By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — With two battle-tested Cross County Conference rivals like Miami East and Covington facing off, war was inevitable.
And with the driver’s seat in the league on the line, the Vikings were able to hold on.
Miami East turned a one-point halftime lead into a blowout with 21 unanswered second-half points, but Covington recovered a pair of onside kicks and got all the way back to within eight before the Vikings were able to close out a 34-26 victory Friday night in Casstown.
With Miami East (4-1, 3-0 CCC) leading 34-12 with 5:55 left in the game, the Buccaneers (2-3, 2-1 CCC) came alive. Cade Schmelzer hit Andrew Cates for a 17-yard touchdown with 4:51 to play. Covington then recovered an onside kick, and Schmelzer and Cates hooked up again for another touchdown to make it a one-score game at 34-26 with 3:36 remaining.
Covington recovered yet another onside kick, taking the ball with a chance to tie the score, but the Viking defense stiffened up and forced a turnover on downs with 1:55 to play. The Buccs used both timeouts to get the ball back for one last chance, but a Miami East punt rolled dead on the Covington 1-yard line with :50 left on the clock. A hail mary from midfield as time expired, though, gave the Vikings the win.
The game began much as it ended — as a back-and-forth war.
Covington forced a three-and-out on the opening possession of the game and went right to work on offense, with Ethan Herron chewing up big chunks of yardage on the ground. The Buccs had first-and-goal from the 10 before a false start and a holding penalty backed them all the way up to the 30. But a 14-yard scramble by Schmelzer, two 5-yard runs by Herron and an offsides call on the Vikings made it fourth-and-goal from the 1, and Herron punched it in to give the Buccs a 6-0 lead.
Miami East answered, though. The Vikings went 68 yards on nine plays, with Vincent Villella breaking a 23-yard touchdown run to finish it off — but Covington blocked the point-after, and the game was tied at 6-6 with 1:45 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession and embarked on a 64-yard, eight-play drive, with Villella scoring on a 3-yard plunge and Jonah Brautigam kicking the extra point to give East a 13-6 lead with 10:05 left in the half.
Not to be outdone, Covington went on a 12-play, 65-yard drive, with Herron scoring on a 1-yard run to finish the drive. But the Buccs went for two and couldn’t get around the edge, and the Vikings still held a 13-12 lead. And an interception by Miami East’s Blaine Brokschmidt with :08 on the clock allowed East to maintain that lead at the break.
The second half began all Miami East. After the Vikings forced a fumble, recovered by Brenden Dalton, to begin the quarter, the Vikings couldn’t cash in and turned the ball over on downs. East’s defense forced a punt, though, and on third-and-goal from the 1, Ian Gengler scored on a quarterback sneak to make it 20-12 East.
Colt Frazier picked off a Bucc pass at the end of the third quarter, and Villella punched in his third touchdown of the night on a 5-yard run to make it 27-12 Vikings. Soon after, Justin Brown snagged East’s third interception of the night, with Gengler scoring on a 2-yard run to make it 34-12 Miami East with 5:55 to play.
That was the moment Covington came alive, but the Buccs simply came up short.
In Week 7, Miami East hosts 0-6 Bradford, while Covington hosts Bethel in another big CCC matchup.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.