out on NewCath’s first possession, Fieger and Slusher connected again for a 39-yard gain on 3rd-and-4 to move the Tigers into scoring position. The two then hooked up for a 2-yard touchdown to cap a 13-play drive and make it 14-0 with 8:50 left in the second quarter.
NewCath senior Jake Smith halved the lead less than a minute later when he broke free on the second play of NewCath’s ensuing drive and raced to a 61-yard touchdown. Smith finished with 110 yards on 15 carries.
“We were worried about that play because of Smith’s ability to cutback and get North on you, even if you think you’ve got him,” Rash said. “I was happy with the way we responded. You have to in games like this. If you’re going to win in November, you’re going to get punched in the mouth… you better get up off the mat and play. Our guys did tonight.”
The Tigers answered right back when Slusher caught a screen pass and bulldozed a would-be tackler before sprinting for an 80-yard touchdown two plays later. The highlight drew gasps and oohs from seemingly everyone in attendance.
“I overexcited myself after that one,” Slusher said. “I got a little winded from getting too excited.”
Slusher finished the first half with eight catches for 163 yards to go with his three touchdowns.
NewCath executed well on offense with under a minute to play in the half as junior quarterback Patrick Henschen orchestrated a 51-yard scoring drive. He lofted a perfectly thrown 18-yard pass to the back corner of the endzone and junior Trent Wrobleski hauled it in with a defender draped all over him to make it 21-14 at halftime.
Henschen finished the game 9-of-12 for 128 yards.
Beechwood outgained NewCath 260-127 in total yards for the first half, and 398-271 for the game.
The pace slowed down drastically in the second half. Both teams went on long drives, but stalled out in the redzone. NewCath missed a 30-yard field goal attempt, but Beechwood’s Daniel Mescher nailed a 24-yarder to push the Tigers’ lead to 24-14 heading into the fourth quarter.
Slusher’s first fumble recovery in the closing minutes setup Beechwood’s final score, a 10-yard pass from Fieger to Stringer that made the final score 31-14 with 3:57 to play.
“Coach really hit the nail on the head in the locker room when he said the one way we were going to win was create turnovers and play power football. NewCath’s a good program. They’re not going to give up, and that’s exactly what we needed before the playoffs.”
NewCath 0 14 0 0 – 14
Beechwood 7 14 3 7 – 31
B – Slusher 10 pass from Fieger (Mescher kick)
B – Slusher 2 pass from Fieger (Mescher kick)
N – Smith 61 run (Hans kick)
B – Slusher 80 pass from Fieger (Mescher kick)
N – Wrobleski 18 pass from Henschen (Hans kick)
B – Mescher 24 field goal
B – Stringer 10 pass from Fieger (Mescher kick)
Records: B 9-1, N 5-5