By Josh Brown
BRANDT — Early on, both teams shots themselves in the foot.
After halftime, though, Covington (3-1, 3-0 Cross County Conference) was able to cut down on its own mistakes and cash in on all of Bethel’s in the second half — including three costly fumbles — as the Buccaneers turned an eight-point halftime lead into a 30-8 victory Friday night at Bethel High School.
“The kids did a good job of responding at halftime,” Covington coach Dave Miller said. “We made a ton of them (mistakes) in the first half, but we got a great response after halftime. I was proud of the kids for never quitting.”
“We’re still young, and we’re still building our program. And Covington has a great tradition,” Bethel coach Scott Clodfelter said. “But we tell the kids that you have to deserve to win, and anytime you turn the ball over, especially against a good team like that, you’re not winning the game.”
The turning point of the game was actually the opening drive of the second half. With Covington leading 14-8, the Bethel defense stopped the Buccs at midfield and forced a punt. But Covington’s Nathan Blei pinned the Bees at their own 4 with a perfectly-placed punt.
Bethel couldn’t make any room and fumbled into its own end zone, recovering for a Covington safety. An unportsmanlike conduct flag after the play forced the Bees to kick off from their own 10, and the Buccs cashed in the short field quickly, going 36 yards in five plays. Jared Williams finished it off with an 11-yard touchdown run, and Covington led 23-8 — a nine-point swing to start the third.
“Putting them down there deep with the punt and getting that safety, that gave us some breathing room,” Miller said. “This was a close game at halftime, but the kids never panicked. We got the safety, and the short field after that allowed us to get even more breathing room.”
The Bees drove the ball the length of the field on their ensuing possession, but on third-and-1 from the Covington 3, the Buccaneers recovered a fumble on their own 2-yard line. And on third-and-5 from their own 7, Jared Williams broke away for a 79-yard run on the first play of the fourth quarter to keep the ball in the Buccs’ hands. Shane Straw scored on the next play, a 14-yard touchdown, to make it 30-8 Covington.
“They came back and had a nice drive,” Miller said. “But we came away with a fumble at our own goal line. That was big. It was still a close football game then, and that would’ve made it closer, but our kids came up big.”
A lost fumble on the Bees’ ensuing possession put the game away.
“The bottom line is that you can’t turn the ball over,” Clodfelter said. “We’ve been preaching that, trying to get the kids to understand how important the football is. If you’re playing a great team and you don’t value the football, you’re not going to win.”
After forcing a quick three-and-out by Bethel on the game’s opening possession, Covington began to move the ball — only to be tripped up by a holding call. Instead of a first-and-10 at midfield, the Buccs were forced to punt it away.
Bethel began driving the other way, getting a pair of third-down conversions on pitch plays to Noah Burrowes to get the ball to midfield. But on second-and-7, the Bees were called for a costly false start penalty, and they were forced to punt it away two plays later.
The Buccs drove deep into Bethel territory but were faced with a fourth-and-5 from the Bethel 7. This time, though, a penalty helped Covington out as Bethel was called offsides, setting the Buccs up with a fourth-and-1 on roughly the 4. Deron White converted with a 2-yard run, then he scored on another 2-yard run to make it 7-0 Covington — a drive that traveled 77 yards in 13 plays.
The Covington defense forced another three-and-out at midfield — and the Bees threw an incomplete pass on a fake punt on fourth down to give the Buccs even better field position. Covington took it 53 yards in nine plays, with White scoring again on a 4-yard run to make it 14-0 Buccs with 2:33 until halftime.
Bethel went right to work, though, with a 23-yard run by quarterback Jacob Evans and a 12-yard run by Ian Anderson taking the Bees to the Covington 23. The drive nearly stalled, but on fourth-and-7 the Bees called a halfback pass, and Josh Wills hit Anderson with a 20-yard touchdown strike. After a pair of penalties put the ball inside the 1 for the point-after, Bethel went for two and Evans ran it in to make it 14-8 at halftime.
Wills, who entered the game with nearly 700 rushing yards in three games, only had 29 rushing yards on nine carries — but he was 1 for 1 for 20 yards through the air in the first half. Wills finished the game with 66 rushing yards to lead the way as Bethel was able to drive on the Covington defense — but shot itself in the foot with four fumbles, two lost.
It was a far cry from the game between the two teams just a year ago, though — a game in which Covington held possession of the ball for roughly three-fourths of the game in a 41-7 rout in which the Bees made one big play and that was it.
“I was proud of the kids,” Clodfelter said. “They played hard the whole way. And offensively, we did move the ball. We are much better offensively than we were last year, and hopefully we can continue to improve.”
Covington’s Ethan Herron, meanwhile, had 102 rushing yards on 10 carries in the first half alone as Covington had 187 rushing yards as a team at the break. The Buccs finished with 350-plus yards, all on the ground — and, most importantly, didn’t turn the ball over once.
Covington returns home to face Troy Christian in Week 5, while Bethel travels to Tri-County North.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.