They dinked and they dunked, they went over the top. And oh yes, the new Covington Buccs still had plenty of power game when they needed it to beat Miami East.
Covington – There was historical perspective at hand with Thursday night’s 28-17 Covington win over Cross County Conference rival Miami East.
One, Fox 45 televised the game, the first time in ‘recent’ history that had been done at Smith Field and there was plenty at stake. Covington (7-0) was undefeated, and East was undefeated in the league. This was winner take all.
And two, if someone had just come out of hibernation for the past 25 years and wondered who the team in black was…the one throwing football around like walleye strips at Buffalo Jack’s…that was the 2016 Covington Buccaneers.
Covington threw the ball 18 times, completed 11 of them for 163 yards, and put the visiting Vikings (5-2) into a 21-0 hole after 11 minutes and 30 seconds of the first half with an assortment of bubble screens, dinks, dunks, and “whatever the defense gave us,” in the words of quarterback Nathan Blei.
“Whatever the defense gave us?”
Seriously, this is not your dad’s Covington football when the quarterback connects on a screen pass on the first play from scrimmage. But that’s exactly what Blei did, an overture to the play that came moments later when he found wide receiver Zach Parrett behind the linebackers in the middle of the field and dumped the ball into his waiting arms. Parrett outran the East secondary 55 yards for a touchdown before people could stick their 50-50 tickets in their pocket.
“It’s a lot of fun,” said Blei afterwards, describing the Buccaneers’ new mantra of attack.
“It opens things up and you just take what the defense gives you. Now we can run with a lot of ‘this’ and ‘that’. Everyone is a threat. It’s just a matter of what the defense does. It’s a lot harder to defend because if we can find a weak link on the defense we’re going to exploit it.”
A lot of ‘this’…and ‘that’!
Well they can still run the ball, too, as evidence after a change of possession when Blei moved them down the field…and senior running back Lance Miller moved them into the end zone from one yard out. Just that quick it was 14-0 and East was looking out of the ear hole in their helmets.
At 8:31 Blei connected for his second touchdown pass of the half, a 12-yard strike to Tristin Sowers, like Parrett, another 6’5” receiver with a long reach and long strides in the open field. 21-0…and the Vikings were in a world of hurt.
But this is not the same Cross County Conference of years past either. Gradually, since the inclusion of the Vikings over a decade ago, the football balance of a league that once served as Covington’s exercise bike has improved. East has always had athletes, a long-standing football tradition, and they’ve always played hard for Max Current. And of late they’ve consistently threatened Covington’s dominance, winning the outright league title three years ago.
Quarterback Ian Gengler, a stocky sophomore with his own threat to throw, moved the Vikings inside the Covington five yard line where senior Arron Adams scored 90 seconds before the half to cut the deficit to 21-7.
Colton Kawalak connected on a 30-yard field goal three minutes into the third quarter to cut the lead to 21-10.
But Blei and the Buccs’ offense promptly held serve with a 60-yard drive culminating in Lance Miller’s second touchdown run of the night with a minute remaining in the quarter to make the score 28-10. For all intents the game was over.
But no one told East, and Gengler and the Viking offense mounted a scoring drive of their own at 8:52 of the fourth, helped immensely by an impressive 34-yard catch and throw from Gengler to sophomore Justin Brown. It got East into to the red zone where Gengler ran it in himself from the five to conclude the scoring, 28-17.
It didn’t conclude the drama, though. Forced to punt, Covington gave the ball back to East with 3:35 remaining and Gengler again moved them down the field. But some scrappy play by Covington’s defense, and a costly procedure penalty hurt the Vikings’ momentum…and on fourth down Parrett stripped a pass from Gengler to would-be receiver Arron Adams at the goal line to effectively end the game.
“If we don’t get off to the start we did, we have a shot at the end,” said Current. “We’re down 21-0 in the second quarter before we decided that we could play with these guys. But hey, I’m proud of my kids because there might have been some Miami East teams of old that got down like that and folded like a cheap card table. But these guys battled and I’m proud of them for that.”
It was, of course, Covington’s seventh win of the year. And, it solidifies their #1 ranking in Region 28 of Division VII football.
But perhaps more, it magnifies the impact of first-year coach Ty Cates and his willingness to bring change with him to Chestnut Street when he took the head coaching job back in the spring.
“We were fired up and ready to play,” said Cates with a satisfied smile. “We think we have an explosive offense and we got off to a great start. We should have had another score, but credit them…they made some adjustments that kept us from executing later on.
“We have some playmakers. When you have two tall targets like Sowers and Parrett and a quarterback who can make throws we’re able to make plays now when we want to, not when we have to…and Nathan put some throws right on the spot tonight.”
There was more history at Smith Field. Lance Miller got some post-game TV time with the Fox 45 broadcast crew. Red-faced, he made the most of it with the same efficiency he showed carrying the football. You take what the opportunity gives you; and you’re always ready for more.
“It’s a lot different to have the extra aspect of a passing game,” Miller admitted, unaccustomed to the media attention over his two scores and 63 yards rushing. “We still do well what we’ve done well before, but now we can do more. That helps. It opens things up more for everyone, and we’re still working hard to improve.”
It was community appreciation night in Covington, and it was no coincidence that the community appreciated the added aspect of Buccs’ football as much as those who play.
“It helps when you can throw the ball,” said one patron of the chain-link fence that encircles the track and playing field. “It’s just easier when the the other team has to defend more than one thing.”
That added aspect of which Nathan Blei and Lance Miller spoke.
Taking advantage of playmakers, like Tristin Sowers and Zach Parrett.
And having fun. To a man…Cates, Blei, Miller, et. al., are having fun while they make some history.
Dennis Willoughby, the community’s proclaimed #1 fan was dancing in the end zone Thursday, but that’s not new. He’s done that for years…except that was then, and this is NOW.
Understand…this is not your dad’s Covington football team. But Dad would have liked it!