By Josh Brown
CASSTOWN — With two battle-tested Cross County Conference rivals like Miami East and Covington facing off, war was inevitable.
And with the driver’s seat in the league on the line, the Vikings were able to hold on.
Miami East turned a one-point halftime lead into a blowout with 21 unanswered second-half points, but Covington recovered a pair of onside kicks and got all the way back to within eight before the Vikings were able to close out a 34-26 victory Friday night in Casstown.
“Phew,” Miami East coach Max Current said after the game. “That got a little hairy there at the end. They got two onside kicks on us in a row. I’ve never seen such a thing. Those were (darn) good onside kicks. But Covington’s a good football team. Their record’s deceiving. They’ve played some outstanding teams in the first six games of their schedule. And they’ve got a lot of young kids, so they’re going to be a good team for a while.
“My guys just battled to the end. They’ve faced adversity all season — and I think they feed off of it. We’ve had adversity almost every game, but they’ve been battling.”
With Miami East (5-1, 4-0 CCC) leading 34-12 with 5:55 left in the game, the Buccaneers (2-4, 2-2 CCC) came alive. Cade Schmelzer hit Andrew Cates for a 17-yard touchdown with 4:51 to play. Covington then recovered an onside kick, and Schmelzer and Cates hooked up again for another touchdown, this time an 18-yarder, to make it a one-score game at 34-26 with 3:36 remaining.
Covington recovered yet another onside kick, taking the ball with a chance to tie the score, but the Viking defense stiffened up and forced a turnover on downs with 1:55 to play. The Buccs used both timeouts to get the ball back for one last chance, but a Miami East punt rolled dead on the Covington 1-yard line with :50 left on the clock. A hail mary from midfield as time expired, though, gave the Vikings the win.
“Well, Blaine Brokschmidt hit two nice punts for us on their last two possessions,” Current said. “The last one, he kicked it down to the 1-yard line. The last two possessions, he gave them long fields to go. Brenden Dalton and Caleb Snyder got big sacks on their next-to-last drive. And my secondary did a nice job. On the drives they scored on, we’d changed our coverage a bit, but on that last one we changed it to what we’d been running most of the game. My DBs did a better job of covering, and the guys stepped up and made some plays when they had to.”
The game began much as it ended — as a back-and-forth war.
Covington forced a three-and-out on the opening possession of the game and went right to work on offense, with Ethan Herron chewing up big chunks of yardage on the ground. The Buccs had first-and-goal from the 10 before a false start and a holding penalty backed them all the way up to the 30. But a 14-yard scramble by Schmelzer, two 5-yard runs by Herron and an offside call on the Vikings made it fourth-and-goal from the 1, and Herron punched it in to give the Buccs a 6-0 lead.
Miami East answered, though. The Vikings went 68 yards on nine plays, with Vincent Villella breaking a 23-yard touchdown run to finish it off — but Covington blocked the point-after, and the game was tied at 6-6 with 1:45 left in the first quarter.
The Vikings forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession and embarked on a 64-yard, eight-play drive, with Villella scoring on a 3-yard plunge and Jonah Brautigam kicking the extra point to give East a 13-6 lead with 10:05 left in the half.
Villella finished with 145 yards and three touchdowns on 24 carries, while Herron had 120 yards and a score on 23 carries for the Buccs.
“Vinnie runs hard,” Current said of Villella. “He’s got some shift to him, too. He can get out of some jams because he plays really hard and gives great effort. A lot of times, effort can overcome talent. When you combine effort and talent, you’ve got a pretty good football player, and that’s what Vinnie is. And the line did a good job in the second and third quarters of controlling the line of scrimmage and giving our guys room to operate, and Ian hit a couple of passes to extend some drives, and that helped a lot when they were stacking it up on us pretty good. We don’t hide what we do. We’re going to run the ball at you.”
Not to be outdone, Covington went on a 12-play, 65-yard drive, with Joey Schmelzer scoring on a 1-yard run to finish the drive. But the Buccs went for two and couldn’t get around the edge, and the Vikings still held a 13-12 lead. And an interception by Miami East’s Brokschmidt with :08 on the clock allowed East to maintain that lead at the break.
The second half began all Miami East. After the Vikings forced a fumble, recovered by Brenden Dalton, to begin the quarter, the Vikings couldn’t cash in and turned the ball over on downs. East’s defense forced a punt, though, and on third-and-goal from the 1, Ian Gengler scored on a quarterback sneak to make it 20-12 East.
Colt Frazier picked off a Bucc pass at the end of the third quarter, and Villella punched in his third touchdown of the night on a 5-yard run to make it 27-12 Vikings. Soon after, Justin Brown snagged East’s third interception of the night, with Gengler scoring on a 2-yard run to make it 34-12 Miami East with 5:55 to play.
That was the moment Covington came alive, but the Buccs simply came up short.
“You’re always in a good game when you play a program like Covington. You’ve got to play all four quarters,” Current said. “We preach that, that no lead is good enough. You’ve got to finish the job — and tonight, we finished the job.”
In Week 7, Miami East hosts 0-6 Bradford, while Covington hosts Bethel in another big CCC matchup.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.
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