CRESTWOOD, Ky. – Note to those voting for the Mr. Football award in the state of Kentucky: You may want to see the highlights of Friday night’s Class 5A, Region 2 Championship game between Covington Catholic and South Oldham.
CovCath, ranked No. 1 in the state’s Associated Press poll, and South Oldham, which came in at No. 4, brought reputations as teams with potent offensive attacks.
The rumors proved to be true for one of those teams Friday, as CovCath once again ran away from an opponent, this time to the tune of a 49-7 whupping.
Leading the Colonels attack was senior quarterback AJ Mayer, who guided his team to a 13th consecutive win this season (against no losses) and their first regional title since 2006. But he also just happened to make a bold statement about the race for the title of best player in the state.
Witness the dart of a throw across the middle of the end zone that found senior slot receiver Sam Schuh and made it 7-0 with two minutes gone. Then there was the similar play minutes later, this time to junior wide receiver Jack Coldiron for another TD: 14-0, CovCath.
And what about the ridiculous fourth-down throw – a 23-yard rainbow to the back left corner of the end zone – that dropped perfectly into the outstretched arms of senior receiver Malachi Pike? You may want to rewind that one.
By that point, the Colonels were up 21-0 and well on their way to advancing further in these state playoffs. But Mayer wasn’t finished – which was, of course, by design.
After winning last week by pounding their running backs and relying on their defense, CovCath coaches knew this game would be different. South Oldham’s defensive front was stout, which the Colonel coaches felt could lead to their quarterback getting more opportunities to throw the ball.
They were right. After being pulled in the third quarter, Mayer’s stats looked like this: 12 of 16 passing for 206 yards and five touchdowns – the majority of which came in the first half. Of his four incompletions, two were receiver drops (one a sure touchdown) and another came on a Hail Mary pass to end the first half.
“I’m not sure I’ve ever felt like this – this good,” Mayer said afterward. “But I have to give all the credit to my teammates. They make me look good. My offensive line protects me. My receivers are so athletic and played so well. The defense gets the ball back to us. Basically, we have a plan and we follow it.”
And along the way, Mayer has firmly inserted himself into the Mr. Football conversation.
In a race with Ryle running back Jake Chisholm and Trinity wide receiver Rondale Moore, some fans seemed to suggest Mayer’s numbers weren’t gaudy enough of late to keep him at the front of the pack.
Still, the Miami University commit just keeps winning, whether his stats are silly good, like on Friday night, or if he’s just asked to manage his team to a victory. Either way, he has the support of his coach.
“I know I’m biased, but if anyone can find a better player in the state, someone who means more to their team, I’d like to see who that is,” said coach Eddie Eviston. “He had a tremendous night tonight. He played with a lot of poise. He made good reads. Of course, it’s easier, too, when you’ve got a lot of talent on your team - and we do.”
You could argue about his best throw of the night. Was it the 52-yard touchdown bomb to junior running back Casey McGinness? Or was it the second strike to Coldiron for a TD in the back of the end zone?
“We knew what we had to do,” Mayer said. “We knew what they were going to do defensively, and we knew they were probably going to be one of the best defenses we faced, so we were ready. We’re hitting on all cylinders and it feels really, really good right now.”
The Colonels are now two wins away from their seventh state championship. On Nov. 24 they will travel to 11-2 South Warren, which upset Bowling Green Friday night. On the other side of the bracket, 8-5 Harlan travels to take on 10-3 Madison Southern.
“We’re still climbing,” Eviston told his team after the latest victory. “We still haven’t played our best yet. Wouldn’t it be a perfect week to do that? Let’s go to work.”