By Ben Robinson
COVINGTON — The Covington senior class is very close, which made for an emotional night on Friday as the Buccaneers recognized the thirteen seniors on “Senior Night” prior to a 41-7 thrashing of National Trail in the final regular season game on Smith Field.
And even though the Buccaneers improved to 9-0 on the season and have secured a home playoff game, the realization that they are in the twilight of their high school careers hit home for many of the seniors after the game Friday night.
“This means everything,” said Buccaneer senior fullback and linebacker Deron White, while holding back tears. “I don’t know what high school would be without this. I don’t want it to end, but it’s going to. Not yet though.”
The Buccaneer seniors understand time doesn’t stand still for anyone and they are taking advantage of every moment together.
“It was really fun on senior night to play the whole game and win like that,” said Buccaneer senior slot back and defensive back Branden Robinson. “It was really nice because a lot of our lineman got to score tonight, which was really cool too. It’s really fun to play with them.”
Senior quarterback and defensive back Nathan Blei agreed.
“We’ve been playing together for so long,” said Blei. “It’s unbelievable the relationships we all have together. It’s unlike any other sport I’ve ever played.”
This senior class has had an impact on first-year coach Tyler Cates, who was also emotional after the game as he described what this class means to him.
“I tell ya’, this group is the most selfless group I’ve ever coached,” said Cates of the seniors. “They don’t care who gets the ball. They don’t care who gets the glory. They just want to play together and have fun. I’m just so proud of these guys. They are such great leaders and the team chemistry is great.”
Facing a 2-6 team coming in, it would have been easy for Covington to look ahead toward the state playoffs in two weeks. But the kids have remained focused on one game at a time, which Cates gives credit to his seniors.
“They (the seniors) helped us keep focused this week in practice when it could be easy to not be very focused,” he explained. “I’m very proud of our kids. It was a great night.”
The focus was apparent from the opening kick as National Trail won the toss and elected to go on offense first.
Covington immediately forced a three-and-out and then scored on its first possession on a 34-yard scoring strike from Nathan Blei to junior tight end Joey Schmelzer for a quick 7-0 lead.
“I thought we came out and played really well right away,” Cates said. “Defensively, we got a stop right away and hit the ground running.”
The Covington defense made life miserable for National Trail for much of the night, holding the Blazers to just 34 yards of offense in the first half.
Meanwhile, the offense scored at will, pushing the lead to 27-0 at the half thanks to some well executed drives mixed in with some big plays.
First, senior lineman Carl Lankford moved from guard to fullback for two plays and scored his first career touchdown on a four-yard run to push the Covington lead to 14-0.
Nathan Blei then connected with Branden Robinson on a fourth-and-nine play for a 34-yard scoring strike to make the score 21-0 early in the second quarter.
Blei then capped the first half with a nine-yard toss to senior Tristin Sowers, who made a juggling catch in the back of the end zone to increase the lead to 27-0 at the break.
“We executed really well, but we did have some mishaps where we dropped a few balls,” Cates said. “Obviously we were able to put up a lot of points and defensively I think they had like thirty yards in the first half.”
Covington received the opening kickoff of the second half and waisted little time to score again as senior Deron White found running room to the outside for a 30-yard scoring run to push the lead to 34-0.
National Trail responded with a 44-yard touchdown on a pass from Evynn Short to Angel Garabito, but Covington closed out the contest with a three-yard scoring plunge by senior Kenny Atkinson, who moved from tackle to fullback for the one play.
It was Atkinson’s first career touchdown as well.
“It’s just a great night to be a Bucc,” concluded Cates. “I think we came out of this thing healthy and I’m really proud of our seniors tonight.”
With the win Covington secures at least a share of the CCC title, which is its thirtieth conference title in the seventy years of Buccaneer football.
Next week the Buccaneers look to win the league title outright with a win at Ansonia.