By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON — The Covington Buccaneers played host to Anna on Friday in the final scrimmage in preparation for the 2016 season and came away with plenty to be pleased about due to the improvement shown since the last outing a week ago at Eaton.
And it was the Buccaneer offensive line that made the most improvement despite having two starters standing on the sidelines for precautionary reasons.
“I’m so proud of our offensive line for the way they played, primarily in the first half,” said Covington coach Ty Cates. “We had a great week of practice where we adjusted some of our footwork with pass blocking. I felt we controlled the line of scrimmage in the first half.”
Covington fielded a freshman, two sophomores and two seniors in the trenches.
“That’s a huge confidence builder for our three younger guys,” Cates continued. “The experience they’ve gained the past three weeks against three tough teams is tremendous in their development.”
The Buccaneers pretty much played their starting lineup in the first two quarters and mixed up the lineup on both sides of the ball early in the third quarter before playing a complete junior varsity squad two series into the third quarter.
Still, Covington held a 12-7 lead at the break thanks to a 31-yard scoring strike from Nathan Blei to Branden Robinson and a one-yard plunge by Blei to cap off a very well executed, time consuming drive.
Anna’s lone touchdown in the first two quarters came on a long, time consuming drive. But the Buccaneers helped the Rocket cause with two untimely penalties in the red zone that kept the drive alive.
“Defensively, we took a huge step forward,” praised Cates. “We forced some turnovers and corrected some of our mistakes in pass defense.”
The Buccaneers did have two other drives in the first half that ended inside Anna territory, one via a fumble inside the ten and the other on back-to-back quarterback sacks near the Rocket forty to close out the first half – the only two times the Buccaneer offensive line allowed Anna to get to the quarterback in the first half.
The fumble hurt,” Cates commented. “We should have been up nineteen to seven at the half instead of twelve to seven, but we put the ball on the ground.”
Stats are unofficial due to players wearing practice jerseys, but by all indications the Buccaneers racked up 228 yards of offense in the first half – 93 on the ground and 135 through the air.
Nathan Blei completed nine of 15 passes for 135 yards and a touchdown to Branden Robinson, who had four catches for 66 yards and rushed for 31 yards on four carries.
Zach Parrett had a big night at the receiving end as well with three catches for 50 yards, while Lance Miller led the Buccaneers with 73 rushing yards on seven carries – 49 of those coming on a touchdown run early in the third quarter.
Defensively, the Buccaneers played well throughout the first two quarters outside of one possession – the possession Anna marched down the field to score.
Covington’s Adam Lefeld forced and recovered a fumble on the Rockets’ opening possession and then Ethan Herron intercepted an Anna pass late in the second quarter.
“We had a great week of practice and it showed tonight in the first half,” said Cates. “Our scout team gave us a good look and helped out our offensive line a lot. We threw everything at our line this week and the kids improved dramatically.”
But it wasn’t all rosy for the men in black as the Buccaneers made critical mistakes that could ultimately cost them games down the line.
First, penalties due to a lack of focus hurt Covington on both sides of the ball – from having twelve men on the field to jumping the snap count and illegal blocks in the back.
“The stupid penalties drive me crazy,” Cates said. “We rep that stuff every week in practice, so there’s no excuse for anyone to not know when they should be on the field. That’s kids not paying attention. We’ll get it corrected, even it it means putting a freshman in there who wants to play and who will pay attention.”
Second, special teams were horrendous for Covington as all four point-after attempts failed – one being an extra point attempt and three being two-point conversion attempts.
“We missed all of our opportunities for extra points and that’s not acceptable,” emphasized Cates. “We went for two more often then we probably would in a game situation, but we still need to convert on a better percentage.”
Lastly, the lack of enthusiasm in the third quarter was blatantly obvious. The lineup was mixed up in order to provide an opportunity for several players to showcase the potential to contribute on Friday nights and Anna was able to shred the Buccs with big plays and shut down the Covington offense outside of the long touchdown run by Lance Miller.
“Covington kids always play the game with passion, at least that’s the way I’ve always thought by watching from the other side,” Cates said. “But I noticed we had a huge lull in emotion and enthusiasm in the second half and that concerns me. I don’t know if it was because we were mixing in different kids, but we have to play with the same passion and enthusiasm regardless of who is on the field. I’ll address this issue with the seniors because they are the ones who have to lead by example.”
In the end, Anna held a 28-24 advantage on the scoreboard, but Covington got out of the scrimmage exactly what it need – plenty of things to build on and more to improve on.
“We made some mistakes, but we did some very good things we can build on,” Cates said. “We have to clean some things up, but I feel very good about the potential of this football team heading into week one.”
The Buccs open the season next Friday at home against St. Henry.