By Ben Robinson
ANSONIA — There was an uneasy feeling for the Covington Buccaneers heading into the regular season finale at Ansonia on Friday due to the fear of looking ahead since the Buccaneers had already clinched a playoff spot prior to kickoff.
Plus, the Buccs had some key players standing on the sideline in street clothes for precautionary reasons.
But it took a three-and-out on Ansonia’s first possession and just two offensive plays for Buccaneer coach Tyler Cates to see his team was ready to play.
“Wow, what a night,” said Covington coach Tyler Cates after his team thrashed Ansonia 63-16 to finish 10-0 in his first year as Buccaneer head coach. “A night like tonight, we could have came out not very focused and not very sharp, but we were crisp from the get-go.”
The Buccaneer defense set the tone, while the offense and special teams blew the game open with big plays.
The Tigers managed just one first down in the first half and Covington scored seven times to take a 49-0 lead at the break.
“Did we make mistakes, of course, but I’m so proud of our guys,” Cates resumed. “Our seniors are such great leaders to come out ready to play. We took care of business right away.”
The Buccaneer offensive line set the tone from the outset as it opened up a huge hole for senior running back Lance Miller, who broke free up the gut 63 yards untouched for the score.
On Ansonia’s next possession the Buccaneers held the Tigers to another three-and-out. The punt was blocked and Nathan Blei scooped up the ball and raced 31 yards for a 14-0 lead.
Senior Branden Robinson then followed with a two-yard touchdown run and a 70-yard punt return for a score in which he weaved his way from one side of the field to the other without being touched by a Tiger defender – giving Covington a 28-0 lead after one quarter of play.
Senior Kodie Taylor then got into the act as he powered his way in from one-yard out to start the second quarter and then Blei connected with Robinson from 24 yards out to push the lead to 42-0. The pass touchdown pass for Blei broke Brady Reck’s school record for touchdown passes in a season with 23 a record that has stood since 2003.
“This season’s been incredible, thinking about where we’ve come from the beginning, our whole team like wide receivers and our pass blocking – we’ve come a long way,” said Blei. “To know we have a part of history feels pretty special.”
Blei wasn’t done either. He closed out the first half with a screen pass to Lance Miller that went for 23 yards and a score to push the Buccaneer lead to 49-0 at the break and give his 24 touchdown passes for the season.
And with a comfortable lead, the Buccaneers rested their starters for the second half.
Ansonia was able to capitalize with a 10-yard scoring run by Ayden Sanders and a 2-yd run by Brock Shellhouse, but the Buccaneers had some second half highlights of their own with a 60-yard scoring run by Ty Freeman and a 10-yard run by freshman Andrew Cates.
It all led to an impressive 63-16 victory and momentum heading into the state playoffs next week – where Covington will host the eighth seed in Division 7, Region 28.
“I’m so proud of these guys,” Cates said of his team. “Outright CCC champs. I feel so blessed to be a part of it. It’s a tribute to our seniors, our whole team and our coaching staff.”
Finishing 10-0 for the fourteenth time in school history, Covington isn’t satisfied as it looks forward to week eleven.
“It’s just a great feeling being 10-0,” said Cates. “That’s something you always works for, to be 10-0. But, we have a lot more to do.”
Something the seniors are well aware of.
“10-0 and everything, it feels great,” said senior linebacker and fullback Deron White. “But we still have that other goal out there, to win state. We’ve got to get that done. We’ve got to come into film tomorrow and be ready to get better. We still have room to get better and just stay together as a team.”
Fellow senior Zane Barnes agreed.
“It feels amazing to have won our first goal (an outright CCC Title), but there is still one more goal out there,” said the senior outside linebacker. “It would be amazing to accomplish it with the guys I’ve grown up with.”
Finishing the regular season unbeaten is a tough thing to do for anybody and it’s an accomplishment worth enjoying. But Coach Cates has higher aspirations for his team.
“We are going to enjoy this tonight, but we have bigger aspirations,” he said. “We want to go far in the playoffs and win a state championship and we’ve got to be ready to prepare. Our guys will be ready to go starting next week and we are excited about it.”
The first round opponent for Covington is yet to be determined, but the Buccaneers are ready for the challenge.