|The return game will play a critical role on Friday.
By Rob Kiser, Piqua Daily Call
COVINGTON — It will be like going from one extreme to the other for the Covington football team’s defense this week.
After surviving the prolific passing of Worthington Christian quarterback Lucas Hartings in the first round of the D-VI playoffs last week, the Buccs will face the Chillicothe Southeastern ground attack led by quarterback speedster Lane Ruby Friday night in a 7 p.m. kickoff at Xenia’s Doug Adams Stadium.
Southeastern brings an 11-0 record into the game and Covington is 9-2.
Hartings completed 13 of 26 passes for 260 yards in the Buccs 33-27 win after the Warriors tried to rally from a 27-7 halftime deficit.
It was Covington’s closest game since a 35-13 win over Miami East in week 6 and six of Covington’s nine wins have come by running clock.
“You never want to be in that situation at the time,” Covington football coach Ty Cates said. “Worthington Christian had all the momentum. I was really proud of the way our kids stepped up. It showed we can win a big game — that we can win a close game.”
And Cates was not surprised by the way his team responded.
“I think it is a credit to our seniors,” he said “They showed tremendous leadership in that situation. A lot of our seniors have been starting since they were sophomores and it just shows what a great group of seniors we have.”
The Buccs will face a very different challenge this week.
Ruby, one of the top sprinters in the state, is a 5-9, 175-pound senior.
During the regular season, he averaged 15 yards a carry from the quarterback position, rushing for 1,976 yards and 32 touchdowns on 131 carries.
He also completed 28 of 45 passes for 595 yards and four touchdowns.
Along with setting the single season school record for rushing this season, he also has the career records for rushing yards with 4,843 and touchdowns with 68.
Ruby also average 48 yards on four kickoff returns this season.
Also in the backfield are junior Mikey Nusser (5-7, 190) and senior Dalton Thurston (5-10, 170).
Nusser rushed for 867 yards and 15 TDs on 120 carries, while Thurston rushed for 571 yards and seven touchdowns on 58 carries.
The offensive line is anchored by senior Alan Mead (6-3, 260) and junior Nathan Howard (6-1, 215); while the leading receiver is senior tight end Tanner Chenault (6-1, 215).
He caught 10 balls for 228 yards and one touchdown.
“They have a huge offensive line,” Cates said. “They only throw the ball three or four times a game. They line up in a real tight formation. Almost foot to foot. We haven’t seen it in a couple years. The quarterback runs the ball almost every play. It looks like kind of like a rugby scrum. They pull just about everyone.”
The key is keeping Ruby from breaking free.
“I don’t think you are ever going to completely contain a guy (Lane Ruby) like that,” Cates said. “You just try to limit his big plays. We had to spend more time on run defense this week, but you don’t have to spend as much time on pass defense, so it kind of evens out.”
Southeastern will show both 4-3 and 5-2 looks on defense.
Nusser had 92 tackles for the Panthers during the regular season from his linebacker position, with eight tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
Ruby had 66 tackles from the secondary, with five pass breakups, three interceptions and three tackles for loss.
Thurston, another defensive back, had 61.5 tackles, four interceptions, three tackles for loss, two sacks and two forced fumbles.
“It is a bend, but don’t break defense,” Cates said. “They are going to make you drive the length of the field.”
Another concern is special times.
“That is something we have had to spend a lot of time on in practice,” Cates said. “They onside kick about 80 percent of the time. The quarterback (Lane Ruby) does the kicking. So, we have to be ready for that.”
Covington did what they have done all season in the win over Worthington Christian.
On offense, they showed great balance.
Senior quarterback Cade Schmelzer (6-2, 195) completed seven of 13 passes for 79 yards, including a touchdown pass to senior Andrew Cates (6-1, 185). Senior Kleyton Maschino (6-1, 155) had a 39-yard reception.
The backfield rushed for 353 yards, with Schmelzer, senior Brayden Wiggins (5-7, 170), junior Duncan Cooper (6-0, 175), Cates, senior Trentin Alexander (5-9, 175) and senior Alex Shaffer (5-10, 150) combining on the carries.
Wiggins had 101 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, Alexander had 55 yards on 12 carries and Shaffer had a 44-yard run.
Schmelzer now has 23 touchdown passes with just three interceptions.
“That is a great ratio,” Cates said.
Covington’s 3-4 defense again made all the big plays it has all season in giving up just a little over 10 points a game.
On the second play of the game, Maschino set up the first score with his six interception of the season.
On the next series, Covington stopped a fake punt to get another short field.
And with Worthington Christian trailing just 27-21 early in the fourth quarter, the Covington defense led by Cooper and senior defensive lineman Jesse Fisher (6-0, 2150 and Teague Deaton (5-11, 225) swarmed the backfield to give Covington another short field.
“They have made big plays for us all year,” Cates said.
The Buccs are not overly concerned with the weather.
“The field might be a little slicker,” Cates said. “There are little things like using handwarmers. But really, once the game gets going it is just football.”
It will be Covington’s first game on turf, which is not a concern either.
“Our guys like turf,” Cates said. “We always make sure we have a 7-7 on turf and we played on turf in the playoffs last year. We have pretty good speed, so I think turf helps us. I am old school — I prefer grass. But, the kids love turf.”
While Covington has 14 playoff wins in its history to Southeastern’s two; that won’t be significant Friday night.
“Our seniors have been to the playoffs three of the last four years,” Cates said. “But, so have Southeastern’s so. So, I don’t think there is any advantage there.”
Covington is looking for its first regional final appearance since 2012.
And to do that, they are going to have to go to the other extreme to stop the team and quarterback standing in the way.