By John Lachmann
PARK HILLS, Ky. – Through three quarters, Ryle built a three-possession lead and appeared primed to pull off one of the biggest upsets in Northern Kentucky football this season.
But Covington Catholic – shut out through 36 minutes – scored four fourth-quarter touchdowns, rallying to a 26-17 win over the Raiders at Wooten Field on Saturday.
“I’ve got time to be mad at (my team) when I go back and look at the tape,” CovCath coach Dave Wirth said. “I’m proud of them right now.”
The Colonels generated four yards of offense in the first quarter and did not pick up their initial first down until midway through the second frame. They also took four procedure penalties in the first quarter, including a delay of game and a false start on consecutive plays.
The furthest CovCath penetrated Ryle territory in the first half was the 29 yard line, which was followed by consecutive sacks that forced a punt on fourth and 20.
Meanwhile, Raiders sophomore Colin England ran down a bomb down the right sideline for a 73-yard touchdown with 3:25 remaining in the opening frame.
Ryle squandered an opportunity early in the second quarter, when a sure touchdown on a 29-yard pass was dropped in the end zone. The Raiders went for it on fourth and five instead of attempting a 42-yard field goal and were unsuccessful.
CovCath took over on downs, went nine yards on three plays and were stuffed at the line of scrimmage on fourth down, giving the ball back at the Colonels’ 39.
Ryle picked up a first down and extended the lead to 10 on a 37-yard field goal by junior Max Boulden with 6:34 remaining until halftime.
CovCath had a chance to put points on the board before the half, as the team reached the Ryle 45 with 25 seconds remaining, but Dressman threw a pair of incompetions before his third-down pass was tipped and picked off by senior defensive back Kyle Bailey.
Halftime was not an enjoyable experience for the CovCath players and coaching staff.
“There were some moments,” Wirth said. “We’ll leave it at that.”
The Colonels stopped the Raiders, three and out on their first possession of the second half and CovCath looked to be turning things around with a first-down run and a 40-yard pickup on a run by senior Sam Dressman, but the latter was erased by a holding penalty.
And the Colonels compounded the problem two plays later, as a Ben Dressman sideline pass was tipped into the air and picked off by junior Gavin Brandt, who went 46 yards for a TD to make it 17-0.
On its last possession of the third quarter, CovCath finally reached the red zone on a 23-yard striker from Ben Dressman to junior Logan McDowell over the middle, taking it to the 8 yard line.
But the offense again sputtered, as the Colonels were called for an illegal formation, lost five on a passing play, and Ben Dressman was sacked for a loss of two, setting up third and goal at the 20 as the period expired.
Ben Dressman threw an incompletion on third down, and with a mercurial kicking game, CovCath was forced to go for it.
Finally, the Colonels converted, as Ben Dressman hit McDowell for a 20-yard strike to make it 17-7.
Wirth said his team’s confidence spiked right before that drive.
“I think we had figured out exactly what it was that we could do to them that they really couldn’t handle very well,” Wirth said. “As long as we didn’t give up a big play in man coverage, we’d be fine.”
CovCath stuffed Ryle on three straight runs, as the Raiders gained just one and were forced to punt.
That punt went just 15 yards, and the Colonels took over on the Ryle 42. Ben Dressman hooked up with Sam Dressman for 27 yards, and he found senior Sam Hatter for a 14-yard strike two players later, making it 17-13 with 7:38 remaining.
Ryle again went three and out, sandwiching a five-yard run between a pair of incompletions, and CovCath took over on its 31 after another Raiders punt.
On the second play, Ben Dressman hooked up with sophomore Ryan McGinness for 24 yards. Two plays later, Ben Dressman took off for 18 yards, and on a third and nine he scored on a 15-yard quarterback keeper, making it 19-17 CovCath.
“I was mad as hell as those plays went on and then as you start digging your way out of that hole you fill with pride for them,” Wirth said. “That’s not an easy thing to do.”
The Raiders would not pick up a first down in the fourth quarter, and finished with just seven – five in the first half. There were just 24 first downs by both teams in the game, with CovCath recording 10 of those in the final stanza.
The Colonels took over on downs at the Raiders’ 24 and Sam Dressman ran five straight plays, with the latter resulting in a 1-yard score with 11 seconds to play.
“We’re a young team – we gave them everything we had in the first half, and we had them on the ropes,” Ryle coach Bryson Warner said. “We’ve just got to find a way to finish that game.”
Ben Dressman finished 17-for-32 for 187 yards and two touchdowns, and he rushed 18 times for 76 yards and another
score. Sam Dressman had 17 carries for 79 yards and four catches for 39 yards.
McDowell and Hatter caught a team-high five passes each and both had a touchdown. McDowell finished with 53 receiving yards and Hatter 48.
With two more linemen out this week, that makes six starting injuries to starting offensive players, including two receivers, senior running back Luke Bir and junior quarterback Adam Wagner.
“We’re half power on offense against what is always a good defense,” Wirth said. “Ryle defenses are good, year in and year out. They don’t give up points, and the fact that we got all of those in the fourth quarter – certainly aided by field position – says a lot.”
Senior linebacker Sam Burchell kept the Colonels in it defensively, tallying 10 tackles as CovCath allowed just 191 yards of offense.
“We started off really slow, probably due to practice – we didn’t practice too well – but we’re going to come in, practice hard and get a win next week, too,” Ben Dressman said.
Ryle junior quarterback Ryan Rytlewski finished 8-for-19 for 133 yards and one TD, with England catching three passes for 87 yards and one score.
On the ground, the Raiders gained just 58 yards on 28 carries.
Senior lineman Shahzaad Mann led Ryle defensively with 12 total tackles, including four for a loss and 1½ sacks.
“Great effort by our defense, and if we can some more drives together on offense we’re going to be a real good football team,” Warner said.
RYLE 7-3-7- 0—17
at COVCATH 0-0-0-26—26
R-England 73 pass from Rytlewski (Bouldin kick)
R-Bouldin FG 37
R-Brandt 46 interception return (Bouldin kick)
CC-McDowell 25 pass from B. Dressman (Litzler kick)
CC-Hatter 17 pass from B. Dressman (kick failed)
CC-B. Dressman 15 run (kick failed)
CC-S. Dressman 1 run (Litzler kick)
RECORDS: CovCath 5-2, Ryle 2-6.