By Ben Robinson
The Covington Buccaneers traveled to Tri-County North for a critical CCC battle against the 4-1 Panthers, who were celebrating homecoming night with a large crowd.
To make matters worse for Covington, the field conditions were horrid due to a downpour of rain prior to kickoff that led to a muddy track and over two inches of water on the sideline – not to mention a heavy fog as the game kicked off.
But Covington was able to overcome the environment, the field conditions and a highly motivated Tri-County North team to record a 41-13 win to improve to 6-0 overall and 4-0 in the CCC.
“I’m so proud of our kids,” said Covington coach Ty Cates. “I felt we wore them down in the second half and their turnovers killed them. We were able to take advantage of the turnovers and that’s a good football team over there. It’s a huge win for us.”
And it was senior quarterback Nathan Blei who led the offensive charge with a single-game school record of 293 yards on 13 of 17 passing, four tosses going for touchdowns. Blei’s performance broke Brady Reck’s record of 257 passing yards set against Ansonia in 2003.
“Nathan Blei, what can you say?” questioned Cates. “He threw the ball really well and our passing game opened up our running game in the second half.”
Blei threw two touchdown passes to Tristin Sowers from 61 and 58 yards out, a 35-yard strike to Branden Robinson and a 16-yard touchdown pass to Zach Parrett.
“I think we read the defense real well, seeing what the safeties did and mixing up our routes,” said quarterback Nathan Blei. “Having good receivers (Sowers, Parrett and Robinson) make it easy.”
Sowers, who had four catches for 147 yards, the second best single-game performance in Buccaneer history, felt his quarterback’s throws were on the money all night.
“Nate knows how to throw the balls right and he trusts us out there,” said Sowers. “The fog kind of messed up some things, but he threw the ball up to us and trusted us to catch it.”
Parrett, who finished with eight catches for 110 yards and a score, was the benefactor of Blei taking advantage of the Panther defenders giving a huge cushion.
“The corners played off again like last week,” Parrett said. “We (the receivers) got good balls from our quarterback and we made some plays.”
Covington expected to get off to a fast start, but what materialized was the total opposite as the Buccaneers turned the ball over via fumble on its first offensive play.
But the Buccaneer defense was able to make a huge defensive play of its own as North fumbled at its own three and Branden Robinson pounced on the ball to end the scoring threat.
Covington moved the ball near midfield before being forced to punt. But a great punt by Nathan Blei pinned the Panthers deep in there own territory.
Unfortunately for Covington, the defense let North off the hook as it was called for offsides on a fourth-and-three at the Panther 29. The Panthers then put together a long, time consuming drive and took a 7-0 lead on a seven-yard run by Tanner Booth.
“It started off scary,” said Cates of the beginning of the game. “We fumbled on our first play and they scored right away. They moved the ball really well on us in the first half and it seemed like, man, is our offense ever going to get on the field. They stuffed us early in the running game, so we went to the passing game.”
Covington responded on its next drive with a 61-yard bomb from Blei to Sowers, but North put together another clock-eating possession deep into Covington territory.
Fortunately for the Buccs, the defense made the play it needed to give the ball back to the offense and Blei connected to Sowers once again from 58 yards out to take a 14-7 lead.
After holding North on the ensuing possession, Covington took what the Panther defense gave as the defensive backs played a good ten yards off the ball. Blei found Zach Parrett four times on the drive and then capped the effort with a 16-yard strike to Parrett in the corner of the end zone to take a 20-7 lead at the break.
“Our offensive line pass protected so well and Tristin (Sowers) and Zach (Parrett) made so many plays,” Cates said.
But Covington started the second half in the same fashion it started the game – on its heals – as the Panthers ran right through the heart of the Buccaneer defense on the opening possession of the half.
Tanner Booth capped the drive with a 30-yard run up the gut to cut the deficit to 20-13 and breath new life into the Panther team.
Booth, who is a load at 6-1, 210 pounds, shredded the Covington defense for 250 yards on 33 carries.
“Obviously we don’t want to give up that many yards,” Cates said.
Needing to reclaim the momentum, Covington put together its most impressive drive of the game on the ensuing possession.
Lance Miller capped the drive with a heads-up play by recovering a Buccaneer fumble in the end zone to make the score 27-13.
The score seemed to take the life out of the Panthers and Covington wasn’t about to let up as Blei connected with Branden Robinson from 35 yards out on the first play of the fourth quarter and Lance Miller closed the show with a 12-yard scoring run a few minutes later.
Meanwhile, the defense stepped up big time in the second half, forcing three Panther fumbles in the final two quarters.
“Our defense started playing a lot better in the second half, besides that first drive (of the second half)” Cates said. “I thought our kids were really resilient. I mean, they moved the ball on us, but only scored 13 points because they couldn’t finish. Our kids were bend, but didn’t break.”
Covington racked up 404 yards of offense, but allowed an opposing running back to shred the defense for the second straight night.
The Buccaneers will need to clean up their assignments and tackling next week as they host a talented Miami East team next week.