On Sunday morning, Charger head coach J.R. Kirby opined that his team got just what it had expected in Friday night’s 14-10 dramatic second-round playoff victory over Region 7-AA champ South Gibson: a hard-fought, low-scoring war.
“We made it a lot closer than it could have been, shooting ourselves in the foot with breakdowns in the kicking game,” Kirby said. “Believe me, there will be a lot of work for special teams this coming week in practice.”
Those kicking game breakdowns put the Chargers (10-2) in a hole early.
Covington won the coin toss and chose to receive to open the game, but it never got the ball. That first kickoff wasn’t picked up and the Hornets (10-2) fell on it at the Charger 30.
Three plays later, South Gibson’s Christian Denton bulled his way into the end zone from four yards out for a 7-0 lead.
The ensuing kickoff was no better. The ball bounced off the receiver’s face mask and bang, the Hornets were in business again at the Covington 33. This time the Covington defensive 11 held the Hornets, forcing a 31-yard field goal. The end result: South Gibson led 10-0 less than five minutes into the game and the Chargers had not run a play from scrimmage.
The third kickoff was corralled at the CHS 27. On the strong running of Carson Ruffin, Andrew Scot and Jalen Fayne, the Chargers put together a 73-yard, 11-play drive that culminated in a 10-yard TD run by Fayne. The kicking game came up short again when the PAT attempt went awry, leaving Covington behind 7-6.
It didn’t take long for the defense to give the team a much-needed shot n the arm.
Fayne burned the Hornets again, this time picking off a Nolan Stidham pass at the Charger 34 that he returned to the South Gibson 14. Four runs by Ruffin and Andrew Scott put the Chargers on top for good on Scott’s 2-yard TD. What proved to be a crucial play in the game came next as Ruffin kept the ball and slipped into the end zone with a 2-point conversion and a 14-10 Charger lead.
“Ruffin had a big game,” said Kirby. “Although his rushing totals may not show it, he converted on two big third down runs to keep drives alive and he ran our wing/option offense well. Scott, too, had another good outing for us, as did Torris Smith.”
The defenses of both teams locked down after the Chargers went on top. Most of the rest of the game was played between the 30s. Midway through the four, Stidham attempted another pass that fell into Charger hands. Executing the tip drill to perfection, Myles Starks got the tip and Josh McGarity the pick, the 16th of the season for Covington, to end a Hornet threat.
“The secondary did a great job,” Kirby said, “and the defense as a whole played an outstanding team game.’
The end had more drama than Covington fans would have liked.
They well remember the Hornets’ win in the regular season when a mishandled snap on a punt late in the game was downed inside the Charger 10, giving the Hornets a gift TD in a 21-14 loss.
Disaster struck again. Forced to punt with two minutes remaining, Covington saw the snap sail over the punter’s head. South Gibson pounced on the ball at the Charger 19 with 1:58 on the clock, needing a touchdown to win and advance.
It was not to be. The Covington defense surrendered just one yard, and with an incomplete pass on fourth down, handed the ball back to the offense for the kneel down victory play.
Next up are the Wooddale Cardinals, who held off Milan 19-16 on Friday night to reach the quarterfinal round.
“They are a well-coached team with an experienced staff,” Kirby said. “They are a typical team coming out of Memphis in the third round, plenty of athletes with speed. They will spread the field. It will be a challenge for our young team.”
In one of the vagaries of the playoff system, although Wooddale is the Region 8-AAA champion (Covington finished third in Region 7-AAA), in an odd-numbered year, it has to travel. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. on Friday at Covington Athletic Field.
The Chargers will be seeking a “hat trick” of sorts, gunning for a third straight state semifinal appearance.