|Junior lineman Ethan Nash fires off the ball to open up a hole.
|Freshman Ethan Herron looks for room to run against Tri-County North.
OCTOBER 3, 2014 - LEWISBURG
October 16, 2009 was the last time the Covington Buccaneers walked off the field on the losing end against a Cross County Conference opponent - just 13 days short of five years.
It's also been 16 years since the Buccs lost to Tri-County North, that coming in 1998 by the score of 18-0.
Which is why there was a huge celebration at midfield - and justifiably so - by Tri-County North after the Panthers broke open a hard-fought contest with two quick fourth quarter scores to hand the Buccaneers a 36-6 defeat.
"They're good," praised Covington coach Dave Miller of the Panthers. "Especially their backs, they are tough. They've got some physical kids."
When facing a team the caliber of Tri-County North, a team loaded with experience on both sides of the ball, limiting mistakes and protecting the football is a must. Unfortunately, a young Buccaneer team wasn't able to do either of those things and it cost them dearly.
On the opening possession of the game the Covington defense had a perfect opportunity to get a stop on fourth down. Unfortunately, a Buccaneer lineman lined up off sides, giving the Panthers a first down in which they ultimately converted into a four-yard scoring plunge by Garrett Woodyard.
Another Buccaneer mistake occurred midway through the second quarter as the Panthers faced a fourth-and-13 at the Covington 25. As senior quarterback Colton Booth rolled out to avoid pressure, a breakdown in coverage by Covington left a wide open Blake Lawson as a receiving target for a first down inside the Buccaneer ten.
Three plays later Woodyard scored from one yards out to give Tri-County North a 14-0 lead.
Up to that point the Covington offense spent most of the first half spinning its wheels.
"Our offense put our defense in some tough situations," Miller said. "I think we only had something like four yards of offense in the first quarter. For the most part, the entire first half was played on our side of the fifty."
With time clicking away in the first half, the Buccaneer offense suddenly found some life.
Huge runs by Brock Murphy and a personal foul penalty by the Panthers put Covington into scoring position with under a minute left in the half.
Another big run, this time by quarterback Nathan Blei, gave the Buccaneers first-and-ten at the 12 with 39 seconds left and three timeouts.
But the Buccs couldn't cash in as three straight plays netted eight yards to force a field goal attempt with three seconds left - an attempt that went wide right to leave the score at 14-0 at the break.
"Not being able to put points on the board at the end of the half hurt," Miller explained. "We were getting some momentum there with the offense and we knew we were getting the ball to start the second half. A score there at the end of the half would have been huge, but we didn't get it done."
Covington did get the ball to start the second half, but fumbled to give the Panthers the ball near midfield, which ultimately resulted in a 27-yard touchdown strike from Colton Booth to Blake Lawson to push the margin to 21-0.
The Covington offense responded on the ensuing possession, executing a scoring drive that needed a fourth down conversion along the way. Senior halfback Brock Murphy scooted his way in from 11 yards out to cut the deficit to 21-6 as the point-after was off the mark to begin the fourth quarter.
With the momentum on its side of the field, the Covington defense had the Panthers bottled up on the ensuing possession - facing a fourth-and-short near midfield. But once again, a Buccaneer lineman jumped to give North a new set of downs.
And like before, the Panthers took advantage with a 10-yard touchdown run by Woodyard and then a two-point conversion run by Colton Overholtz to push the margin to 29-6.
"We made a lot of mistakes tonight, mistakes we shouldn't be making at this point in the season," Miller said. "We jumped off sides multiple times and put the ball on he ground way too much."
One final Buccaneer miscue capped the evening and sent the Tri-County North fan base into a frenzy as a Covington fumble was scooped up by Trey Summers and returned 38 yards for the touchdown, sealing the 36-6 win for the Panthers.
"Too many mistakes," closed Miller. "You can't give teams like that extra chances and that's what we did tonight."
Statistically, the game was fairly even with Tri-County North rushing for 193 yards and Covington churning out 188 yards on the ground.
The Panthers held a bigger edge through the air with 83 yards to 15 for Covington, which made the total yards for both teams 276 for North and 203 for the Buccs.
But what ultimately was Covington's doom was the two fumbles and five untimely penalties that extended drives for the Panthers - drives that resulted in touchdowns.
And touchdowns that resulted in a huge celebration for the unbeaten Panthers and leaving Covington looking to rebound next week against another unbeaten team in the Miami East Vikings.