|Branden Robinson closes in on a tackle.
|A.J. Ouellette runs up the middle for a first down.
OCTOBER 4, 2013 - COVINGTON
The Cross County Conference gets a bad rap at times due to lopsided scores, but Friday night's battle between Covington and Tri-County North should dispel the notion of non-competitive football games.
That's because two unbeaten football teams put on a show of hard, physical football for four quarters with Covington gutting out a 22-14 victory.
"That's the type of game we needed, the type of game this conference needed," said Covington coach Dave Miller. "Great competition brings out your best and this game was as competitive as you can get."
It also led to mutual respect.
"Absolutely," Miller agreed. "I really believe they (Tri-County North) can win that region (Region 22). That's a darn good football team they have. If they play like that from here on out they'll be tough to beat. Their kids played very hard."
And so did Covington's kids, which was needed to overcome three turnovers at inopportune times.
The first turnover came in the opening frame as a Buccaneer fumble was scopped up and returned inside the ten. Fortunately for Covington, the defense stiffened to force a field goal attempt that was tipped by senior A.J. Ouellette.
Covington then put together a long sustaining drive that was capped by an 18-yard touchdown run by Ouellette to give Covington a 6-0 lead after the extra point attempt went wide.
The Buccaneers then recovered a Panther fumble and turned the theft into another score as sophomore quarterback Jared Williams connected with Chance Setters from 17 yards out to push the lead to 12-0 with 3::26 left in the first half.
Which was just enough time for senior quarterback Austin Hutchins and the Tri-County North offense as the Panthers connected on a third-and-long for a 25-yard scoring strike from Hutchins to Logan Elmore. The point-after attempt by Trey Summers was true to cut the Panther deficit to 12-7 at the break.
Covington received the ball to start the second half and took 8:00 off the clock on a drive that was capped by a 23-yard field goal by A.J. Ouellette to push the Buccaneer lead to 15-7.
"That was a big drive," Miller said. "What we did to start the second half was what we were suppose to do - drive eight minutes and put points on the board."
Covington's defense then stepped up at midfield as it held Tri-County North on two straight downs after the Panthers had a third-and-one.
Unfortunately for the Buccs, the second fumble of the night for the men in black gave the Panthers new life on the very next play.
"We stopped them on fourth down and a score there would have been huge," said Miller. "Instead, we fumble and give them the momentum right back."
But as often as Covington's offensive miscues put the defense in bad situations, the defense managed to come through in crunch time.
This time it was senior Dalton Bordelon who recorded three straight quarterback sacks for negative 35 yards to force the Panthers to punt with their backs to the end zone.
And the Covington offense thrived off of the defensive effort by putting together a clock-chewing drive without A.J. Ouellette, who was on the sideline with an equipment issue.
Senior fullback Bobby Alexander carried much of the load on the drive, but it was freshman Nathan Blei who reached pay dirt on a four-yard run to push the Covington lead to 22-7 with 8:39 left in the game.
Tri-County North took the ensuing possession deep into Covington territory and had first-and-goal inside the Buccaneer five.
But two straight run plays resulted in no gain and a sack by Ian Fries made it fourth-and-goal. The Panthers then attempted a rollout pass in the right side of the end zone, but the ball was off the mark as Covington took over with under 3:00 to go.
Two straight Buccaneer first downs moved the ball to the 25, but with 1:06 left to go Covington committed the one cardinal sin it couldn't afford when trying to kill the clock - a fumble.
The Panthers recovered and two plays later Hutchins connected with Garrett Woodyard in the back of the end zone from 18 yards away to cut the deficit to 22-14 with 53 seconds left in the game.
"The fumbles drive you nuts," Miller stressed. "That and leaving points off the board (with missed extra points). That's beating yourself."
Looking to give itself a chance to at least tie the score, the Panthers attempted an on-side kick that was smothered by senior Justin Williams for the Buccs.
From there Covington took a knee to end the contest with a 22-14 victory and improve to 6-0 overall and 5-0 in the CCC.
The Buccs travel to Miami East face another unbeaten next week, while Tri-County North (5-1, 4-1) host winless Bradford.