By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON — In his first game as the new head football coach at Covington, Ty Cates and the Buccs went through so many ups and downs – leaving Cates emotionally drained after a trilling 27-13 win over St. Henry.
“It’s so hard to describe how I feel right now,” sighed Cates about an hour after the game. “I’m drained. You know, these kids overcame so much to get this win and it’s one of the biggest wins of my coaching career because of all of the circumstances and adversity we had to overcome.”
The deck seemed stacked against Covington considering it was the first game running an entirely new offense and defense under a completely different coaching staff from the highly successful Dave Miller Era.
“It’s a new staff, a new system against a team like that (St. Henry), that’s our kids getting thrown into the fire right away,” Cates said. “I’d be lying if I told you I wasn’t concerned going in, but our kids are so darn mentally tough. Mental toughness won us this game.”
Covington had to use every ounce of mental toughness to overcome situations out of its control – first the game being called at halftime on Friday night and then the heat and humidity when the game resumed at 10am on Saturday morning.
Kids on both teams were throwing up on the field from the heat, but kept playing until the final whistle.
“The heat affected both teams,” explained Cates. “But I think our conditioning really started to show in the fourth quarter. I felt our kids had more left in the tank.”
The fourth quarter is when Covington took over the game. Up to that point it was a back-and-forth affair with several momentum shifts.
On Friday, Covington took the opening possession the length of the field for the first score of the game. Overcoming a penalty on the first snap, Covington converted a huge third-and-twelve with a pass from Nathan Blei to Tristin Sowers and then Blei capped the drive with a 24-yard touchdown run through the heart of the St. Henry defense.
Unfortunately for the Buccs, the kick for the extra point went wide right leaving the score at 6-0.
St. Henry responded with a time consuming drive of its own midway through the second quarter as Blake Hoying scooted his way in from 9 yards out to tie the score at 6-6 as the point-after attempt was blocked by Covington.
The score remained 6-6 into the half and the game was called due to lightening, forcing both teams to return to the field at 10am on Saturday.
“There were a lot of distractions we had to overcome,” Cates said. “With the Hall of Fame ceremony, we didn’t go through our normal pre-game and we were on the field for a long time before the game. Then, to have the game called and have to come back the next day, that’s tough. We felt we went into the half with some momentum.”
The momentum shifted dramatically to start the second half as St. Henry’s Jaren Fishbaugh broke loose on a 41-yard touchdown run on the opening possession.
But Covington took the moment right back on the ensuing possession as Nathan Blei once again converted a huge third down pass, this time to Zach Parrett. Lance Miller then did the rest by busting through the line of scrimmage and outrunning the St. Henry defense for a 40-yard touchdown run to tie the score at 13-13.
“That was a big response to their touchdown drive to start the second half,” Cates said.
Covington took over the game in the fourth quarter as Ethan Herron took the first play of the final frame 82 yards up the gut to push the Buccaneer lead to 20-13.
The Buccaneer defense then stepped up with a big play as Zane Barnes forced a fumble and Covington recovered near the Redskin 30.
A few plays later Herron turned the theft into points with a two-yard touchdown run to push the Covington lead to 27-13 with just under seven minutes left.
And it was the longest seven minutes of Cate’s coaching career.
“Man, that was the longest six or seven minutes of my life,” joked Cates. “I kept looking at the clock and it never seemed to run.”
That’s because St. Henry moved the ball methodically down the field and had the ball first-and-goal at the ten.
But junior defensive back Ty Freeman made a huge play by stepping in from of a St. Henry pass to record the interception with just under four minutes left.
“That was a huge play by Ty,” praised Cates. “We needed a stop there and he made a big play for us.”
The Covington defense would have to make more big plays as the Buccaneer offense turned the ball right back over to St. Henry via a fumble two plays later.
And the Buccaneers did just that by forcing four straight incomplete passes inside the red zone to preserve a hard-fought 27-13 win.
“I have to give our kids and our entire coaching staff credit for the win,” Cates said. “Our defense had its back against the wall twice in the fourth quarter and refused to lose. Our kids found a way.”
It was a big win for Covington and Cates felt his entire team had a hand in it.
“Football is the ultimate team sport and this was a complete team win,” he said. “Ty (Freeman), Deron (White), Zane (Barnes), Branden (Robinson), Nathan (Blei), Ethan (Herron), Adam (Lefeld) Tristin (Sowers), Zach (Parrett), Joey (Schmelzer), Lance (Miller), our O-Line, our D-Line, everyone made plays. You can go right down the line and name one kid after another who stepped up when we needed it.”
As big as the win is for the Buccaneers, Cates is fully aware that one win doesn’t make a season.
“But we have to remember, we’re still just 1-0,” he continued. “That’s a good football team from a good conference be were able to beat and we’ll enjoy this one today and some tomorrow. Then we’ll have to put it behind us and focus on the next one.”
Which is yet another home game as the Buccaneers host Arcanum next Friday.