Covington Catholic returns from mountains with win over defending Class 1A state champs

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The two state powers collided on a nice evening in the mountains of eastern Kentucky in what turned out to be a thrilling game.

Both teams hoped to post their first victory of the season after tough opening week losses. At Pikeville’s Hambley Complex, it was the first game of a doubleheader in the Pike County Bowl. The Covington Catholic Colonels (1-1 overall) took the lead nearly five minutes into the game and never trailed Pikeville in a thrilling 27-19 victory.

“After last week and playing the opponent that we did, we just wanted to come out here and get a win, play a little bit better,” said Eddie Eviston, CovCath head coach. “We just wanted to see improvement. We wanted to execute better and obviously, we were able to do that. We played a great ballclub in Pikeville. They gave us everything.”

But the defending Class 1A champion Pikeville Panthers (0-2) made the Colonels earn it. CovCath outgained Pikeville just 259-257 and both teams had 13 first downs with no turnovers. The differences were CovCath displaying more balance, and returning a punt for a touchdown.

CovCath used its strength on the offensive line to go on long and sustained drives keeping the Pikeville offense off the field in a battle of spread offenses. The Colonels had the ball for 28 minutes and 28 seconds compared to 19:32 for the hosts.

“Obviously going on (those drives) is really exciting. We controlled the game,” said Gregory Broghan-Rust, CovCath lineman. “I feel like through my time here we’ve always had very dominating (offensive) lines. I think that’s the expectation at CovCath. We’re blessed to have coaches that get us prepared like that.”

The Colonels rushed for 120 yards and passed for 139. On the other side, Pikeville relied mostly on the running tandem of junior quarterback Tayvian Boykins and senior running back Blake Birchfield. Similar to the Colonels, the Panthers usually force defenses to defend the entire field.

Junior quarterback Evan Pitzer managed the game well completing 13 of 18 passes for all the Colonel passing yards with a touchdown and rushed for 47 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Pitzer and senior Zac Roberts both played quarterback in the season-opening loss to Cincinnati (Ohio) Elder. But Roberts stood on the sidelines injured in a boot in this game.

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Junior running back Owen Leen carried a bit of the offensive load for the Colonels. Leen led CovCath with 70 net yards rushing on 13 carries for between five and six yards per carry and caught a team-high four passes for 46 yards.

On the other side, Birchfield had 129 yards rushing on 14 carries and a touchdown for an average of just more than nine per carry. Boykins ran the ball 19 times for 81 net yards and two scores for an average of between four and five yards per carry.

But Boykins only completed 3 of 8 passes for 37 yards. That allowed the Colonels to key on the run and make some key stops in the win.

Senior linebacker Aiden Jones had seven solo and one assisted tackle including a tackle for a loss for CovCath. Sophomore linebacker Tate Kruer had five solo and three assisted tackles. Junior lineman Josh Flood had five solo and two assisted tackles with a sack of Boykins and senior defensive lineman Max Lawrie also sacked Boykins once.

The Colonels took the ball from their own 35 to start the game and marched down the field. They faced a 4th-and-1 from the Pikeville 46. Evison and staff rolled the dice and the Colonels came up huge.

Pitzer had completed some sideline routes on the drive and the Panthers keyed on that. But senior wide receiver Oliver Bent snuck behind the Pikeville defense, caught the Pitzer pass and ran 38 yards down to the Pikeville 8 setting up 1st-and-goal.

“Coach made the play call. I had a big smile on my face because I knew it was coming for me,” Bent said. “I just had to make the play and that’s what I did. I grabbed the ball and got the first down for my team.”

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Then on third down, Pitzer saw a hole in the middle created when senior offensive lineman Thomas Schramm and a teammate doubled Pikeville senior lineman Mason Sayers and ran three yards for the touchdown. Sophomore kicker Andrew Weitzel made his first of three extra-point kicks to give CovCath a 7-0 lead with 7:07 left in the game.

But Pikeville responded when Boykins rushed 27 yards for the touchdown with 5:26 left in the first quarter. But CovCath blocked the PAT kick preserving a 7-6 lead.

CovCath responded with another long and sustained drive. Pitzer found senior wide receiver Louie Hodge on a slant from the right to the middle of the field for the 25-yard score with 1:34 left in the first quarter to put the Colonels up 13-6. Pitzer found Leen for a 33-yard pass before Leen rushed for 15 more on the first two plays of the drive that started at the CovCath 10.

“We had an opportunity. We took it,” Hodge said. “Everyone did great that play. The (offensive) line really stepped up this game. Pitzer threw a great ball. Everything clicked this game. It was pretty good.”

The Colonel defense came up huge on the next Pikeville possession. Kruer stopped Birchfield for no gain on a 2nd-and-2 at the Pikeville 26 before Bent came up from his defensive back spot and tackled Birchfield for a five-yard loss on 3rd-and-2 forcing Pikeville to punt.

That’s when junior wide receiver Braylon Miller came up huge returning the punt 67 yards for the touchdown just 26 seconds into the second quarter to give CovCath a 20-6 lead it had at halftime. Pikeville tried a field goal before the half ended that hit ventured left no where near the goal posts.

Birchfield broke loose for a 77-yard touchdown run down the right sideline with 7:28 left in the third quarter to cut the CovCath lead to 20-12. But the Colonels went on another long and sustained drive culminating with a Leen two-yard touchdown run with 1:48 left in the quarter to give the Colonels a 27-12 lead. Pitzer hit sophomore wide receiver Oliver Link for eight yards on the CovCath sideline on a 3rd-and-5 from the Pikeville 10 setting up a 1st-and-goal.

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Pikeville came back and cut the lead to a one-score game. Boykins ran a sweep right for a three-yard touchdown with 8:14 left in the game to make the final score.

The Colonels took some time off the clock before punting the ball back to the Panthers. CovCath mishandled the snap and Pikeville took over at the Colonel 45.

The Colonels defense came through to preserve the victory. After a false start penalty, Flood sacked Boykins for a 10-yard loss. On the next play, CovCath senior defensive back Michael Cody appeared to recover a Boykins fumble. But the officials ruled an incomplete pass even though Boykins did not appear to be going through his throwing motion.

“I was glad I was able to make the play,” Flood said. “But we’ve been focusing on doing our jobs. If you do your job, you’ll get the opportunity to make a play and it just happened to be my opportunity.”

But CovCath came through with the win. On a 3rd-and-25, Boykins scrambled for 13 yards to the Colonel 47. Boykins completed a pass on the Panther sideline. But the refs called him for an illegal forward pass beyond the line of scrimmage giving the ball back to CovCath with 1:08 left in the game. Pitzer kneeled twice to run out the clock as Pikeville had just one timeout.

“We’re still playing guys both ways. It was a hot night,” Eviston said. “We told them they had to dig and make stops there at the end when really we didn’t have the momentum at all. It was nice to see the guys make enough plays to make sure we got the win.”

CovCath plays at Lexington Catholic (2-0) on Friday. Game time is 7 p.m.

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