Eddie Eviston will proudly tell his Covington Catholic football team “plays the toughest schedule in the state.” Friday night in Union his Colonels found out exactly how tough that schedule could get.
Cooper’s Jaguars just would not go away. This opening Class 5A district game came down to one really big play – and another of just inches.
It was that close.
And like always for CovCath, undersized Owen Leen and his tall partner Even Pitzer were in the middle of things. And unlike a week ago when tailback Leen carried the ball 37 times in battering unbeaten Beechwood, all it took in this one was one pass reception.
OK, one pass reception for 89 yards and the winning touchdown in a 14-7 CovCath win over a Jack Lonaker-led Cooper defense that just would not give the favored Colonels, Kentucky’s No. 2 Class 5A team in the RPI rankings, any space to roam freely.
And then it happened. Tied at 7-7 in the second quarter and backed up on their 11-yard line, CovCath called a play they’d practiced and really liked. But it was a bit of a risk. After all, who calls a deep middle throw to your tailback from almost in your own end zone?
“A great call,” said Cooper coach Randy Borchers, shaking his head at the way CovCath pulled it off.
“It’s a play we’ve had in our playbook,” Eviston said. But calling it and executing it backed up to your goal line is a whole other deal.
“I’m glad Pitzer saw him coming out of the backfield,” Eviston said. But so did Cooper, said Borchers, and they had worked on CovCath getting the ball to Leen in the passing game.
And yet who could blame the Jaguar defensive backs for wondering whether a team would really throw it over the top and down the middle to a 5-foot-8 guy sneaking out of the backfield.
And with leading receiver tight end Willie Rodriguez out of the game with a right elbow injury, CovCath needed something good to happen. They’d already had Noah Johnson make a diving TD catch of a dart from Pitzer, who finished the game with seven of 14 passing for 206 yards and two TDs, with 3:39 left in the first quarter.
But the Jaguars came back two possessions later with a three-yard toss from precocious freshman Cam O’Hara to 6-4, 224-pound sophomore receiver Austin Alexander to tie the score with 5:26 left in the half.
“He’s going to be a good one,” Borchers said of O’Hara, “he’s getting better every week.” And then there’s Alexander.
O’Hara missed tying this one up on a 10-yard pass caught just out of the end zone with less than two minutes left in the third. “I thought he did a great job,” Borchers said of his freshman, one of many talented freshman QBs in Northern Kentucky this year. “There are going to be some points scored in the next few years here,” Borchers said with a smile.
But no more in this game’s scoreless second half when the CovCath defense stepped up, as it often does, limiting the Jags to just 28 yards on the ground for the game in addition to 120 in the air with O’Hara completing 12 of 20.
“Our defense played lights out,” Eviston said. It had to.
“It wasn’t pretty,” Eviston told his Colonels (5-1, 1-0 in the district) after the game. Told them twice. Both times the response was the same. “Yes, sir.”
But the answer is a simple one, Eviston said. “We go back to work.” “Yes, sir,” they answered once again.
As Eviston looked back at how this one went, it wasn’t exactly a surprise. The Colonels could not have played better a week ago in dominating Beechwood. “We talked to them all week about that,” Eviston said of the challenge of matching that effort against Cooper (2-3, 0-1 district).
“We just couldn’t get in a groove,” Eviston said before quickly correcting that. “They wouldn’t let us get into a groove,” he said of a Cougar defense that had tough 225-pound junior Lonaker making his game-high 11 tackles all over the field when he wasn’t knocking people down blocking for running back Eli White or even catching a couple of passes and carrying it twice.
“He’s old school,” Borchers, “and a great kid.”
That was the kind of talk that CovCath had for the injured Rodriguez, a two-way player out with an elbow injury of yet-to-be-determined severity. “We’ll miss him,” Eviston said of the deep threat and tough defender whose wrestling skills help him on both sides of the ball.
As for one last look at this one, Borchers said we shouldn’t have been surprised. “Not the way it’s gone the last two years.” It went into four overtimes last year, and “we could have won it in the second,” Borchers said of that 31-24 final went CovCath’s way by seven.
Just the way this one did. Although it didn’t have to finish up that way. In the final minutes, CovCath drove the ball for 13 plays to the Cooper 1 as they upped their total yardage edge over Cooper to 301-148.
And with five seconds left, the Colonels came to the line of scrimmage just a yard away from a game-ending score. And a 21-7 final margin that might make for extra bragging rights.
But that’s not what happened. The Colonels came to the line of scrimmage and lined up in the victory formation with Pitzer not taking a shot at the end zone but taking a knee.
And that was it. CovCath 14, Cooper 7.
Were you surprised they took a knee, Borchers was asked.
“I wouldn’t expect anything else of him,” Borchers said of CovCath’s Eviston.
That was the ending this one deserved. The ending Cooper deserved.
Covcath 7 7 0 0 14
Cooper 0 7 0 0 7
COVCATH: Johnson, Noah 23 yd pass from Pitzer, Evan (Weitzel, Andrew kick)
COOPER: Alexander, Austin 3 yd pass from O’Hara. Cam (Faulkner, William kick)
COVCATH: Leen. Owen 89 yd pass from Pitzer, Evan (Weitzel, Andrew kick)