|A SENIOR LEADER...is what Cody Swabb has been in 2008 as he started every game for the Buccs.
|YOUNG GUNS...like sophomore Tyler Noffsinger makes for high expectations in years to come.
NOVEMBER 7, 2008 - TROY
Dave Miller and the Covington Buccaneer coaching staff have a vision of what it takes to reach the elite level of high school football and it starts with basic elements of the game that have been preached to the kids on a daily basis.
First, play at a high level on every play as if each play is the most important play of the game.
Second, in one simple word - finish. Finish blocks, finish runs, finish plays and finish drives.
Not accomplishing those basic elements of the game cost a young Buccaneer team in a 40-14 defeat at the hands of Mechanicsburg in the regional semi-final at Troy Memorial Stadium on Friday.
"We didn't do those things very well and it cost us against a very good football team," said Covington coach Dave Miller. "For us to get to the level we want to be, we have to take care of the simple things."
The Buccs had every opportunity in the first half to gain some momentum and put some pressure on the top seeded team in Region 24, but didn't get it done.
Two times Covington had the ball inside the five only to be turned away - once on a failed fourth down attempt and the other via a fumble that was returned by Mechanicsburg's Ethan Price 96 yards for the score.
"That fumble took the wind out of our sails and gave them all the momentum they needed," Miller said. "We had plenty of opportunities to get some momentum, but made critical mistakes. To their credit, they capitalized on our mistakes and that's what good teams do."
Mechanicsburg took the opening kick-off and failed to move the ball on its first two plays, making a third-and-ten situation in Indians territory.
But a clutch first down by the Indians kept the drive alive and Mechanicsburg took advantage by scoring the first touchdown of the game on a one-yard run by Price.
"We had them in some long yardage situations in the first half, but didn't make the plays we needed to get our offense on the field," said Miller.
The Buccaneers came right back with a nice return by sophomore Tyler Noffsinger, who moved the ball deep into Mechanicsburg territory.
A 25-yard run by Chris Long moved the ball inside the Mechanicsburg ten as the Buccs had first-and-goal.
Two short runs by Bitner and Garrett Clark and a pass by Bitner that was batted down at the line of scrimmage leaving the Buccs two yards short of the end zone.
Facing a fourth down, Covington elected to go for it, but the Mechanicsburg defense was up to the task - stuffing Covington in the backfield.
"If we punch it in when we are inside their five, who knows what happens?" Miller questioned. "Those are the types of opportunities you have to take advantage of against good football teams."
Mechanicsburg took over on downs, but couldn't move the ball out of its own end of the field and was forced to punt.
Logan Woloch set Covington up with a nice return into Mechanicsburg's end of the field and two plays later sophomore quarterback Jake Bitner found the senior over the middle for a 27-yard touchdown strike. Woloch made several Indians defenders miss on his way to the end zone.
Not willing to surrender any momentum, Mechanicsburg responded on its next drive as quarterback Andy Huffman connected with Keith Hurst on a seven-yard scoring strike to make the score 13-7.
But the Buccaneer return game turned the tide once again as Chris "Cookie" Long broke down the right sideline and raced to the Mechanicsburg nine, setting the Buccs up with first-and-goal.
"We had some nice returns tonight," said Miller.
The Buccs moved the ball to the four on two straight running plays and faced a third-and-goal situation.
Quarterback Jake Bitner sprinted left on the option, but was hit by a Mechanicsburg defender who came clean through the line. The ball squirted loose and Price picked it up and raced 96 yards for the score.
"That was the turning point," said Miller in regards to the fumble. "Instead of possibly being ahead 14-13, we're down 19-7. That was a big momentum swing."
Mechanicsburg used the momentum and eventually took over the game in the trenches.
"We knew coming in that they (Mechanicsburg) was a bear," Miller continued. "Their line is pretty darn good. They are physical and they come after you."
The result of the Burg dominance at the line of scrimmage was another touchdown before the half as David Bethel high stepped over the Buccaneer defensive front on a one-yard run to increase the margin to 26-7 at the half.
After stopping the Buccs on the opening possession of the second half, Mechanicsburg virtually sealed the deal on its next drive as Bethel scored on a four-yard run and Huffman connected with Hirst on the two-point conversion to make the score 34-7.
Trying to get back into the game, the Buccs received a big play from its sophomore quarterback.
On a beautifully executed fake, Bitner sold the Mechanicsburg defense on a pitch but kept the ball and raced up the middle for a 71-yard touchdown run to cut the lead to 34-14.
Covington failed in its attempt at an on-side kick, leaving Mechanicsburg with excellent field position at the Indian 46.
As they had done the entire contest, Mechanicsburg took advantage to Covington's misfortune as Mason Poland hit the edge and outran the Buccaneer defense 54 yards for the score and a 40-14 win.
"Give credit where credit is due, they are a very good football team," praised Miller. "But I know we are better than what we showed tonight. We just made a lot of youthful mistakes that hurt us."
What hurts most for Covington is knowing - win or lose - it didn't play its best game for a senior class that has meant a lot to the program.
"I would have liked for tonight to be better for our seniors," said Miller. "This isn't the way I would have liked for them to go out."
Regardless of the outcome, the Buccs have accomplished a lot in a season that was filled with more than their fair share of adversity.
"We did face a lot of adversity this year," Miller reflected. "We lost seven kids for the season and had several other injuries throughout the year. We also had some things happen early in the season that were of our own doing. But the kids persevered and overcame some of those things."
And ended up exceeding the expectations of many.
"We still ended up in the same place we were last year (the regional semi-final)," Miller continued. "I wouldn't call it a great year because a great year is when you end up in Massillon. I'd call it a good year."
To get to Massillon in the future, Miller feels the Buccaneers have to commit themselves individually and collectively as a team to taking the next step.
"We have the potential next year to be as good as we want to be," he said. "Notice I said potential. The kids have to have an attitude that they'll do what it takes to get there. That means committing themselves to get stronger and doing the things we ask. The kids have to hold themselves accountable - as a team and as individuals. If we do that, the sky is the limit for us next year."
And the 2009 season starts now.