By Ben Robinson
TROY — Both Covington and Troy Christian entered Friday’s game unbeaten at 4-0 and ranked the top two teams in Division 7, Region 28 in regards to computer points.
Needless to say, this game had huge playoff implications just five weeks into the season and the outcome came down to a two-point conversion attempt by Troy Christian after a six-yard touchdown run by bruising fullback Jacob Calvert cut the Buccaneer advantage to 27-26 with 31 seconds to play.
Fortunately for Covington, senior linebacker Deron White made the critical defensive stop by hitting Calvert low to slow his momentum, while teammate Lance Miller hit the Eagle fullback high to end the threat just one yard short of the goal line to preserve a gritty 27-26 win for the Buccaneers.
“I didn’t know if they were going to pass or if they were going to run it because their passing had been good,” said Deron White. “I thought maybe it was going to be a slant route or something quick like that, so Lance (Miller) told me to flare out a little bit to see if they were going to throw a quick route. When I went out I saw all of the backs coming towards me, so I just filled, tackled him (Calvert).”
Covington coach Ty Cates praised the efforts of his kids at the end.
“Our kids, I’m so proud of them,” beamed Cates. “Our backs were against the wall and the momentum was in their (Troy Christian’s) favor. They decide to go for two out of the timeout and our kids – we didn’t play great defense tonight, but they made the play when it counted.”
Early on it looked as though the game was headed to a blowout win for Covington as the Buccaneers scored on the opening possession of the game on a 26-yard run by Lance Miller and the defense stepped up with a big stop on Troy Christian’s first possession.
Covington then pushed the lead to 14-0 with 1:04 left in the first quarter as Nathan Blei connected with Joey Schmelzer on a pretty 45-yard scoring strike.
But Troy Christian was able to respond with a scoring drive of its own early in the second quarter as quarterback Hayden Hartman connected with Jacob Brown from 11 yards out to make the score 14-7 with 10:42 left in the half.
Covington had its own response on the first offensive play of the ensuing drive after Branden Robinson returned the ensuing kickoff to the Buccaneer 45. Lance Miller then found a crease on the edge and weaved his way to the end zone on a 55-yard scoring run to push the Covington lead to 21-7.
Troy Christian then put together a potential scoring drive deep in Covington territory, but the Buccaneer defense managed to stiffen and hold the Eagles on fourth down with 6:25 left in the half.
Covington couldn’t take advantage of a scoring opportunity as a nifty catch and run for 65 yards by Branden Robinson was called back due to a clipping penalty – ultimately stalling the drive and giving the ball back to Troy Christian with plenty of time to mount a drive of its own before the break.
And the Eagles did just that by moving the ball once again inside the Buccaneer twenty, only to see the Covington defense make a critical fourth down stop to end the half.
“We played a great first half,” praised Cates. “But you have to give credit to them (Troy Christian). They made plays in the passing game and that number twenty-one (Jacob Calvert) is a nice player. They fought to the end.”
Troy Christian received the ball to start the second half and moved the ball into Covington territory before the Buccaneer defense stiffened for the third time in the contest.
The Buccaneers then put together an impressive drive of their own to push the advantage to 27-7 on a 16-yard run by Lance Miller with 5:27 left in the third as the point-after attempt failed due to a low snap.
The twenty-point lead didn’t last long as suddenly the Buccaneers looked to be going through the motions and Troy Christian took advantage with two quick touchdowns on a 37-yard scoring strike from Hayden Hartman to Isaac Hivner and a six-yard pass from Hartman to Jacob Brown to cut the deficit to 27-20 with 9:53 left in the game.
Covington then turned the ball right back over to Troy Christian on the ensuing possession, but one play later Deron White forced an Eagle fumble to give the ball back to the Buccaneers.
Unfortunately, Covington couldn’t turn the opportunity into points as Ty Freeman was picked off on a halfback pass in the back of the end zone as Troy Christian took over the ball at its own twenty with 2:26 left in the game.
Two long passes later the Eagles were perched inside the Buccaneer ten and Calvert broke free up the middle on a six-yard scoring run to cut the Buccaneer advantage to 27-26.
The Eagles originally lined up in an attempt to tie the score with an extra-point attempt, but called a timeout before the snap to rethink their strategy.
As the two teams returned to the field, the Eagles threw the kicking tee to the sideline and put the outcome of the game on one play.
And it was Covington who made the final play as Deron White and Lance Miller stopped Jacob Calvert well short of the goal line.
From there, Covington recovered the onside kick attempt by Troy Christian and took a knee to end matters.
“This is why I came to Covington,” Cates said. “These type of kids, they’re rare. They are going to fight to the very end and you are going to get the most out of them every time.”
Covington moves to 5-0 on the season and travels to Tri-County North (4-1) for yet another big game next week.