The Region 7-AAA-leading South Gibson Hornets buzzed into Covington Friday night, seeking to clinch at least a share of the region championship with a win over the Chargers.
A game that gave the appearance of an offensive shootout in the first five minutes devolved into a penalty-marred defensive battle eventually won by the visitors, 20-13.
This is the first time Covington has suffered back-to-back losses since the 2016 season.
The win clinched the region title for South Gibson. Covington is in a four-way tie for second with Milan, McNairy Central and Westview. Three of those four will make the playoffs.
If Covington beats McNairy Central in the season finale Nov. 1, the Chargers are in the playoffs and could host a playoff game as the second seed. If Covington loses to McNairy and Westview beats Milan the same week, the Chargers would miss the playoffs for the first time since 2014.
It took the South Gibson Hornets just 57 seconds to grab the lead over the Chargers. A 47-yard Hornet gallop around the left end put Covington in an early hole.
Seemingly unfazed, the Chargers took advantage of Jalen Fayne’s return of the ensuing kick off to the Hornet 45. A nine-play drive followed that ended with a 10-yard TD run by Marcus Hayes. The PAT attempt sailed wide left and the Chargers trailed 7-6 with 7:48 remaining in the opening stanza.
“We played well enough in the first half,” said Covington head coach J.R. Kirby. “The team played hard and we tried everything that we could to win the game. We didn’t get it done. For the second week in a row our youth and inexperience was exposed along the offensive line. We are on the reverse side of the equation this year. Where we have had experienced seniors for the past two years, other teams have them now and are taking advantage.”
From that point, big plays made the difference.
The Hornets (7-1 overall, 4-0 region) used a 44-yard run to the Covington 7 late in the first quarter to threaten again, but they had to settle for a 23-yard field goal and a 10-6 lead after the Charger defense stiffened.
Covington (6-2, 2-2) put together one of its best drives of the season, covering 77 yards in 18 play. The Chargers overcame a holding penalty and a false start to take a 13-10 advantage on Carson Ruffin’s two-yard run with 8:11 left in the first half.
It would be the Chargers’ last look at the goal line.
Covington got the ball to start the second half but went nowhere, throttled by three of the nine penalties assessed against them in the game. The Chargers lost 90 yards to penalties, three of which erased big gains.
South Gibson, aided by a personal foul penalty, got close enough to knot the score at 13 on a 36-yard field goal halfway through the third quarter.
The teams traded possessions spanning the third and fourth quarters, with Covington’s derailed by a holding penalty in Hornet territory. South Gibson’s ended with a punt that was downed at the Charger five-yard line.
Covington got a first down at the 17, but could go no further.
Then disaster struck.
On the attempted punt, the snap was at Dalton Dickerson’s feet. As he went down to gather it in his knee touched, giving the Hornets the ball first and goal at the 9. It took just three plays to score what proved to be the winning touchdown.
The statistics are misleading.
Covington recorded 14 first downs, while South Gibson had just four. CHS won the passing battle with 6 of 15 completions for 58 yards for Carson Ruffin. South Gibson connected on just 1 of 7 tries for six yards. Covington totaled 152 yards on 48 rushes with Hayes accounting for 113 yards and a TD on 28 carries. Ruffin had 23 yards on nine carries and a TD. The Hornets totaled 198 rushing yards on 30 carries. Penalties played a major role. Covington was flagged nine times for 90 yards and South Gibson three times for 25 yards.
Final yardage: CHS 210, South Gibson 204.
“We both made adjustments at the half,” Kirby said. “Their’s, moving senior linebacker Paxton Terry, 6’4, 228, to nose guard was a game changer. Big plays made the difference on offense. Runs of 47 and 44 yards turned into points for them. The defense stopped them twice, holding them to field goals. The mistake on the punt was obviously a killer.”
The Chargers host Sheffield on Friday night in the final home game of the year. Senior night ceremonies will precede the 7:30 kickoff.