There were certainly a lot of long faces and tears shed Friday night at Glencliff High School in Nashville.
Most of Covington’s defense, which had just played yet another stellar game, gathered together on the sideline and simultaneously slumped their heads as quarterback Carson Ruffin was sacked on the final play of a heart-wrenching 21-20 loss to Pearl-Cohn in the Class 3A state semifinals.
The rain began to fall and the 2019 season, which began with a bang, hit a lull in Week 7 and then turned into another epic playoff run, had come to a screeching halt.
A missed extra point right before halftime, a Pearl-Cohn kick off return for a touchdown moments before that and a crushing lost fumble midway through the fourth quarter deep in Firebirds’ territory were the difference.
Covington outgained Pearl-Cohn 334 to 175 and had 23 first downs compared to just 10 for the Firebirds, but none of that mattered as the home team celebrated a trip to the state title game and Covington’s fans and players had to come to grips with the fact the Chargers would not be going to Cookeville for a third straight season.
It’s kind of a cliché to say nobody thought we’d be here, but in the case of the 2019 Chargers, it’s true.
If you had told me back in October, after consecutive losses to Milan and South Gibson, Covington would end up being one score away from another trip to the state title game, I probably would have called you an unrealistic fan.
That’s exactly what happened, though.
Junior running back Marcus Hayes, who battled injuries all year and did not play in Covington’s first three playoff games, came back strong Friday night. He scored Covington’s second touchdown to make the score 14-14 with 1:31 left in the first half.
Then, after Pearl-Cohn returned the ensuing kick off for a score, Covington improbably drove 67 yards in a little more than a minute to pull within a point. Ruffin completed three key passes on the drive and, with six seconds left, head coach J.R. Kirby rolled the dice and went for a TD instead of a field goal. Hayes scored from seven yards out and anything seemed possible.
Covington’s defense shut down Pearl-Cohn in the second half, but the Charger offense could not score either.
The aforementioned fumble ended a 12-play drive at the Pearl-Cohn 13 with 8:22 left in the game. Covington got the ball back with 3:37 left and drove to midfield, but a fourth and three run by senior Andrew Scott came up a yard short and that was pretty much the ballgame.
Everybody took the loss pretty hard, but there was still a sense that the team had overachieved. Covington’s young offensive line was physically overmatched in just about every game, but it still found a way to put together scoring drives in the most important moments of the season. The defense was very young as well and dealt with several injuries, but still managed to carry the team to some key wins.
“Losing those two games and coming back from a lot. We were down,” senior safety Josh McGarity said when asked what we could remember about this season. “We didn’t even think we would get this far. Some people didn’t even think we were going to make the playoffs. We were fortunate to be here and I’m proud to be a Charger.”
This was Kirby’s first year as Covington’s head coach after serving as an assistant during the last two runs to the state title game. He had to figure out a way to get the Chargers back to where everybody wanted them to be with less talent and experience, and managed to do just that.
He was not happy after the game and was clearly stewing after a stinging loss that could have very easily been a win. Still, he managed to look at the big picture.
“We were so close to going back to play for a state championship,” he said. “It’s all over, but I don’t know if a lot of people thought we would be here again with what we lost (to graduation). I’m very proud to be their coach. We’ve got a lot of guys hurting and lot of our fanbase hurting. I told them in a couple of months we’ll look back and be proud of what we did. But coming up one point short, it’s going to take a while to get over this one.”
It will take some time. When Friday rolls around and Covington is at home instead of Cookeville, it will sting a little. But when the season is assessed objectively and from a far, it will go down as a great one, for sure.