By Josh Brown
COVINGTON — After a sluggish start last week at Tri-County North, Covington was looking to come out of the gates strong.
Miami East didn’t even make it out of the locker room in time for the traditional pregame festivities.
The end result? Covington scoring the game’s first 21 points to jump out to a huge lead, but Miami East was able to get a little momentum before halftime. The Vikings continued their comeback attempt into the game’s closing minutes, but a late interception by Lance Miller in the game’s final two minutes sealed a 28-17 Buccaneer victory in the battle between the Cross County Conference’s last two unbeaten teams Thursday night in Covington.
“You can’t spot anybody 21 points,” Miami East coach Max Current said. “That doesn’t put you in a good situation. But my guys battled back.
“There’s been teams in the past that would’ve folded up shop after doing that, and it would’ve been 42-0. But once we got rolling a little in the second quarter, the guys battled.”
With the win, Covington improved to 7-0 and took control of the CCC race at 5-0. Miami East, meanwhile, fell to 5-2 on the season and 5-1 in the CCC, leaving the Vikings needing one of the Buccaneers’ final three opponents to score an upset if they want to again share the conference crown as they did last year.
The Buccaneers wasted no time, breaking a long touchdown on the third play from scrimmage. After a short run by Miller and a wide receiver screen to Tristin Sowers on the left side of the field, Zach Parrett took another wideout screen from quarterback Nathan Blei along the right sideline, cut it back all the way to the left sideline and took it 55 yards for a touchdown to stake Covington out to a 7-0 lead less than a minute and a half in.
After a quick three-and-out by the Vikings (5-2, 5-1 CCC), Covington continued its forward momentum on its next drive, earning first downs on four consecutive plays — and six on its first eight plays of the game total — before turning the ball over on downs on fourth-and-1 at the Miami East 6-yard line.
Two plays later, though, the Buccs forced a turnover as Zane Barnes recovered a Miami East fumble. Miller was stopped at the goal line on third down, but he plowed through on a 1-yard touchdown run on fourth-and-goal, and Covington led 14-0 with 1:34 left in the first quarter.
“We fumbled inside our own 10. I don’t care how good you are, that’s a bad, bad recipe,” Current said.
Miami East finally began to move the football on the ensuing drive, earning its first first down of the game, but the Vikings were forced to punt — and a 30-yard punt return by Branden Robinson put the Buccs near midfield. Seven plays and 53 yards later, Blei hit Sowers on a post route in the back of the end zone for an 11-yard touchdown, making it a 21-0 game early in the second quarter and putting the Vikings’ backs against the wall.
It finally woke them up.
The Vikings embarked on a 14-play, 64-yard drive — more plays than they’d run in their previous three drives combined. Miami East converted a fourth down and two third downs along the way, and Arron Adams finally put the Vikings in the end zone on a 3-yard touchdown run to make the score 21-7 Covington with 1:43 left in the half. Adams then intercepted an overthrown pass by Blei to give the Vikings one more chance with less than a minute left, but a sack ended the half with the Buccs still up by 14.
Blei was 10 for 13 passing for 133 yards in the first half, with Parrett catching four passes for 74 yards and a score to lead the offense. Lance Miller also had 40 of the Buccs’ 50 first-half rushing yards in the first half. Levi Adducchio led the Vikings with 38 yards on eight carries, but Miami East only had 79 yards of offense at the break — 64 of them on its lone touchdown drive.
“Our tackling was bad early on, but once we got a feel for the game, the kids adjusted well,” Current said. “There were just a few plays here and there we should’ve made but didn’t.”
Adducchio broke off a big run early on the Vikings’ first possession of the second half, and East converted a fourth down to get first-and-goal from the 9. The Vikings went backwards from there, though, and they settled for a 30-yard Colton Kowalak field goal to cut the Covington lead to 21-10 with 8:07 left in the third quarter.
After the teams traded punts, Blei hit Parrett for a 25-yard gain to help the Buccs regain some momentum, and Miller capped off the drive with a 2-yard score to put Covington back up by 18 at 28-10 at the end of three.
But the Vikings answered with a long drive, including a 30-yard pass from quarterback Ian Gengler to Adams and a clutch reception by Omar Seleme on fourth down to set Miami East up with first-and-goal from the 9. Two plays later, Gengler punched it in on a 1-yard sneak, and the Buccs’ lead was cut to 11 with 8:52 left to play.
An interception by Joseph Villella put the Vikings back in business in Covington territory, but the Bucc defense forced a turnover on downs at the Covington 29 with less than five minutes remaining. The Vikings forced a punt and got the ball back with 3:22 left in the game. Gengler hit Justin Brown with a long pass to get the ball into Covington territory, but a 19-yard penalty took it all the way back to their own 46. Two plays later, Gengler hit Adams with a 44-yard bomb to set up first-and-goal from the 10, but on fourth-and-goal from the 7, Covington’s Parrett tipped the pass to teammate Miller for an interception in the end zone, dashing the Vikings’ comeback hopes.
Gengler had a huge second half, going 8 for 15 for 156 yards in the game, with Adams catching four passes for 62 yards and Brown two passes for 73 yards. Adducchio led the Vikings on the ground with 73 yards on 19 carries.
“Ian came through with some nice throws,” Current said of Gengler. “He made plays when he had to, and Arron and Omar made some nice grabs to help him out. He’s just a sophomore, and we want him to get better each week. He’s progressed from the beginning of the season, and we hope he keeps progressing.”
Blei finished the game with 163 passing yards, with Parrett piling up more than 100 of that. All told, Miami East outgained Covington 279-278, but the Vikings turned it over twice to the Buccs’ one.
Covington travels to Twin Valley South in Week 8, while Miami East will look to bounce back at home against Tri-County North.
“It was a good experience for the boys, to get to play on TV,” Current said. “Right now, they feel bad. But it’ll be something they can look back on when they’re done playing.
“Covington’s a nice team, they’ve got some nice players and they made plays when they had to. We’ve got to refocus and can’t let this one game dictate how the rest of our season goes. We’ve got to get ready for Tri-County North next week and finish the season strong. My guys battled tonight, and I’m proud of them for that.”
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.