Newark Catholic shakes state semi monkey; Wave back in state final


Newark Cath. 21, S’field CC 144
Newark Catholic coach Bill Franks called the program’s
five-game losing streak in the state semifinals “a monkey on our back.” Franks took the example so far he had a stuffed monkey at his team’s
pep rally Friday. Franks shed that monkey at the end of pep
rally and the Wave shed their own monkey with a 21-14 victory against Springfield Catholic Central on Saturday at Moorehead
Memorial Stadium.

UPPER ARLINGTON – Newark Catholic football coach Bill Franks called the program’s five-game losing streak in the state semifinals “a monkey on our back.”

Franks took the example so far he had a stuffed monkey at his team’s pep rally Friday before Saturday’s Division VI state semifinal against Springfield Catholic Central. Franks shed that monkey at the end of pep rally.

Thanks to standout running back Mark Nichols and an inspired effort from the defense, Franks and the Green Wave shed the 800-pound gorilla in a 21-14 victory against the previously unbeaten Irish at Moorehead Memorial Stadium.

Nichols had 252 yards rushing and two touchdowns and also had a late interception to help the NC defense hold the Irish 26 points below their season average. NC will play Bascom Hopewell-Loudon in the Division VI state championship next Saturday at 11 a.m. at Fawcett Stadium in Canton.

The Green Wave will be making their first state final appearance since 1992 and will be looking for their program’s eighth state championship, but their first since ’91. The program had lost in five consecutive state semifinal appearances, including three under Franks.

“There were a lot of years where we were just so close,” Franks said. “For us to get back to the finals, it is definitely for the current kids, but without question, those guys that almost made it, they can definitely share a part in it.”

NC’s previous five trips to the state semifinals had ended in losses by a touchdown or less, including a 36-35 defeat to Steubenville Catholic Central in 2005.

None of those teams, however, had Nichols who has broken almost every NC single-season rushing record, a list that includes former Ohio State safety Rob Kelly.

Nichols had an 81-yard touchdown run in the second quarter to give the Green Wave a 14-7 lead. Then he carried six times on the opening drive of the second half and capped the march with a 3-yard touchdown run, his 40th rushing score of the season. Nichols’ 200-yard rushing game was his seventh of the season and pushed him over 2,700 yards for the season.

With the Green Wave leading 21-14 in the final minutes, Nichols intercepted Irish quarterback Brendan Kelly when Kelly tried to hit a receiver down the left sideline. On the strength of six Nichols’ runs, NC ran out the final 3:05 and punched its ticket to Week 15.

“This is my last year. I have to step up every play I can,” said Nichols, who did not begin playing defense full-time until the final few weeks of the regular season.

SCC running back Brian Wagner had almost matched Nichols yard-for-yard and score-for-score during the season, and he appeared on his way to doing it Saturday. The University of Akron verbal carried the ball six times for 47 yards on the game’s opening drive before Kelly scored on a 1-yard run.

Wagner then had runs of 20, 15 and 29 yards during the second quarter, but the Irish turned the ball over on downs twice inside the NC 30-yard line in the first half.

“We missed some great opportunities, especially in the first half,” Irish coach Steve DeWitt said. “We need to stay in rhythm, offensively, but we made some mistakes that we haven’t seen all season.”

After Nichols’ scored for the second time to give NC a 21-7 lead in the third quarter, SCC made one final push in the fourth quarter. Wagner had four carries for 12 yards and a 28-yard reception on a screen pass on a drive he capped with a 3-yard touchdown run to cut the deficit to 21-14 with 8:03 left.

Wagner finished with 152 yards on 22 carries and three catches for 46 yards. He never saw the ball again, however, after his score because Nichols picked off Kelly on the first and only play of the Irish’s last possession.

“I am incredibly proud of our defense,” NC senior linebacker Matt Lott said. “Everybody stepped up when they had to at certain points in the game. Everybody made a key tackle. Sure Brian Wagner made a ton of great plays and broke a lot of tackles, but you know what, all I can say is we made the plays when we had to.”

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