By Josh Brown
TROY — One red-zone stop on Covington’s defense’s first series of the game.
Three more from just outside the red zone. And after Troy Christian put itself in a position to win in the game’s final minute, one titanic stop right at the goal line.
Lance Miller gave the Buccaneer what they needed on offense, but the defense made the biggest play of the game.
Miller had a second straight 200-yard game on the ground and scored three touchdowns, Nathan Blei threw for another and the Buccaneer defense bent, almost broke, but got the big stop on a two-point conversion try when it needed it in a 27-26 victory over Troy Christian in a middle-of-the-season matchup with massive playoff implications Friday night at Eagle Stadium.
With the win, Covington — which entered the night No. 1 in the Division VII, Region 28 playoff computer standings — improved to 5-0 with the victory for the first time since its 2013 undefeated regular season. Troy Christian — the N0. 2 team in the D-VII, Region 28 standings — fell to 4-1.
The game ended in thrilling fashion, with Covington fumbling the ball away late in the fourth — only to have the Eagles fumble it right back on the next play. Jacob Brown intercepted a pass in the end zone, and the Eagles converted a pair of fourth downs along the way to a late touchdown run by Jacob Calvert that made the score 27-26 with 31 seconds remaining in the game. The Eagles elected to go for the win — and Covington’s defense stopped the two-point run try at the goal line to seal the win.
Covington’s offense looked strong to begin the game, with Miller capping off a seven-play, 63-yard drive with a 21-yard touchdown run, cutting a play to the outside back to the middle of the field and fighting his way across the goal line to give the Buccs an early 7-0 lead.
Troy Christian attempted to answer on the ground, with Calvert carrying the ball on 11 of the 13 plays on its opening drive and converting one fourth down in the process. But on fourth-and-1 from the Covington 5-yard line, Calvert was stuffed on a run up the middle, and the Bucc offense took over. Seven plays later, Blei hit Joey Schmelzer in stride for a 45-yard touchdown pass to make it 14-0 Covington with 1:04 left in the first quarter.
The Eagles took to the air on their second possession, and quarterback Hayden Hartman worked the ball efficiently down the field. a 35-yard completion to Brown along the right sideline gave the Eagles first-and-goal from the 9, then Hartman hit Brown on a fade in the corner of the end zone for a 6-yard touchdown to cut the Buccs’ lead in half early in the second quarter.
Miller had the answer, though, breaking a 55-yard touchdown run on the first play of the ensuing possession to make it 21-7 with 10:33 to play in the half. Troy Christian then turned the ball over on downs at the Covington 25-yard line, but Seth Douglas later recovered a Covington fumble and the Eagles took over at their own 28.
Troy Christian went on a 14-play drive all the way to the Bucc 24, but a string of six straight incompletions — mixed with a pass interference penalty on the Buccs — put an end to the drive, and the half, with the score 21-7 Covington.
Miller had 145 yards and two touchdowns on only eight first-half carries as Covington piled up 308 yards of offense to Troy Christian’s 225. Hartman completed 10 passes for 112 yards — with Brown grabbing seven receptions for 94 yards — in the first half.
Covington began the second half by forcing a turnover on downs on its own 27, then Miller finished off a 73-yard drive with a 16-yard touchdown run to make it 27-7 … but that’s when Troy Christian began to battle back.
Hartman capped off a long drive with a 36-yard touchdown pass to Isaac Hivner to cut the lead to 27-14 late in the third quarter, then with 9:53 left in the game, Hartman hit Brown on a 5-yard slant pass on fourth-and-goal to get the Eagles back to within one score at 27-20.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.