By Josh Brown
COVINGTON — For years, the triple-option ground attack was all Covington needed.
First-year coach Ty Cates’ new-look offense makes the Buccaneers even more dangerous.
Covington’s Lance Miller did rush for 200-plus yards and three touchdowns, but quarterback Nathan Blei also threw a pair of touchdowns — one to Miller in the first half — and the Buccs remained undefeated at 4-0, 3-0 in the Cross County Conference with a convincing 48-7 victory over Bethel in a showdown between undefeated teams Friday night at Covington High School.
Miller finished with 206 yards on 19 carries, scoring the first touchdown of the game on a 15-yard run late in the first quarter, then adding a 17-yarder and another long one in the second half to put the game away. Miller also had a 28-yard touchdown reception on a clutch pass from Blei on fourth-and-7 late in the second quarter that gave the Buccs a three-score lead at the time.
Blei finished with 155 yards passing with two touchdowns, with Miller adding 62 receiving yards to his monster night.
The Bethel (3-1, 1-1 CCC) defense got a stop on the game’s opening possession despite one fourth-down conversion by the Buccs, but Covington forced a quick three-and-out to get the ball back. Blei hit Zach Parrett for a first down to get the ball moving, then Ethan Herron broke a 26-yard run to put the ball on the Bee 15. Miller took the ball around the right side on an option pitch untouched to give Covington a 7-0 lead with 3:27 left in the first.
After another defensive stop, another long run by Herron keyed an 80-yard drive, with the junior breaking for 52 yards to set up first-and-10 from the 11. Three plays later, Herron punched it in from two yards out on the first play of the second quarter to make it a 14-0 game.
“Covington is a great team, a great program,” Bethel coach Scott Clodfelter said. “And we didn’t play especially well tonight. I thought we played hard, but we just made too many mistakes.”
It wasn’t a perfect game for the Buccs, though. After the Bees turned it over on downs, the Bethel defense got a sack and recovered the fumble to retake possession on the Covington 35. But the Buccs put pressure on Bethel quarterback Jacob Evans, forcing a bad pass — that Herron intercepted and returned to the Bethel 44.
“That was probably the play of the game,” Clodfelter said. “We were still right there in the game at that point and got a big turnover. We had a guy open, but they got some pressure and suddenly their guy was taking it the other way. That was the turning point.”
Six plays later, on fourth-and-7, Blei hit Miller over the middle for a 28-yard touchdown pass to make the score 21-0 with 5:17 left in the half.
Bethel got some momentum going into halftime. Evans kept an option play and took it 45 yards for a touchdown, then the Bee defense stopped Covington on the 1-yard line on the final play of the half to keep it a 14-point deficit.
But the Covington defense got a stop on the first possession of the third quarter, and Miller cashed in a 17-yard touchdown to make the score 27-7. After another stop, Miller broke a long touchdown run to give Covington a 34-7 lead after three. Blei hit Tristin Sowers with a 26-yard touchdown pass to make it 41-7, and Gage Kerrigan added a late 1-yard touchdown run after a Bethel turnover to make it 48-7.
“We did have a goal-line stand at the half, kept the score close,” Clodfelter said. “But we kind of got worn down. We don’t have the depth that they do, and our guys were a little tired I think. They got a couple of big plays early in the second half to seal it.”
Zach Parrett intercepted a pass in the final minute to seal the win.
In Week 5, Covington will travel to Troy Christian looking to defend its perfect record in non-league play, while Bethel will look to bounce back at home against Tri-County North.
“We’re still 3-1,” Clodfelter said. “We’re still okay. We’ve just got to keep the big picture in front of the guys. We’ve got to work hard from here on out, and we’ve still got some big games coming up.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.