By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON — When the Covington football team started out the season with three straight losses, not many people felt optimistic the Buccaneers would be able salvage the season. In fact, the majority felt all hopes of a state playoff birth were dashed when the Buccs walked off the field in week three at Fort Loramie.
But the fifty kids and coaches in the locker room believed – even against what seemed at the time to be insurmountable odds.
That’s because they knew they were better than the self destructive team that lost to three outstanding football teams – St. Henry, Minster and Fort Loramie – where turnovers and penalties were at a premium.
That’s because they knew they worked too hard and sacrificed too much for one another throughout the offseason to lay down and pack it in.
And it’s because they knew they were a good football team in spite of what they put on film in the first three weeks of the season.
“The kids knew they were better than that,” said Covington coach Tyler Cates. “We knew the boo birds would be out, but it was a matter of sticking together – and we did. The kids knew we could win out if we took it one game at a time.”
Knowing it and accomplishing it are two different things, but the Buccaneers rattled off six straight wins to put itself into a win-and-you’re-in situation on Friday against National Trail.
And after a slow start, Covington dominated en route to a 40-0 win to UNOFFICIALLY qualify for the state playoffs.
“You know, I have to credit my coaching staff because they stayed focused on what we needed to do,” said Cates. “And the seniors too. Oh my, what a great group of kids we have in the senior class. They’ve been told for so long that they weren’t very good and for them to use that as motivation and work so hard – this is a great reward for their hard work.”
The senior class of Parker Dysinger, Ian Wilson, Gavin McReynolds, Eli Gerling, Sam Pritchard, Isiah Curl, Garrett Warner and Dylan Burns have been the glue that has held the team together through the adversity the Buccaneers have faced throughout the season.
“I don’t know if I’ve coached a better group of kids who have been able to handle this much adversity,” praised Cates of his eight seniors. “You want to see kids maximize their potential and this senior class has maxed out. They’ve stayed hungry and focused and I’m really proud of this group. This senior class is blue collar, put your head down and get after it.”
And after National Trail took the opening possession of the game deep into Covington territory, it was a Buccaneer senior who turned the tables as Dylan Burns stuffed a Blazer runner for a five-yard loss to force a long field goal attempt that didn’t have a chance when the holder mishandled the ball in the wet conditions.
Covington didn’t do much on its opening possession and was forced to punt and then the Buccaneer defense held the Blazers to a three-and-out on the ensuing possession.
Unfortunately for Covington, it fumbled the ball on the punt return – giving the Blazers outstanding field position just 23 yards from the end zone.
“We didn’t play well the first six or seven minutes of the game,” said Cates.
That changed very quickly as junior Josh Latimer gave Covington a spark by stepping in front of an Evynn Short pass for the pick and racing 77 yards untouched down the home sideline for a 7-0 Covington lead with 45 second left in the opening frame.
It was the big play Covington needed to ignite the offense and send doubt into National Trail, which was evident as the Buccaneers scored on back-to-back long drives in the second quarter.
First, sophomore Duncan Cooper capped a well executed, time consuming drive with a two-yard run and then Alex Shaffer scored from one-yard out to push the Buccaneer lead to 21-0 at the break in a first half that was played in a steady downpour of rain.
“The conditions weren’t ideal, but the kids executed the offense very well in the second quarter,” Cates said. “We had balance between the run and the pass tonight.”
Covington did have balance as it racked up 183 yards on the ground and 175 through the air for 358 yards of total offense on what was a horrific night of weather.
Meanwhile, the defense held National Trail to just five yards rushing and 67 yards of total offense – 54 yards of that coming on the opening drive of the game.
“You can’t control the weather,” Cates continued. “You just have to play regardless of the situation and I’m proud of how the kids responded to the situation.”
Covington received the opening kickoff of the second half and it took just two plays to break the game open as Cade Schmelzer connected with Andrew Cates for a 67-yard scoring strike to push the advantage tom 27-0 as the point-after kick sailed to the left of the uprights.
Not wanting to be outdone by the offense, the Buccaneer defense responded with a big play of its own just a few minutes later as Parker Dysinger hit the Blazer quarterback as the ball was released and Josh Latimer collected the under thrown pass and raced 11 yards for his second pick-six of the game to push the lead to 34-0 and force a running clock.
Covington then tacked on one more score in the fourth quarter on a three-yard run by senior lineman Sam Pritchard, which was his first touchdown on his high school career.
“We like to reward our senior linemen by letting them carry the rock sometimes,” Cates explained. “We did it earlier in the year with Eli (Gerling) and it was good to see Sam get one (a touchdown).”
It capped an impressive 40-0 win that boosts Covington’s record to 7-3 overall and 7-1 in the CCC. It also led to what looks like an apparent playoff birth – although it won’t become official until Sunday.
Still, the fact that Covington was able to overcome an 0-3 start to win seven straight games is an accomplishment in itself.
And should Covington see a week eleven and beyond, Coach Cates hopes his seniors have the last laugh when it comes to the doubters.
“It’s not where you start – it’s wear you finish,” Cates said. “These kids understood that and they continued to fight all season. For the seniors, everyone who didn’t believe in them, I sure hope they get the last laugh.”