By Josh Brown
COVINGTON — For years, Covington has simply worn down Bethel every time the two teams have met.
Friday night, though, the Bees finally broke through.
Bethel’s defense — aided by 110 yards in penalties against the opposition in the game — was able to keep Covington out of the end zone in the second half, and the Bees turned a slim halftime lead into a 12-7 victory over the Buccaneers Friday night at Covington, the Bees’ first win over the Buccaneers since 2004.
Bethel coach Scott Clodfelter pointed out that Covington’s dominance in the rivalry went back farther than that.
“We are very happy,” he said. “That’s one thing (beating Covington for the first time since 2004) — but if you go back more, it’s probably only the second time in the last 40 years.
“Our defense played great. We had four or five goal-line stands in the second half. We just kept making plays. Offensively, we struggled a little. We did move the ball, but we bogged down by the goal line a couple times. And then Jacob Ullmer had an interception on the goal line with 30 seconds left to seal the win. It was a great win for us.”
The loss drops Covington to 2-5 overall and 2-3 in Cross County Conference play, and ensures that the young Buccs will not have a winning season for the first time also since 2004. Bethel, meanwhile, improved to 6-1 overalls and 4-1 in the CCC and is still in the running for a postseason berth.
The Bees began the night with an impressive opening drive, chewing half of the first quarter on a 15-play march. The Bees converted three third downs — and got a hand with an offsides flag on Covington on fourth-and-1 on the Buccaneer 23-yard line — along the way, and finally Caleb South was able to punch in a 3-yard touchdown run to give Bethel the lead. The two-point run went nowhere, though, and the Bees led 6-0 with 5:49 left in the first quarter.
After a three-and-out on Covington’s first possession, the teams traded punts, and Covington had a third-and-6 from its own 40 to start the second quarter — and the Buccs looked sluggish at the time. Sophomore quarterback Cade Schmelzer hit Zach Parrett to convert a first down on the opening play of the quarter, though, and then he dropped a 49-yard touchdown pass in stride to Ty Freeman, giving the Buccs a 7-6 lead with 11:42 left in the first half.
The Bees’ next possession stalled near midfield, and Covington drove into the red zone at the 17-yard line. But a false start, a short run and a pair of incomplete passes handed the ball back to Bethel at its own 21 — and senior quarterback Jacob Evans hit Ullmer with a 56-yard touchdown pass to put the Bees back on top, 12-7 with 2:42 left in the half — and that’s where the score remained at halftime.
“Jacob Evans played like a man,” Clodfelter said. “His four years of experience as a starter really paid off for us tonight. He was a great leader.”
Still, even though Covington is a young team that has struggled this year, Clodfelter knew that they were still a dangerous one. And in the past, the Bees had worn down late in games against the Buccs — but this time was different.
“Their record does is not indicative of what they’re capable of. They have a lot of talent there,” he said of the Buccs. “For us, we talked all week about how physically we could hang with them, but it was the mental part we were concerned with — because we hadn’t beaten them. And you just can’t get over that until you win.
“We’re platooning along the defensive line, so we actually got some guys some rest. We didn’t wear down like we had before because we were subbing people in on the defensive line a lot. We didn’t get much pressure on them, but our defensive backs played well.
To start the third quarter, Covington took the ball at its own 11-yard line — but the Buccs were able to march downfield, and an unsportsmanlike conduct flag on Bethel gave Covington the ball on the Bee 13. The Buccs pushed all the way to the doorstep on the 1-yard line, but an unsportsmanlike conduct call on Covington back them up. Schmelzer then appeared to hit Andrew Cates with a short touchdown pass on fourth down — but he had stepped over the line of scrimmage before he threw it, and Covington turned the ball over on downs.
Bethel ended up turning the ball over on downs past midfield with 1:35 left in the third quarter, but still neither team could score. Covington began its next drive at its own 25 with 9:25 left in the game, and on fourth-and-6 from the Bethel 23 Zach Parrett drew a pass interference call on Bethel to set the Buccs up with a first down on the Bee 12. But on fourth-and-1 from the 3, a false start on Covington backed the Buccs up — and a sack on fourth down gave the Bees the ball with 4:25 to go.
After the Covington defense held, the Buccs got one final chance with the ball beginning at their own 42 with 1:38 to play. An offensive pass interference call brought one big gain back, but Schemlzer hit Parrett on fourth-and-12 to keep the Buccs alive on the Bee 25. But with 33 seconds remaining on the clock, Bethel’s Jacob Ullmer intercepted a pass, and Evans took a knee to finish the game.
“You can’t get over that until you win — and now we know we can do that,” Clodfelter said. “It really is a big win for the program. But we’ve still got more goals we want to reach this year, so we’ve got to keep playing hard. But we are very happy right now.”
Bethel — which sat in fourth place in the Division VI, Region 24 playoff standings as of late Friday night, returns home for another big showdown in Week 8, hosting Tri-County North. Covington, meanwhile, will get a chance to right the ship at winless Bradford.
Contact Josh Brown at (937) 552-2132, or follow @TroyDailySports on Twitter.