By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON — It was an impressive showing by the Covington Buccaneers as they celebrated homecoming with a 48-7 thrashing of previously unbeaten Bethel.
With the win, Covington remains the only unbeaten team in the Cross County Conference with a 4-0 overall record and 3-0 in the league.
“I thought we came out ready to go right away and that was my challenge to the boys,” said Covington coach Ty Cates. “Our defense just played lights out.”
Covington’s defense did play lights out, limiting a Bethel team that had outscored its first three opponents by a combined score of 142-27 to just seven points and 166 yards of total offense.
“Guys were swarming to the ball, big hits all night long,” said Covington defensive coordinator John Schutts of his defense. “The kids made some great adjustments to Bethel coming out into some unbalanced formations we haven’t seen. We worked on those a little earlier in the year, but weren’t really prepared for that this week until we saw it tonight. The kids just stepped right in and made the adjustments we told them to do.”
Offensively, Covington moved the ball at will against the typically stingy Bethel defense – racking up 561 yards of offense.
And Covington did it by going back to power football due to the wet, slippery conditions from a steady rain that hit Smith Field prior to kickoff. The result was 406 yards of rushing on the night.
“We didn’t want their offense to have the ball, so we wanted to grind out some long drives, win the line of scrimmage and wear them down,” Cates said. “I thought we were in better shape than them and I felt if we could get them down early that we would wear them down.”
The workhorse for Covington was senior fullback Lance Miller, who torched Bethel with 206 yards rushing on just 19 carries and two touchdowns. He also had three catches out of the backfield for 62 yards and another score.
“When it’s wet like this, you have to be able to run the football,” he said. “The ball is wet and slippery, which makes it hard to throw, hard to snap, so, I was really proud of our kids really stepping up in some adverse situations.”
After punting on its first possession, Covington scored on there straight drives.
First, Lance Miller found a crease on a 15-yard scoring run and then Ethan Herron powered his way in from two yards out.
Nathan Blei then connected with Miller out of the backfield on a 28-yard scoring strike to push the Covington lead to 21-0.
Bethel responded with its only scoring drive of the game as quarterback Jacob Evans scored on a 45-yard run to close the gap to 21-7 midway through the second quarter.
Covington then took the ensuing possession all the way to the Bethel one, before being stopped on the final play of the half just short of the goal line on a play where it appeared as though quarterback Nathan Blei had stretched the ball over the plain of the goal line.
“We played really well and were up twenty-one to seven, but it should have been twenty-eight to seven and we didn’t get it done there at the end of the half,” described Cates.
Being denied at the end of the half infuriated the Buccaneers as they came out for the second half with a renewed sense of purpose.
The defense forced a quick three-and-out and the offense immediately scored on a 17-yard run by Lance Miller.
From there, the flood gates opened as Covington put three more second half touchdowns on the board as Miller scored on a 20-yard run, Blei hit Tristin Sowers on a 26-yard scoring pass and freshman Gage Kerrigan powered his way in from one yard out.
“The second half, it was a tribute to our offensive line and the resiliency of our kids,” explained Cates. “We kept punishing them play after play and Lance Miller ran like an animal. Our offensive line blocked great and we made some catches.”
As impressive as Covington was running the football on what was a wet evening, the passing game was just as potent as Nathan Blei connected on eight of 15 passes for 155 yards and two scores.
And Covington used the short, quick pass to make Bethel pay for giving the Covington receivers a soft cushion.
“We knew going into the game that their corners were going to play back, so quick passes were going to work this week,” said junior wideout Zach Parrett, who had two big catches on the night that kept the chains moving.
Tristin Sowers had two catches for 44 yards and a score, while Joey Schmelzer had two catches for 21 yards to go along with the three catches for 62 yards and a score by Lance Miller.
In the end it was a case of Covington having too many weapons for Bethel to contain as the Buccaneers take yet another step toward accomplishing lofty goals.
“This is a big win, but its just one step toward our goals,” said Cates. “We played well, but we still haven’t played our best football yet. We have a ways to go.”
Covington takes its unbeaten record to Troy Christian next Friday against yet another unbeaten team.
“Troy Christian is a good football team and we’ll have to come out ready to play like we did tonight,” Cates said. “We have to take it one game at a time.”