By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — With everything on the line for two evenly-matched rivals, one bad snap made the only difference.
After Miami East’s Braxton Donaldson scored a pair of touchdowns in a 10-second span right before halftime to put the Vikings on top, Covington’s Jared Willams answered with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns to force overtime. The two teams traded touchdowns on the first overtime possession — but the snap on Vikings’ point-after attempt was bad, allowing Covington to escape with a come-from-behind victory, 21-20 in a stunning finish Friday night at Miami East.
“I’ll tell you what, our kids played their butts off tonight,” Covington coach Dave Miller said. “We made mistakes, but the kids played their butts off. I couldn’t be more proud. In 25 years of coaching, I can’t say that I’ve ever been more proud of a group of kids.
“They’re resilient, they never give up and they believe in each other — and when you have that, special things can happen.”
The stakes couldn’t have been higher coming into the game — both teams entered the night undefeated in CCC play, tied with Twin Valley South for the league lead. Miami East (5-2, 5-1 CCC) sat in 11th in the Division VI, Region 22 playoff standings with four games to go — all against teams with winning records — while Covington (6-1, 5-0 CCC) began the night in first in the D-VII, Region 26 standings.
And, coupled with Twin Valley South’s 22-21 loss to Bethel, the Buccs are now the only remaining team without a loss in CCC play, alone atop the pile.
Neither team could cash in its chances for most of the first half. After the Vikings turned the ball over on downs, unable to convert a fourth-and-3 from the Covington 32 — but the Buccs fumbled a pitch on the first play of the ensuing drive, and Levi Adducchio recovered to give East a short field.
The Vikings couldn’t do anything with it, though, as Covington held with a goal-line stand to take over at its own 1-yard line. A 19-play drive only got them to the Viking 36, though, and the Buccs were forced to punt — a punt that went out of bounds at the 1, returning the favor and pinning East deep.
East then made its first mistake of the game as an incomplete screen pass turned into a fumbled lateral, with the Buccs recovering the ball. The Viking defense stood tough, though, forcing a turnover-on-downs at the 15 to set up East with a long field and less than two minutes on the clock.
“The little things just caught up to us,” Miami East coach Max Current said. “We didn’t protect the football, and we gave Covington extra chances. We just didn’t play a clean game.”
But Kurt Brower broke a 43-yard run that took the ball into Covington territory with one minute left, and two plays later Braxton Donaldson hit Logan May in the end zone with a 35-yard bomb to make it 7-0 East with 34 seconds left in the half.
And on the first play from scrimmage of the ensuing drive, Covington fumbled another option pitch — only this time Donaldson picked the ball up with no one between him and the end zone, taking it 34 yards for a score to make it 14-0 with 24 seconds left in the half — and that’s where it remained at the break.
“We finished the first half very well,” Current said. “We had all the momentum in the world. We just needed to keep it. We had opportunities in the second half to put another score on the board, but we just didn’t do it. We have them too many chances.”
“Coming in 14-0 at the half, a lot of teams are going to fold,” Miller said. “But our kids just kept their heads held high. They played one heck of a ballgame.”
Covington converted a pair of fourth-down attempts on the first drive of the third, but the Buccs eventually had to punt as both teams slugged it out through a scoreless third quarter. With 7:14 to go in the game, though, Jared Williams finally put the Buccs on the board with a 7-yard touchdown run, making it 14-7 Miami East.
After the Bucc defense held, Covington drove down the field, with Tyler Freeman throwing a pair of halfback passes — one to Coleman Ryan to get the ball past midfield then another on fourth-and-9 from the 12 to Ethan Herron to put the ball on the Viking 2-yard line with 20 seconds left in the game. Williams took a pitch around the side to tie the score on the next play with 15 seconds remaining — and the game headed to overtime.
“That was the ballgame right there,” Miller said of Freeman’s pass to Herron to convert the fourth down. “That’s two sophomores making a big-time play in a critical situation. Tyler just saw Ethan and dumped it to him. It was a heads-up play by both guys.”
“We had a sack to end the game on that play, but their guy flips it to No. 12 (Herron),” Current said. “It was just a heads-up play by their guys.”
“They hit that other reverse pass on us earlier that drive, too. We practice that all week. We looked like we got blindsided by it, but we just needed to execute better. And Covington executed it.”
Covington cashed in its first overtime possession quickly, with Nathan Blei hitting Shane Straw with a 7-yard touchdown pass to put the Buccs up 21-14. The Vikings then took their turn, and Donaldson leaned the ball over on third-and-goal from the 1, leaving East only needing the extra point to force a second overtime.
But the snap barely ever left the ground, bouncing away from the holder and leaving the Vikings shocked — and allowing the Buccaneers to celebrate their second consecutive last-minute victory.
“It’s a tough way to lose a ballgame,” Miller said. “I feel bad for their kids. They battled all the way. It was just a great battle between two really good football teams, and the credit goes to our kids. They played a whale of a ballgame.”
“It was a great effort by both teams,” Current said. “We’ve just got to clean some things up. Now we’ll have to see what kind of team we are, what kind of resiliency we have. Because we’ve got another tough one next week.”
Covington, which defeated Tri-County North on a last-minute halfback pass last week, will now return home to face Twin Valley South in a critical Week 8 showdown. The Vikings, meanwhile, will have to bounce back on the road at Tri-County North.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.