Troy Christian made an epic comeback, But Covington made the biggest play of the game, a goal-line stand on a two point conversion that kept the Buccaneers perfect.
Troy – The highlights actually began before the game at Eagle Stadium at Troy Christian High School.
The Troy Christian fifth and sixth grade choir got everyone in a good mood with a delightful rendition of the National Anthem. No one took a knee or raised a fist, just a perfect way to start a battle of un-beaten teams.
The Eagles and the Buccaneers then provided plenty of highlights of their own once the game kicked off.
Behind the running of Lance Miller, and a defense that continually bent but didn’t break, Covington appeared on their way to a convincing win when Miller ran 16 yards for his third score of the evening. That gave the Buccaneers a 27-7 lead midway through the third quarter, and even had some fans thinking about heading for the exits.
Troy Christian, however, did not go home early.
The Eagles, after turning the ball over on downs four times in Covington territory, including twice in the red zone, finally started clicking. Senior quarterback Hayden Hartman threw a pair of scoring passes, then drove the Eagles inside the Covington ten with a minute left, down 27-20. Jacob Calvert, a senior running back who had a brilliant duel with Miller all night, made his way into the end zone with 31 seconds left to make it a one-point game.
First year head coach Ryan Jones then made the decision that head coaches get paid for. The Eagles went for two and the win.
They didn’t get it.
Calvert was slammed to the turf just short of the goal-line, and the Buccaneers recovered the ensuing onside kick to preserve a 27-26 win and remain unbeaten at 5-0. The Eagles fell to 4-1.
“Wow, that was a crazy game,” said first year Covington coach Ty Cates. “We played a great first half, and you have to give Troy Christian credit. They made some nice plays in the passing game and 21(Calvert) is a nice player. I’m really proud of our kids. We didn’t play great defense tonight, but when we had our backs against the wall, and the momentum was against us, they made the play we had to have to win the game.
“Covington kids are rare. They are going to fight until the very end and I’m just proud of my boys. I don’t want them to give me a heart attack like that very often, but I’m proud to be their coach.”
“Our kids gave a tremendous effort,” Ryan Jones said outside the quiet Eagle locker-room. “ I couldn’t be more proud of the way they played and the way they fought tonight. They put themselves in position to win the game.”
Jones talked about the decision to go for two.
“You try to think about overtime, and how overtime will go. We were at home, we were moving the ball and had the momentum, and we thought we could punch it in. We took a shot to win the game and just came up a couple of inches short.”
The game featured a brilliant ground game performance on both sides. Miller, getting the bulk of the work with Ethan Herron out with a knee injury, ran 20 times for 229 yards, and scoring runs of 26, 55 and 16 yards. He was distraught after the game, however, about a fourth quarter fumble that kept the Eagles alive.
“We, myself especially, gave them a lot of opportunities to get back in the game,” said Miller. “Stupid fumbles, and we just can’t have that. We won the game, and that’s what counts, but I let my team down tonight and that kills me.”
Calvert, a 6-1, 200 pound senior, was equally awesome for the Eagles, toting the rock 27 times for 213 yards. Hartman threw for 201 yards and three scores, and led the Eagles to 487 yards on the night.
Troy Christian had several opportunities to roll over, but never did.
Covington scored on the game’s opening possession, going 63 yards in five plays, with Miller scoring from 26 yards out. Troy Christian drove deep into Covington territory, but turned the ball over on downs, which became a theme for the night. The Buccs then went 95 yards in 7 plays, with Nathan Blei finding Joe Scmelzer from 45 yards out to make it 14-0.
Troy Christian got on the board early in the second when Hartman found Jacob Brown from five yards, But Miller got loose on the next play from scrimmage and out-ran the TC defense for a 55- yard jaunt and a 21-7 lead at the half.
Miller’s third TD of the night capped an 8 play, 72-yard march that gave the Buccs a commanding 27-7 lead, but the Eagles proved their worth as they dominated the final 17 minutes of the game and almost pulled out a win that very few thought they could get.
Miller brightened up when asked about the progress of the Buccaneers.
“We are getting better every day. We have a new system, and when you look back at the St Henry win (27-13 in the opener) to the past couple of weeks, we are a much better team. We just have to keep working and keep doing what the coaches tell us.”
Cates told a solemn bunch of Buccaneers after the game that they needed a game like this one.
“When you dominate every game, you don’t know how you will handle adversity. Will the moment be too big for them? You have to have those moments so you know how they will react. As a coach, you want to minimize the drama, but it’s great to know that we can respond to those moments.
“Our kids have only been excited about beating St Henry and Bethel. If they don’t play great and they know it, even if we win, that’s not good enough. These kids have such high expectations, that’s why they’re winners. That’s why I think they have a chance to go far in the playoffs. They don’t settle for mediocrity. But I still want them to enjoy it and have fun. Hey, we are 5-0. They should enjoy that.”
While disappointed, Jones said there were a lot of positives for his club, which numbered 30 on this night.
“Covington is a traditional power and we wanted to see how we measured up to them. We found that we could play with them. But more than that, it’s the way they fought. They could have gotten down when we got behind and they didn’t. They had the resolve to fight back, and gave a tremendous effort. I’m very proud of them, We have a great football team here, and I am lucky to have a team with such talent and great character.”
Cates was happy to get out of Troy with the win, but he knows his team can get better.
“We have to fix the turnovers, they just kill you,” he said as he headed for the bus. “We beat a good football team tonight that gave us everything they had. We saw tonight that we are a resilient football team and we will learn and get better from this. We aren’t hitting on all cylinders yet. We are a good football team, but we have a lot of room for improvement.”