Covington found itself in an unaccustomed spot entering the final regular season game at McNairy Central Friday night.
The Chargers were facing elimination from the postseason for the first time since 2014 unless they could contain the offense of the Bobcats. McNairy”s 27 points were the most scored on the CHS defense this season, but they weren’t enough.
Covington (8-2 overall, 3-2 Region 7-3A) held the Bobcats’ Austin Scott to just 27 yards on the ground and withstood the passing attack of Cole Kirk to post a 37-27 win and qualify for the state playoffs.
The loss kept McNairy Central (7-2, 2-3) out of the playoffs.
“We have taken the next step in accomplishing our goals for the season,” said head coach J.R. Kirby. “It’s a new season. Everybody is 0-0. We are one of 32 teams with the opportunity to reach Cookeville in December. Now we have to go earn it.”
Next up for Covington in the opening round of the playoffs are the Melrose Golden Wildcats, who are 6-4 on the year.
“They have athletes, as always,” Kirby said, “but their record is deceiving. Their wins are over teams that were not very good and their losses were shut outs to four good, playoff-bound teams, Hardin County, Central, MUS and Wooddale.”
Covington enters the game as the third-seeded team from its region. A win will likely send them on the road against top seed South Gibson where the Chargers would look to avenge a 21-14 regular season loss to the Hornets. The kickoff at Melrose is scheduled for 7 p.m.
The Chargers held the Bobcats to a three and out to start the game and then mounted an 11-play, 62-yard drive capped by a 39-yard TD pass from Carson Ruffin to Dalton Dickerson for a 7-0 lead that they would not surrender.
McNairy Central got as close as they would get on a three-yard scoring run on its next possession on a three-yard run by senior QB Kirk. The kick failed and the Chargers went on a run, scoring 23 unanswered points.
A four-yard run by Marcus Hayes, a 21-yard run by Andrew Scott (31 rushes for 160 yards) a 19-yard field goal by Roby Myers and a three-yard score by Scott gave Covington a 30-6 lead with 12 seconds left in third quarter.
Kirby had praise for his young offensive line that has taken some criticism of late.
“The O-line took on their senior linebackers and did their job, blocking well enough for us to gain 221 yards and score four touchdowns on 62 carries. They also gave Ruffin sufficient time to have one of his best passing nights of the year with six completions in 10 attempts good for 84 yards and a TD.”
Offensively, Kirby gave Scott credit for being the difference maker in the game.
With the best rushing night of his career, Scott’s yards came on punishing runs against a good defense. Hayes went to the sideline in the first half with a tweaked ankle from being fallen on after a tackle and did not return with the Chargers holding what seemed a comfortable lead.
Ruffin added 43 yards and a TD on 12 carries and Jamarion Dowell had 10 carries for 88 yards, including a long run for a first down leading to Covington’s final TD that put the game out of reach.
“They (McNairy) did not quit,” said Kirby. “We had a couple of breakdowns in the secondary that I did not like that kept them in the game and, being a good team, they took advantage.”
The Bobcats cut the margin to 30-20 early in the fourth period on consecutive scoring drives that showcased Kirk’s ability. He completed TD passes of 49 and 19 yards in the fourth period. The last drive covered 96 yards and included a drive-extending 15-yard penalty against the Chargers and a 34-yard pass completion.