The underdog will play the powerhouse no one ever mentioned for the boys 9th Region Championship in boys’ soccer on Friday. In the semifinals, Newport Central Catholic upset the Ryle Raiders 2-1, and the Boone County Rebels made another strong statement on the field, beating the host St. Henry Crusaders 1-0.
For NCC, this year is looking eerily similar to last season, when they shocked Covington Catholic for the 10th Region title. They entered the Regional tournament after having only won 5 games previously. They did win their district game, knocking off Highlands 1-0 in the district finals. In their previous meeting at Ryle, NCC lost 4-0. The Breds played a totally different style against Ryle this time, possessing the ball and playing a purposeful passing game instead of bunkering in front of their goal and hoping for a breakaway.
“That was our goal, to change how we played the game,” said Breds coach Mike McDonald. “There were probably only 28 people in the stadium that believed we could do this – the people on our sideline. But we can’t be satisfied – we want to play the next game.”
NCC opened the scoring on a header by sophomore Jacob Hensley, who also scored the lone goal against Villa Madonna on Sunday. Hensley, who mans the right fullback position for the Breds, is a dangerous player when the ball is in the air.
“Number 12 is a stud,” said coach McDonald. “He played his butt off tonight. He’s playing at a really high level for us right now – and he’s only a sophomore.”
Hensley credited his team’s turnaround with self-confidence.
Boone avenged one of their three losses by defeating the Crusaders Tuesday night in a well-played and evenly contested match. Both sides had ample chances for more goals, but Rebels’ senior keeper Zach Mimms tallied seven saves in keeping his second clean sheet of the regional tournament, and fourth overall.
Mimms faced a furious comeback attempt by the Crusaders in the game’s final 15 minutes, but he and his defense held firm.
“It was scary,” he said after the game with a smile. “But our defense was fantastic; they really stepped up big there at the end. (Senior Evan) Valentine really did a good job of setting the defense and getting everybody in position.”
Coach Nathan Browning, a 2002 Boone County graduate, was also all smiles after the game.
“People haven’t really been talking about us this year, but this is the most talented group I’ve ever coached,” he said. “I love being the underdog. It’s easy to get the kids fired up.”
“And it’s not just in games – they really bring it every day in practice,” Browning said. “We try to instill in them they need to work hard in game-like situations. The speed has to be the same in practice, or it doesn’t work.”
“This is all them,” he added. “They’re a very unselfish group; they’ve put in the work.”
“I think the main thing was, we got a more positive attitude,” he said. “In the beginning of the year, if we got behind, we got down. Now, we know we can come back.”
NCC and Boone County met earlier this year, and tied 4-4 at Boone County. While both sides expect the rematch on Friday to be close, neither side expects to see the ball in the net 8 times.
“There will probably be a little less offense,” Browning said.
“We know it’s going to be tough,” added Mimms. “But it will really be a good conclusion to this tournament.”
The game will be held Friday at 7:30 p.m. at St. Henry.