Things have been tough for the Covington football program for the past nine years. In that time the Buccs had three straight horrendous seasons in which they finished 1-9 in each of the 1989, 1990 and 1991 seasons. Only once since 1985 has a Covington team finished with a winning record and that was two years ago when the Buccs closed out the season with a modest 6-4 record.
Enter Bob Riley, a coach with a winning legacy at Miami East, to take over the task in turning the Buccs around. Sure, a solid program isn't built in a day, or even a year, but if the performance of Riley's Buccs in '94 is any indication, the program may have bright days ahead.
The Buccs fielded a very young team with a solid nucleus in juniors, Brain Cassel, Andy Shaffer, Brian Rudy, Jason Durbin and sophomore quarterback Matt Weikert.
The young Buccs started the season against Riley's old team, the Miami East Vikings. Despite a stellar defensive effort, the Buccs couldn't generate enough offense and came up on the short end of a 7-6 score.
Trailing 7-0 with 6:46 left in the game, Brian Cassel broke loose for a 55-yard run to put the ball on the Viking one. Three plays later Andy Shaffer bulled his way in from there to make the score 7-6. Riley then chose to go for the 2-point conversion but came up short.
"We had a heck of a time getting down there and with 5 minutes left I didn't know if we could get down there again," Riley said. "I know you can go into overtime, but I felt we needed to go for the win at that point."
Despite falling short against Miami East, the Buccs bounced back with a big win the following week against National Trail. Brian Cassel led the charge with 120 yards rushing and three touchdowns, one coming on an 82-yard punt return. Sophomore Dale Thompson and Andy Shaffer also reached the endzone for the Buccs as they won going away, 47-12.
The Buccs were not as fortunate the next two weeks as the offense hit rock bottom. Covington failed to score a point as Tri-County North and Bethel outscored the Buccs by a combined total of 78-0.
With a 1-3 record staring them in the face the Buccs could have easily packed it in, but they showed resiliency by rebounding to defeat Mississinawa Valley 45-0 in week four. Covington's ground game set the tone with 246 first half yards and a 33-0 lead at the half. Brain Cassel, Nick Manson, Brian Rudy, Andy Shaffer and Jerry Carder all found the endzone in a balanced offensive attack.
Looking to keep the momentum going the Buccs played an excellent first half against the Arcanum Trojans. Covington led 12-7 after two quarters of play on two Andy Shafer touchdown runs. Unfortunately for the Buccs, Arcanum poured it on in the second half by scoring 28 unanswered points for a 35-12 win.
The Buccs lost their next two games to Twin Valley South and Ansonia and suddenly the wheels appeared to be coming off the wagon again. The Buccs had their opportunities against South, but youthful mistakes cost them a 22-18 loss. Then Ansonia never let the Buccs into the game as they jumped off to a 24-0 halftime lead and cruised to a 43-6 win.
With two games to play and holding a 2-6 record, again the Buccs could have given up and looked forward to next season. But, that's not the character of a Bob Riley coached football team.
The young Buccs rebounded once again by playing their best football of the season. Covington dominated on both sides of the ball to capture a 35-0 win over Lakeside Dansbury and then a 47-0 shellacking of Bradford.
"That was an old-fashioned butt whipping," said Bradford coach Greg Hale after the Buccs forced six turnovers to capture the win in the season finale.
In a sloppy mess the Buccs rolled up 391 yards on the ground in the 50th meeting between the two teams. Andy Shaffer ran for 152 yards and Brian Rudy cranked out 124 yards of his own. Shaffer, Brian Cassel, Rudy, Jimmy Finfrock and Eric Hunt all scored for the Buccs.
Closing out the season with two shutout wins left the coach proud of the players he loses to graduation and looking forward to the ones coming back.
"We finished the season with two wins," said coach Riley, whose Buccs finished 4-6 overall and 3-5 in the Cross County Conference. "It was a nice way to end the season. We feel like we have some pretty good football players coming back next season and this kind of builds toward that."
Likely towards a winning season!
Big Bucc Performers of '94: Matt Weikert, Andy Shaffer, Brian Rudy, Brian Cassel, Jimmy Finfrock, Eric Hunt, Rob Immel Ward Bell, Bill Hicks, Nick Manson, Jerry Carder, Dale Thompson, and Jason Durbin.