NEWPORT, Kentucky — Faced with one of the longest drives by a Kentucky team on Black Friday to play season favorites for the Class 1A state title, the Newport Central Catholic football team is not lacking in confidence.

NewCath will travel to Pikeville on Friday for the Class 1A semifinals of the Kentucky High School Athletic Association football playoffs. Pikeville, the reigning state champion, is 10-2 overall while NewCath is 11-2.

“I’m excited,” said NCC senior Matthew Landrum. “We haven’t been there since the second year (for the semifinals) 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. It’s the second-longest journey any team will undertake for the trip to next week’s finals.

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

Newport Central Catholic is preparing for the Class 1A state semifinals

NewCath are off school on Friday and Lickert said the team plans to head there at a calm, leisurely pace in order to be on top form and energized for the game

“Our kids will be able to get some sleep,” Lickert said. “The great thing is that you can split the trip. Get off the bus, take a little tour, eat our pre-game meal, talk a little about the game plan with the kids. Then hop on the bus for an hour and a half. Then we arrive an hour or two early so we can get used to where we are and just get into our groove. We’ve been on road trips before so we’ll be fine.”

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NewCath is targeting their first appearance in the State Finals since 2015 and their sixth State Championship overall, which would be their first since 2012.

Newport Central Catholic head coach Steve Lickert speaks to his team after football practice on Nov. 22, 2022 in preparation for this week's State 1A semifinals.

Pikeville has six state championships, three of them in the previous seven seasons in 1A. Pikeville has not had a losing season since 1997.

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

Newport Central Catholic quarterback Kolton Smith plays Kentucky Country Day on Nov. 18.

“They are really big in front. They want to wear you down

Pikeville running back Blake Birchfield, a senior, is one of the leading contenders for Kentucky Mr. Football. He has 1,629 rushing yards and 29 touchdowns, averaging nearly 10 yards per carry.

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