COVINGTON, Ky. -- The 2017 edition of the Covington Catholic football team might be remembered as one of the best teams ever to play in Kentucky. But winning state titles is nothing new for CovCath, a school that has had some legendary teams over the years, including back-to-back titles in 1993-94.
The Colonels capped a perfect 15-0 season Saturday night at Lexington's Kroger Field, defeating Madison Southern 49-13 to win the Class 5A state championship. It was the Colonels' seventh state football title and their first since 2006.
From the start of the 2017 season, the Colonels looked like a good bet to win another state title, playing with a talented and experienced roster led by senior quarterback AJ Mayer. But that wasn't necessarily the case back in 1994, when the Colonels won their fourth state football championship and their second in a row.
"A lot of people said it was going to be a rebuilding year for us, but we didn't pay any attention to that," CovCath senior defensive end Matt Dusing told The Kentucky Post in 1994 following a 24-21 classic Class 3A state final win over Bowling Green at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville.
"We knew we had the talent to win it all."
But things didn't look good for the CovCath team early in the 1994 season. The Colonels began the year with a 1-4 record and most of the players were inexperienced on varsity, including a brand new starting quarterback.
Dusing was one of 10 new varsity players on defense and the Colonels gave up 101 points in the first five games, including losses to Class 4A state finalist Boone County, Class A perennial power Beechwood and Cincinnati Moeller.
But then they clicked, gaining early wins over Simon Kenton and rival Highlands. After the rough start, CovCath won 10 straight games to close 1994 with another state title, finishing 11-4 and further cementing head coach Lynn Ray's team as one of the top football programs in the state.
The Colonels held their final 10 foes to 97 total points and also ran their overall postseason winning streak to 10 straight wins. The winning streak included a 33-6 rout of Tim Couch and Leslie County in the state semifinals.
Few expected this back-to-back title run.
"This one is very satisfying for the players and the coaches because everyone really worked their tails off," Ray told The Post in 1994. "It all has to do with the character of our players. They're willing to pay the price to be champions."
Still, things looked bleak for the upstart Colonels late in the third quarter of the state final on Dec. 3, 1994, with Bowling Green (13-2) leading 21-9. That's when first-year starting quarterback Kevin Cogswell and senior tailback Galen Healey -- the smallest player on the team at 5-foot-6 and 155 pounds -- led them back.
Cogswell directed touchdown drives on two straight possessions to turn the game around. First, the quarterback capped a drive by scoring from three yards out, and the two-point conversion made it 21-17.
"In the first half, our execution just wasn't there," Cogswell told The Post. "We really didn't make any changes at halftime. We just came out and executed our running game a little better and started getting five and six yards a pop."
Healey carried the load on the game-winning drive with five carries for 45 yards and the go-ahead touchdown from two yards out. Trey Farro, who booted a 40-yard field goal in the first half, nailed the point-after to make it 24-21.
But Bowling Green had about four minutes to try to tie the game or win it on one last drive, and the Purples drove to the CovCath 3-yard line, where time expired before they could attempt a field goal to send the game into overtime.
The Colonels out-gained Bowling Green 261-259 yards, highlighting the closeness of the game. Healey led all rushers with 137 yards on 23 carries and Cogswell completed 7 of 13 passes for 77 yards while carrying 10 times for 47 yards.
"I felt like our offense carried us in this game," Ray told The Post after the game. "But that's been one of the unique things about us all year. When our defense didn't play well, the offense picked it up and when the offense struggled, the defensive picked it up."
It was a fitting end to Ray's 20th season at CovCath.
"There's a lot to be said for perseverance, and I learned that early," Ray said in 1994. "And that's one thing that has always bothered me when people talk about our program. They say, 'You guys have always been good.' No, we haven't. This didn't happen overnight.
"My first year, we didn't win any games. We only won one the second year. We didn't have a field and actually practiced at the Ludlow dump, where on Mondays we'd have to clean the beer and whiskey bottles just so we could use the field. But times have changed."
The Colonels finally broke through in 1987 when they defeated perennial state power Paducah Tilghman, 16-6, in the final on Nov. 28, 1987, at Cardinal Stadium in Louisville. CovCath outlasted Tilghman again in a classic the following season, 30-24, in overtime.
CovCath reached the state quarterfinals or semifinals each of the next four seasons and again reigned over Class AAA with a 28-13 win against Lincoln County in the state final on Dec. 3, 1993. Senior Mitchel Jobe rushed for 199 yards and three touchdowns that day for CovCath at Cardinal Stadium.
"Our offensive line did a great job of blocking," Jobe told The Post in 1993. "I'd have to say this was the best game they've had all year and they did it when it counted most."
The Colonels won their fifth state title in 1997 with a 21-13 win over Hopkinsville, capped by a defensive stop by senior defensive end Nick Germann and senior cornerback Brian Voorhees, who stopped Hopkinsville senior running back Artose Pinner on a sweep one yard shy of the goal line as time ran out.
"Artose lined up over left tackle, so we were thinking it was going to be a sweep," Germann told The Post after that game on Dec. 7, 1997. "At first, I wasn't sure if he was in (the end zone) or not. When I saw that he wasn't, it was the best feeling in my life."
CovCath had surged to a 21-0 lead before Pinner, who later played for the University of Kentucky and five NFL teams from 2003 to 2008, rallied. Pinner carried 28 times for 205 yards, but the Colonels held on.
Senior tailback Jeremy Madden led CovCath with 135 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns.
"In the second half, Artose Pinner decided he was going to take over the football game," Ray told The Post after his last state title win. "He almost did us in, but our defense stopped him when they had to."
Ray stepped down after the 2004 season and John Rodenberg's second CovCath team won the sixth championship in program history in 2006.
As in 1994, the Colonels struggled early in 2006. CovCath lost three of its first seven games that year, but those losses came at the hands of Ohio powers Cincinnati Elder, Cincinnati St. Xavier and Columbus Bishop Watterson. The Colonels won their final eight games, including a 27-8 rout of Bowling Green on Dec. 1, 2006, at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
"We came in with a little bit different philosophy and they bought into it right away," Rodenberg told The Post in 2006. "I told them the sooner they bought in the sooner we'd win. So, let's take our hats off to these football players, because they're the ones who got it done."