By Rob Kiser
Piqua Daily Call
XENIA — It was a situation that was hard to imagine.
And could have easily left a lesser team willing to accept the consequences.
Playing an unbeaten Chillicothe Southeastern team in the second round of the D-VI playoffs, Covington saw both its leading rusher and leading receiver — who also play roles on the defense as well — go down with serious injuries in the first quarter.
Their absence alone would have devastated most teams — not to mention the emotional effect on teammates of seeing two three-year starters in Andrew Cates and Brayden Wiggins, who had worked so hard to be in that moment — have it end so quickly.
“It was heartbreaking,” junior Duncan Cooper said.
But, the Buccs never missed a beat.
Junior running back Deacon Shields rushed 75 yards on eight carries in place of Wiggins and sophomore Connor Sindelir made a number of tackles on defense off the bench as Covington rolled to a 36-20 victory.
The Buccs, 10-2, will play Mechanicsburg, 11-1, at a site to be determined at 7 p.m. Friday night for the Region 24 championship and trip to the Final Four.
“It is next man up,” Covington coach Ty Cates said. “They both came in and did a great job.”
Behind The Chains
The Southeastern Double-Wing offense is difficult to stop at best.
So, how did Covington do it better than the previous 11 Panther opponents?
Southeastern had scored at least 28 points in every game this season and more than 50 five times.
“Our kids did a great job flying to the ball,” Cates said. “And we were able to keep them behind the chains.”
So, what exactly did Cates mean by that?
A look at Southeastern’s third down plays tells the story.
The Panthers had 15 third downs in the game, converting six.
But to break it down further, when Southeastern was behind the chains — third and five or more — the Panthers were just 2-for-8.
When they were ahead of the chains — third and five or less — Southeastern converted four of seven.
Slow Down 25
You are never going to take a quarterback with Lane Ruby’s talent out of the game.
His 141 yards on 31 carries back that up.
But, you are talking about a guy with over 2,000 yards rushing and 32 touchdowns coming into the season.
He was averaging 15 yards a carry, but did not have a run longer than seven yards until the fourth quarter.
Ruby’s longest run of 20 yards came on the final drive of the game after Covington had wrapped up the victory.
“I never would have imagined a guy of his talent wouldn’t break some big runs,” Cates said. “Just to limit that offense (to 20 points) is impressive. It just shows what you can do when you play assignment football.”
Heart of Champion
Trentin Alexander talked after the game about the defense’s will and playing with heart.
Nobody demonstrated that better than Alexander.
He had a 61-yard run after Southeastern had closed within 22-14 early in the fourth quarter to allow Covington to take the lead back to double digits.
He finished with 103 yards and three touchdowns on 14 carries and caught two passes for 25 yards.
“What a great kid,” Cates said. “That kid comes up and shakes my hand every day in practice and there are not a lot of kids that do that.
Stats Do Lie
Ironically, Southeastern finished with 311 yards to Covington’s 295, but that really didn’t tell the story.
“Bend but don’t break,” Alexander said when asked about Covington’s defensive effort.
And while Covington was the team with the “balanced offense” all season, the Buccs ran the ball on 34 of 42 plays from scrimmage.
Southeastern, who averaged just five passes a game during the season, passed the ball on 16 of 55 plays — another tribute to the Buccs defense.
“We didn’t have to throw the ball tonight,” Cates said. “That is a tribute to our O-Line. And Southeastern hadn’t thrown the ball that much all season.”
It is not hard to determine the play where momentum swung.
Southeastern was leading 8-7 and faced a fourth-and-18 from its 14-yard line on third play of the second quarter.
Ruby, a rugby style punter was back in in punt formation but elected to run with the ball.
He was stopped at the 20-yard line, giving Covington a short field.
Covington quarterback Cade Schmelzer hooked up with Alexander for 15 yards on third and 12 from the 22 and Cooper ran it in from the seven yard line on the next play.
Kleyton Maschino’s kick put Covington up 14-8 and they took that lead to the locker room.
“That was huge,” Cates said about having the lead at halftime.
Looking for history
This will be Covington’s sixth trip to the regional finals — and first since 2012.
Covington has advanced to the state semifinals three times, the last time in 1985.
And after the adversity the Buccs overcame Friday, it certainly won’t be lack of will or heart that stops them.
Contact Piqua Daily Call Sports Editor Rob Kiser at email@example.com.
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