From left, Caleb Winfrey, Myles Starks and Cooper Barbee celebrate a late defensive stand during action last night vs. South Gibson. Photo by Jeff Ireland
J.R. Kirby talks to his defense during action last night vs. South Gibson. Photo by Jeff Ireland
Lareko Burton makes a tackle during action last night vs. South Gibson. Photo by Jeff Ireland
Jalen Fayne heads to the end zone during action last night vs. South Gibson. Photo by Jeff Ireland
The Covington defense makes a stop during action last night vs. South Gibson. Photo by Jeff Ireland

There were varying opinions and expectations on just what might happen near the end of last night’s second round Class 3A state playoff game between Covington and South Gibson on a chilly field in Medina.

Covington was trying to finish off a win when it lined up to punt near midfield while leading 14-10 with a little more than two minutes left in the game. The Charger defense had been dominant, particularly in the second half. If Covington could pin South Gibson deep in its own territory, a game-winning, length-of-the-field drive seemed very unlikely.

Then near tragedy struck.

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The snap when over the head of punter Carson Ruffin and South Gibson took over possession at the Covington 19.

Covington’s fans groaned and fretted while roars came from the South Gibson side of the field.

Charger head coach J.R. Kirby called a timeout.

“We just have to stop them,” he told his defense, in his trademark in-game raspy voice. “We can do this.”

By the looks on the faces of several Covington fans, they didn’t seem so sure.

I was standing next to my father on the Covington sideline. I told him I still didn’t think South Gibson was going to score. My father looked at me with skepticism.

They didn’t. Sophomore Jalen Fayne, who had a monster game, and senior Josh McGarity broke up a fourth down pass in the end zone to make it official and Covington will now host Wooddale next week in the quarterfinals.

As for the members of Covington’s defense, their opinion and expectation of what would happen on the final South Gibson possession were crystal clear.

“Oh, the defense wasn’t worried at all,” Covington senior linebacker Caleb Winfrey said moments after the game while someone yelled “We love you, Caleb” from the stands. “We have this thing at practice called best on best where we put the ball at the 10-yard line. We do that every day. That’s why we were pumped up. We knew we were going to stop them.”

“We do this about everyday,” Kirby said about the best-on-best drill. “I called the timeout to settle them down. I told them again, ‘We do this every day.’ And 5 (Winfrey) told them, too. This is what we do and they (the defense) usually beat us (the offense) every day. That shows the heart of our kids.”

Like the ending, the rest of the game was a classic defensive struggle.

After Covington mishandled the opening kickoff and the one that followed, South Gibson led 10-0 with less than two minutes gone in the game. After that it was lights out for the Hornet offense, which finished with just 161 yards.

Several Covington seniors played key roles in the win. Winfrey had a ton of tackles, McGarity had a crucial interception on South Gibson’s next-to-last drive and Andrew Scott was a beast again, running almost exclusively between the tackles for 76 yards and a TD on 20 carries.

However, Covington’s youth movement was hard not to notice.

Torris Smith, Chris Godwin and Cooper Barbee, all sophomores, and freshman A.C. Young each played key roles.

And then there was sophomore Jalen Fayne, who had the best game of his brief career.

He scored on a bruising run to cut the lead to 10-6 in the first quarter. Midway through the second period he intercepted a pass and returned it deep into South Gibson territory to set up a Scott TD and key two-point run by Ruffin to give Covington a 14-10 lead it would never lose. Fayne also recovered a Covington fumble late in game.

“He was the turning point in the game,” Kirby said. “They’ve (the underclassmen) been huge, and, again, it goes back to how we practice. If we don’t get them involved in practice I don’t think we’re sitting here today going to the quarterfinals, winning 10 games. Jalen Fayne is one of them.”

Fayne hugged his coach right before Kirby’s postgame speech.

“It was amazing, it was amazing,” Fayne said after the game, standing next to Winfrey. “And to do it here on this night against a team we lost to, to come back and get the win, it was amazing. We just had to come in and play for my brothers, guys like this here (Winfrey).”

“We’re going to the quarterfinals,” Kirby said. “Not a lot of people thought that after losing a big senior class. Now we get to play next week.”