By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON —Covington and Tri-County North battled hard for 48 minutes in a game between two teams many feel are the best in the Cross County Conference – although Miami East and Twin Valley South may have something to say about that as they loom ahead for both teams.
Under adverse weather conditions with 40-mile-per-hour winds and a steady rain throughout, the kids in both uniforms put everything on the line for four quarters in what was one of the best football games seen in years.
And when it was all said and done, the game came down to the final minute as Covington connected on a halfback pass from Jared Williams to a wide open Shane Straw from 24 yards out to give the Buccaneers a thrilling 28-21 victory.
“What a great football game,” said Covington coach Dave Miller. “Both teams played hard, played their hearts out. I felt our mental toughness carried us through.”
And Covington needed that mental toughness because Tri-County North was a handful from beginning to end.
“They are darn good,” praised Miller of the visiting Panthers. “Their quarterback (Lane Gunder), number 32 (Garrett Woodyard) and number 3 (Logan Elmore) are a handful to deal with. That’s a darn good football team.”
Which was apparent on the opening drive of the game as Tri-County North drove methodically down the field and scored on a 12-yard run by quarterback Lane Gunder to give the Panthers a 7-0 lead after the successful extra point attempt by Zach Edgin.
But Covington responded on its first possession of the game as sophomore Ethan Herron gave the Buccaneers excellent field position on the Panther side of the fifty on a shifty kick return.
Shortly thereafter, Lance Miller powered his way in from the one and Nathan Blei made true on the point-after to tie the score at 7-7.
Tri-County North drove into Covington territory, but the Buccaneer defense held on downs to take over possession of the ball at their own 30.
A few plays later Jared Williams plowed his way inside the teeth of the Panther defense and somehow found a crease to the outside and raced 58 yards for the score to give Covington a 14-7 lead after Nathan Blei’s extra point attempt went through the uprights.
The 14-7 margin would stand at the end of the first quarter, but the Panthers were on the move as the quarter came to a close.
And it took just under two minutes into the second quarter for Tri-County North to reach pay dirt as Gunder found Gavin Overholtz behind the Buccaneer defense on a 26-yard scoring strike to tie the score at 14-14.
Covington then took over the ball at its own 22 on the ensuing possession with just under ten minutes left in the half.
Looking to take a lead into the break, Covington converted on three fourth downs on a drive that consumed the remainder of the half, but came up short of reaching the end zone and had to settle for a 14-14 tie at the break.
“That may have been our best drive of the game, but we weren’t able to finish,” Miller said.
Starting at its own 22 to start the second half, Covington marched 78 yards in seven plays to score on a two-yard plunge by Deron White. Nathan Blei was successful on his third PAT of the game to give Covington a 21-14 lead.
Tri-County North once again drove into Covington territory, but a Gunder pass was picked off by Coleman Ryan in the end zone to give the Buccs the ball at their own 20.
Unfortunately for Covington, it turned the ball over right back to the Panthers a couple of plays later via a fumble just 30 yards from the end zone.
Needing a big defensive stop once again, Covington made the plays needed to force the Panthers into attempting a 36-yard field goal, which was blocked by the Buccaneers to give them the ball back at their own 41 as the third quarter came to a close.
Covington couldn’t do much with its momentum as the Panther defense forced a punt, but Covington took the ball right back on an interception by Ethan Herron.
The Buccaneers then had a golden opportunity to put the game away, but a pass attempt to a wide open receiver fell to the ground and North took over the ball at its own 34.
Nine plays later the Panthers were in the end zone on a one-yard plunge by Gunder to tie the score at 21-21 with 3:57 left in the game.
Which was just enough time for Covington to execute a game-winning drive.
Starting at its own 35, Jared Williams got things started with an 18-yard run and then leaped over a Panther defender for a seven-yard gain.
In Tri-County North territory, yardage became harder to come by, but the Buccaneers were able to convert for another first down to the Panther 34 with just under 30 seconds left and one timeout on the board.
It was a timeout Covington didn’t need as on the very next play Jared Williams took the pitch from Nathan Blei and pulled up to throw a perfect pass to a wide open Shane Straw for the winning score from 24 yards out.
“Our kids persevered,” Miller praised of his team. “Things didn’t always go our way and a lot of that is due to how well Tri-County North played. When things didn’t go our way, the kids moved on to the next play. We showed some resiliency and maturity tonight.”
The game was fairly even on the stat sheet as Covington racked up 324 yards of offense to 310 for Tri-County North. The Panthers picked up 17 first downs to 14 for Covington, but the Buccaneers held the ball for 28:54 to 19:06 for Tri-County North.
Regardless, the win boosts Covington’s record to 5-1 overall and 4-0 in the CCC, while Tri-County North drops to 4-2 on the season and 4-1 in league play.
Covington looks forward to another big challenge next week as it travels to face Miami East (5-1, 5-0).