“We knew going in that we would face the fastest, most athletic and physical defense that we had seen all year,” said Covington head coach J.R. Kirby following the Chargers’ 14-7 region loss on the road to the Milan Bulldogs last Friday.
It was the Chargers’ first region loss since Raleigh-Egypt beat them in game five of the 2016 season and just Covington’s second regular season loss in two-plus seasons.
Covington fans were exultant when Myles Starks corralled the opening kick off at the 20-yard line and outran the pursuing Bulldogs to the end zone to give the Chargers a 7-0 lead 14 seconds into the game. That ended up being Covington’s only points.
Coming into the game, Covington was averaging 386 yards and 40.3 points per game. Milan held the Chargers to 151.
“I do not recall in my entire career calling offensive plays that we did not score a touchdown,” Kirby said.
Milan’s defense was everything and more that Kirby had feared.
“Our offensive line did not play well,” he said. “Our inexperience on the O-line showed and Milan exposed some weaknesses that we have to, and will, fix. All of that is on me. I’m the coach and am responsible for having us prepared to play.”
Marcus Hayes collected the majority of his team’s yards, gaining 109 on 27 carries. Jamarion Dowell added 31 yards on nine touches and Carson Ruffin completed 1 of 6 passing attempts for 12 yards.
“We used everything in the playbook ,” said Kirby, “but did not get it done. I cost us, too, with a stupid call on fourth down deep in our territory.”
Covington got 63 of its yards on the last possession of the game.
Some momentum came from having Hayes take direct snaps in a Wildcat-like formation. CHS drove from its own 30 to a first and goal at the Milan nine with under a minute to play, but three unsuccessful running plays and a batted down pass at the goal line on fourth down sealed CHS’ fate
As for the defense, the Chargers held the Bulldogs in check.
Except for a couple of plays, the defense was outstanding in Kirby’s estimation. Two drives were stopped deep in Covington territory. A fumble recovery by Joshua McGarity at the Charger seven, which he returned to the Milan 30 before being run down from behind, has huge in the second quarter. Starks picked off a pass at the Charger nine in the third period to snuff another Bulldog possession.
Milan (4-3 overall, 2-1 Region 7-3A) did just enough to win on offense.
An 80-yard drive, kept alive by Covington jumping offside on fourth and four at the Milan 46, led to a game-tying touchdown with 1:41 left in the opening quarter.
The Bulldogs took the opening kick off of the third quarter and drove it 70 yards to score what proved to be the winning touchdown.
For the game, Milan rushed 43 times for 142 yards and completed 4 of 6 passes for 43 yards with an interception.
“Hats off to Milan,” Kirby said. “They brought it to us and wanted it more than we did. The problems we have are on me. We will fix them. Our long-term goal of winning the district is still attainable. We just have to win out.”
If Covington (6-1, 2-1) wins its last three games, it’s very likely there would be a three-way tie for first between Covington, Milan and South Gibson. By virtue of having the best overall record, Covington would be the top seed in the state playoffs.
The Chargers are off this week and will have two weeks to prepare before first-place South Gibson (6-1, 3-0) comes to town on Oct. 18. A win there means Covington can still finish first in the region. A loss could mean a third-place finish and a first-round playoff game on the road.