Newport Central Catholic and visiting Conner met in Friday’s non-district football game for the first time in seven years at Newport Stadium.
Class 2A NewCath and Class 6A Conner had not played since the Thoroughbreds edged the Cougars by a point in 2008. It took a while, but Conner got back on NewCath’s schedule and avenged the loss with a 21-17 victory in Newport.
Related: Conner schedule, stats
Interceptions played a key role for the Conner defense. The Cougars came up with three interceptions in the game. The biggest occurred with Conner leading by four with 2:33 to play. Cougars safety Brian Manning picked off NewCath quarterback Patrick Henschen in the end zone on a fourth-and-goal play from the Conner 7.
“We were playing man-to-man, and I saw the quarterback put it up,” Manning said of the play that would give him his team-leading fourth interception of the season. “When he put it up, I was able to get to it.”
Manning’s clutch play gave the Cougars possession at their own 20 yard line. They ran out the clock from there, improving their record to 4-1. NewCath dropped to 2-4, all against bigger schools.
“Turnovers were a big factor in the football game,” Conner coach Dave Trosper said. “In my mind, whoever was going to turn the ball over the most was going to lose, and they turned it over more than we did.”
Quarterback Kyler Padgett was the offensive hero for the Cougars. He finished 11-of-18 passing for 134 yards with a hand in three scores, two by air. Padgett also was the Cougars’ rushing leader with 23 carries for 57 yards.
Wide receiver Joseph Warwick led the Cougars with four catches for 66 yards. Receiver Isaiah Ebarb had five receptions for 55 yards. Ebarb rushed six times for 47 yards for 102 total from scrimmage.
NewCath outgained the Cougars in total yards, 402-271, but couldn’t overcome the interceptions.
Related: NewCath schedule, stats
“Having the other team throw interceptions has been big for us,” Padgett said. Conner has 10 picks in five games. “I’m trying not to turn the ball over, and I think it helps.”
Conner led 21-10 at halftime, thanks to Padgett and the defense. The senior QB scored on a 1-yard run to help give the Cougars a 7-0 lead with 5:58 left in the opening quarter. Padgett added two second-quarter passing scores, one on a 10-yard toss to wide receiver Tanner Nyers with 4:17 to go in the half, and the other on a 17-yard throw to Ebarb with 36 seconds left before the break.
Conner’s first score was set up by Ebarb’s 23-yard punt return to the NewCath 29-yard line. Padgett’s first touchdown pass answered the Thoroughbreds’ first score, a four-yard run by tailback Jacob Smith, completing a nine-play, 83-yard drive. Smith rushed for 156 yards on 27 carries. Backfield mate John Harris ran for 112 yards on eight totes.
Padgett’s second touchdown pass came seven plays after defensive back Joseph Cooper intercepted Henschen, setting up the Cougars at the Thoroughbreds’ 49. The Conner drive was helped along by Ebarb’s 22-yard gain on a reverse.
Cooper came up with his second interception late in the third quarter in the end zone on a long second-and-31 pass from Henschen on a NewCath drive that began at the Conner 21.
NewCath set the halftime score with a school-record 45-yard field goal by senior Ryan Hans with less than a second remaining on the second-quarter clock. The previous record was a 43-yard field goal by Curt Graham against Holy Cross in 2003.
NewCath drew to within 21-17 with the help of 31-yard fourth-quarter touchdown run by Harris, capping a six-play, 83-yard drive that was almost all Harris. He rushed four times on the drive for 78 yards and scored with 11:07 to play.
Conner 7 14 0 0 — 21
NewCath 0 10 0 7 — 17
C-Padgett 1 run (Eberhard kick)
N-Smith 4 run (Hans kick)
C-Nyers 10 pass from Padgett (Eberhard kick)
C-Ebarb 17 pass from Padgett (Eberhard kick)
N-Hans 45 FG
N-Harris 31 run (Hans kick)
Records: C 4-1, N 2-4.