By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON — The past two weeks the Covington Buccaneers managed to make the plays needed to pull out victories in the waning moments against Tri-County North and Miami East – victories that left the Buccs as the lone team unbeaten in Cross County Conference play entering Friday’s contest against Twin Valley South, who was knocked off a week ago 22-21 by Bethel.
This week, it was Twin Valley South pulling off the last minute heroics as the Panthers scored with eight seconds left on an eight-yard pass from Jacob Bassler to JJ Utz to hand Covington its first league defeat by the score of 34-30.
And in the process, the Panthers forced a three-way tie in the CCC title chase with two weeks left in the regular season as Covington, Miami East and Twin Valley South all have one league loss on their records.
Twin Valley South received the ball first and the Buccaneer defense held to force a punt. Covington then marched 75 yards on its first possession and scored on a four-yard run by Jared Williams. Williams followed by running in the two-point conversion for an 8-0 Buccaneer lead as the first quarter came to a close.
After holding South on the ensuing possession, Covington turned the ball over via fumble in Twin Valley South territory and the Panthers took advantage with a big pass play from Jacob Ballser to JJ Utz that put the ball at the one. Bassler then scored on the next play to cut the margin to 8-7.
Covington responded with a nice kick return by Ethan Herron into Twin Valley South territory and three plays later Jared Williams scooted his way around right end for a touchdown from 14 yards out to push the Buccaneer advantage to 15-8 with under 3:00 left in the half.
Which was just enough time for the Panthers to respond as Mike Meyers hurled a 39-yard touchdown strike to Utz on a double pass to make the score 15-14 in Covington’s favor at the break.
Covington received the second half kickoff and moved the ball to midfield on two straight running plays before going to the air for the first time in the contest.
And Utz wasn’t fooled as he picked off an under thrown Buccaneer pass to end the threat.
Shortly thereafter, the Panthers hit pay dirt again as Bassler connected with Utz from 22 yards out to give Twin Valley South its first lead of the contest 21-15 after the extra point went through the uprights.
Not to be deterred, Covington responded with yet another time consuming drive as it drove 65 yards to reclaim the lead on a one-yard plunge by Ethan Herron. Williams then passed to Lance Miller for the successful two-point conversion to make the score 23-21 in Covington’s favor.
But Covington just could’t stop the Bassler to Utz passing combination that connected 10 times for 150 yards and four scores. The third scoring connection between the two came on the ensuing posession as Utz took a quick pass in the flat from Bassler and raced 54 yards down the sideline for the score and a 27-23 Panther lead after the two-point conversion failed.
Both teams traded punts on the next two possessions and Covington took over the ball at its own 18 with just over 8:00 left in the game.
In typical Buccaneer fashion, Covington put together a time consuming drive and reclaimed the lead 30-27 with a two-yard run by Lance Miller with 2:33 left in the game.
Which was just enough time for Twin Valley South to pull off the stunner.
Twice the Panthers converted on fourth down – one a fourth-and-six and the other a fourth-and-ten – both on quick outs to Utz on the sideline.
A late hit by Covington moved the ball to the Buccaneer 20 and three plays later Bassler found Utz one last time from eighth yards out with eight seconds left on the clock.
After recovering a squib kick on the ensuing kickoff, the Panthers took a knee and celebrated while the Buccaneers walked off the field stunned.
Covington falls to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the CCC as it looks to rebound next week at National Trail before hosting Ansonia in the season finale.
The huge win for the Panthers puts them back in the hunt for at least a share of the CCC title as they improve to 6-2 overall and 5-1 in the conference with a home game next week against Tri-County North and then a road contest at Miami East to close out the season.