St. Henry’s road-grading offensive line paved the way as the Redskins scored a season-opening win against a Covington Buccs’ team that struggled to stay on the field in the Redskins’ 22-0 victory.
Covington coach Tyler Cates was left shaking his head.
Both St. Henry and Covington have things to improve on after Friday night’s season opener. But starting the season with a victory always helps ease any concerns this early in the season. On Friday that was St. Henry, which wore down Covington with its road-grading offensive line for a 22-0 victory.
St. Henry returns four starters from last season’s line, highlighted by 6-foot-7, 310-pound senior left tackle Caden Niekamp. Senior Cameron McEldowney 95-11, 275) is the lone newcomer at left guard. Junior center Carter Staugler (6-0, 200), senior right guard Payton Lange 96-3, 225) and senior right tackle Devin Siefring (5-10, 195) gives Luthman stability with the loss of key skill players from last season.
Both offenses struggled in the first half, but the Redskins put some second-half drives together to for the season-opening win.
“Week one it always feels like you left something on the table, that’s for sure,” Luthman said. “Any time we get out of here with a win – because we know what kind of program and what kind of season Covington is going to have – we’re really happy going back to Mercer County with this one.”
St. Henry, unofficially, finished with 309 yards in total offense. Senior running back Zach Niekamp benefitted from that size up front with 131 yards rushing on 21 carries. He picked up 87 of those yards in the second half.
Niekamp’s longest run in the first half went for 10 yards and he averaged four yards on 11 carries. In the second half he had runs of 12, 14 and 18 yards and averaged 8.7 yards on 10 carries.
“They had long, sustained drives and it wears you down,” Cates said of going up against St. Henry’s size. “It kind of demoralizes you. Four yard chunks at a time drains the clock and it keeps your offense off the field.”
Covington’s offense aided in that, too. While St. Henry was tacking on points here and there, Covington was struggling to stay on the field. The Buccs punted six times, lost two fumbles, tossed two interceptions and were sacked for a safety. Their longest drive went for 30 yards and managed two first downs overall.
On the first play of the third quarter, Covington senior Parker Dysinger caused a fumble and junior teammate Gage Kerrigan fell on it. That set the Buccs up on the Redskins’ 32-yard line. But they turned it over on the very next play when St. Henry senior Jay Knapke intercepted a pass on the 5-yard line.
“You can’t turn the ball over like that and make mental mistakes and beat a good football team,” Cates said. “We’re better than what we played tonight. Everybody is going to say what they say. That’s how it goes. I still love this football team and we have a lot to play for.”
Dysinger wreaked havoc in the first half with a deflected pass, a sack and forced and recovered a fumble on the Buccs’ 10-yard line as St. Henry was marching toward a score.
St. Henry lost three fumbles overall, but overcame them behind Niekamp’s running and senior quarterback Sam Lefeld’s efficient passing. Lefeld put St. Henry up 17-0 midway through the third when he hit Knapke in the corner of the end zone for a 24-yard lob.
Knapke, who a couple plays earlier told the coaching staff he could beat his defender, did so by winning a jump ball in the end zone.
“He went up and made a play. It kind of sealed the game it felt like,” Luthman said.
A safety late in the third pushed the lead to 19-0 and Thieman’s 25-yard field goal early in the fourth capped the scoring.
“Week one is always a season unto its own,” Luthman said. “You never know what’s going to happen in terms of injuries, whose going to get tired or what kind of weird bounce the ball is going to take.
“Early on we found out Covington is a physical football team. It’s not like we were gashing them at the start. We might have leaned on them a little bit at the end, but not in the early going.”
Covington unofficially finished with less than 100 yards in total offense. The Buccs reached St. Henry territory on their third drive and made it near midfield again before the half, but the drives stalled each time.
“Our kids played really hard. We beat ourselves,” Cates said. “Maybe we were too excited for the first night. I don’t know. We’ll look at the film. … It’s a great group of kids. It’s a tough start and we just have to regroup. We’ll get ready for Minster and look at the film.