How does one of the smallest co-ed schools in Cincinnati’s Greater Catholic League find itself in first place, undefeated and dead-even with powerhouses like Moeller and St. Xavier through the season’s first month?
For 4-0 Archbishop McNicholas, the answer is trust and plenty of it.
The Rockets beat the visiting Highlands Bluebirds on Friday by a score of 27-21, propelling the program to its best start in seven years. They were led by a stymying defense, which held Highlands to just seven points in the second half after trailing early. McNicholas withstood blow after blow from the previously undefeated Bluebirds, holding them to their lowest point total yet despite multiple opportunities late in the game.
“We always say, ‘bend, don’t break,’ and they broke us a couple times,” McNicholas coach Mike Orlando said. “But we hung in there, and when we needed to make plays, we made plays.”
Highlands jumped out to a 14-7 advantage early in the second quarter, with junior quarterback Charlie Noon scoring touchdowns both in the air and on the ground. But the Rockets responded with a tough 70-yard, 11-play drive ending in a score for senior halfback Wyatt Gear.
On their very next play, after a punt, senior quarterback Pierce Taylor hit junior Ty Snyder in stride for a 45-yard strike to take the lead. Then, just as Noon and the Bluebirds appeared to be gaining speed, he was forced to leave the field with an injury; the second pass from backup Cam Bottom was picked off by Rockets senior Will Reuss, who took it 70 yards to the house. Just like that, McNicholas led 27-14.
“It was instinct, almost,” said Reuss, a two-way DT and receiver. “We knew exactly what we were supposed to do. We trusted each other to know what to do, and I think that just melded our offense together.”
For Highlands, Noon returned to lead a nine-play scoring drive to open the third quarter, bringing his team back within six – but that was as close as they would get. The Rockets' defense came up clutch at all the right moments, forcing a fumble and two turnovers on downs in the fourth quarter. The last stop came in the final minute, as Noon found himself surrounded on 4th & 4 at the 36, his receivers blanketed by black shirts. McNicholas took over and ran out the clock, delighting a raucous crowd at Penn Station Stadium.
“They’ve shown a lot of heart, a lot of grit, a lot of togetherness and a lot of love,” said Orlando, now in his 11th season at the helm. “I’m proud of our guys for sticking to it, even with our backs against the wall.”
McNick's 4-0 start is their best since 2014, back when they still played home games on Saturday afternoons due to a zoning issue that banned Friday night lights. The program has come a long way since then, becoming the first team in the GCL North division to four wins with Friday’s victory.
On the day, Taylor led the way for McNicholas with 137 yards and one touchdown in the air, plus another on the ground. Noon led Highlands with 148 yards passing, 144 yards rushing and three total touchdowns, two of which were connections with senior receiver Clayton Lloyd.
Despite sitting out the team’s first game, Noon has now amassed 700 yards in the air and 341 yards on the ground this season. He leads the Bluebirds in both categories.
The Rockets are set to host Roger Bacon next week, while the Bluebirds return to Fort Thomas for a matchup with Ryle.
Highlands – 7 7 7 0 – 21
McNicholas – 7 20 0 0 – 27
H- Noon 34 pass to Lloyd (Burleigh kick)
M- Taylor 1 run (Gabriel kick)
H- Noon 6 run (Burleigh kick)
M- Gear 14 run (Gabriel kick)
M- Taylor 45 pass to Snyder (Gabriel kick)
M- Reuss 72 INT return (Gabriel kick blocked)
H- Noon 11 pass to Lloyd (Burleigh kick)
Records: H 3-1 (0-0 KY Dist. 5), M 4-0 (0-0 GCL North)