BELTON — In a three-minute span, Belton turned its season around. It also threw Copperas Cove for a loop.
The Tigers, who entered the game with two district losses, desperately needed to knock off the Bulldawgs to keep themselves in the hunt for a playoff berth. After trailing 21-7 at halftime, the Belton duo of quarterback Peter Shelburne and receiver Durham Smythe combined to score two touchdowns before Brandon Rhoads added another on the Tigers’ first three possessions of the second half to take a 28-21 lead en route to a 35-31 win.
While the victory keeps the Tigers’ postseason hopes alive, it also gives Copperas Cove its second consecutive loss, dropping it to 2-2 in District 8-5A play after losing to Waco Midway last week.
Despite the loss, Bulldawgs (4-3, 2-2) coach Jack Welch believes his team can learn from the experience.
“They had a hiccup (against Harker Heights) earlier in the year, and I think they learned from it,” Welch said. “They also had some players out, and they are back to full strength and playing well. But I thought our kids played well enough to win tonight.
“We are going to get better because of this ball game. We are not out of anything. We’ve just got to make sure we get better because of it.”
The Bulldawgs were forced to play the game without District 8-5A’s leading rusher Vondareaz King, who missed the game for personal reasons.
With King sidelined, the Bulldawgs turned to senior running back Daniel Ruff to carry the load, accounting for a game-high 126 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries.
“You’ve got to play the players who are ready to go, you never have control of those things,” Welch said.
Momentum completely switched hands in the third quarter after Copperas Cove punted on its opening possession, setting up a 54-yard scoring drive for Belton (5-2, 2-2) as Shelburne and Smythe connected for their first touchdown of the game.
The Tigers then recovered an on-side kick to set up another short scoring drive as Shelburne and Smyth combined for their second touchdown in 45 seconds, tying the game at 21 with 7:03 remaining.
Welch, however, disagreed with the recovery.
“We thought it got touched (before going 10 yards),” Welch said. “Our players saw it and felt like they couldn’t touch it because it only went 9 yards. But I know you can only control what you do. Those things happen sometimes.”
Copperas Cove went three-and-out on the ensuring drive and Belton took over at its own 41 following a punt. Three plays later, Rhoads found the end zone on a 30-yard run, and the Tigers held a 28-21 lead with 4:56 left in the quarter.
The Bulldawgs cut the lead to four points, 28-24, following a 25-yard field goal from Issac Ogeda before reclaiming the lead on quarterback Robbie Seybold’s 23-yard touchdown pass to Rashaun Gibson early in the fourth quarter, but Shelburne scored the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run with 2:46 remaining, and the Bulldawgs responded with a turnover on downs.
“The third quarter was the big thing,” Belton coach Rodney Southern said. “We executed better on offense and tackled better, much better.”
Copperas Cove struck first after recovering a fumble on the second snap of the opening drive and Ruff covered 28 yards in four carries, including a 5-yard touchdown run.
Later in the quarter, Seybold capped a seven-play, 53-yard drive with a 1-yard sneak into the end zone, giving the Bulldawgs a 14-0 lead with 1:29 left in the first quarter.
The Tigers responded with a scoring drive spanning into the early minutes of the second quarter as sophomore Shane Stafford broke free for a 36-yard touchdown run to make it 14-7.
But it took the Bulldawgs less than two minutes to push their lead back to double digits. Copperas Cove never faced a third down, 55 yards in seven plays, with Ruff’s 3-yard touchdown punctuating the drive to give the Bulldawgs a 21-7 advantage with 8:25 remaining in the first half. Ruff posted 97 yards in the first half.
The Bulldawgs defense generated an important stop on the ensuing drive, stuffing the Tigers on four consecutive plays after Shelburne connected with Andre Ewing on a 54-yard pass down to Copperas Cove’s 1-yard line. The score remained the same going into halftime after the teams exchanged punts and Seybold took a knee to run out the clock.