By Rob Kiser
COVINGTON — When Ty Cates took over a Covington football program that advanced to 11 straight playoff appearances and had run the triple option offense under Dave Miller, he thought there would be an adjustment period.
He would have no such concerns had he understood at the time what a special senior class the Buccs have.
The Buccs opened the season with a win over MAC team St. Henry, which s 8-3 and still alive in the Division VI playoffs, and have never looked back.
Covington, 11-0, will play defending D-VII state champion Fort Recovery, 7-4, at 7 p.m. Saturday at Piqua High School’s Alexander Stadium/Purk Field.
“If I knew the seniors the way I know them now, I wouldn’t be surprised by that (how fast they picked up the new system),” Cates said. “But, not knowing them then, yes it surprised me. But, these seniors bought into it. They want to be good. When you want to be good, you will put the time and work in and do what it takes and the seniors have done that. And I think the kids were excited about the idea of throwing the ball.”
Cates knows the Buccs will be in for a big challenge Saturday, with the Indians.
On offense, Fort Recovery will operate out of a spread offense.
“They run a spread,” Cates said. “They are pretty balanced with running and passing — about 50-50.”
Junior running back Will Homan (5-8, 170) has rushed for 1,133 yards and 13 touchdowns on 116 carries, while catching 19 passes for 336 yards and five touchdowns.
Senior quarterback Caleb Martin (6-4, 188) has completed 98 of 188 passes for 1,285 yards and 12 touchdowns, with nine interceptions.
Sophomore Payton Jutte (6-3, 154) has caught 31 passes for 358 yards and two touchdowns, while senior tight end Jason Roessner (5-9, 178) has 27 catches for 255 yards and two touchdowns.
“They have two big weapons in the quarterback (Caleb Martin) and the running back (Will Homan),” Cates said. “The running back is quick and the quarterback is battle tested. The key is containing those two guys and not letting those two guys make big plays on us.”
Defensively for the Indians, junior linebacker Ethan Schoen (6-0, 180) leads the team with 81 tackles, while Homan has 69.
Junior defensive lineman Andrew Stocker leads the team with four sacks.
“Defensively, they play a 4-3,” Cates said. “They are pretty big and strong in middle and like to bring some pressure.”
Fort Recovery’s four losses came to Marion Local, Coldwater, St. Henry and Versailles — and all but the Tigers are still alive in the playoffs.
And while Covington has the win over St. Henry, they would like nothing more than to add a playoff win over a MAC team to the resume.
“You know, we have a lot of respect for the MAC,” Cates said. “It is a great conference. We hear a lot about it. So from that sense, it is a motivator. We beat St. Henry early in the season and we feel like we have gotten a lot better since then.”
If you didn’t know better, you would think Covington senior quarterback Nathan Blei (6-0, 165) has been throwing the ball all his life, not running a triple-option offense the previous three years.
He has completed 104 of 161 passes for 1,920 yards and 27 touchdown passes with three interceptions. The yardage and touchdown totals are both single-season Covington records.
He (Nathan Blei) has done a remarkable job picking up the offense,” Cates said. “He is a great athlete, but he had never thrown the ball much.”
And the Buccs offense features an unlimited number of weapons.
Seniors Branden Robinson 5-10, 170) and Tristin Sowers (6-5, 200) have caught eight and seven touchdown passes respectively, while junior Zach Parrett (6-3, 175) has 35 catches for 570 yards and five touchdowns. Senior wideout Zane Barnes (6-0, 160) caught three TD passes in last week’s playoff win.
In the backfield, senior Lance Miller (5-10, 180) has rushed for more than 1,000 yards and 17 touchdowns, but senior Deron White (5-10, 165) are also dangerous.
The offense line is anchored by CCC Lineman of the Year in senior Seth Thomas (6-1, 260).
“Any time you have more weapons, that is a good thing,” Cates said. “You can’t just load up the box when you have the ability to pass. It is tough to run on a team that puts nine guys in the box. We have the twin towers (Tristin Sowers, Zach Parrett) at reciver and we have a number of guys who can run the ball. Lance Miller, Branden Robinson, Deron White, Joey Schmelzer lines up at fullback a lot. Even Ty Freeman, he plays all over. We look for mismatches whenever we can get it. The more weapons you have, the better.”
The Buccs changed their defense as well.
This season, Covington allowed 138.1 yards rushing and 111 yards passing per game.
They were even more impressive in the 49-0 playoff win over Hillcrest Academy, limiting the Rams to 104 yards passing and minus-37 yards rushing.
“We have to fly to the ball on defense,” Cates said. “We have even changed the defense. It is a 5-2, but it is a hybrid 5-2. We shade it . We can line up in 3-4 or 4-3 at times. The kids have done a great job of flying to the ball and we have to do that again.”
Now, the Buccs have chance for a big win against the defending state champions.
“This is a great opportunity for us,” Cates said. “We are looking forward to the challenge.”
Something the entire team — led by the seniors, has been working towards since Cates took the job.
Rob Kiser is Sports Editor for the Daily Call. He can be reached at (937) 451-3334.