Copperas Cove has a knack for bouncing back.
Despite losing four games during the regular season for the first time since 2003, the Bulldawgs have consistently rebounded with strong performances in the following week. On the heels of a 51-39 home loss to Temple last week, Copperas Cove must do so once again or risk missing the postseason for just the second time in the past 16 years.
“This is a playoff game for both of us,” Bulldawgs head coach Jack Welch said of tonight’s game against Harker Heights, “because we’re both trying to get in the playoffs.”
Should Copperas Cove emerge victorious at Hood Stadium, it still needs the Wildcats to beat Killeen to ensure a playoff berth. If history is any indication, however, the Bulldawgs are capable of holding up their end of the deal.
Following each of its first three losses, Copperas Cove (5-4, 3-3 District 8-5A) has responded with lopsided victories, outscoring opponents by a combined 95 points to win by an average of 31.7 points per game.
“We try to take everything that happens as a positive,” Welch said. “How do you make a loss a positive? You learn from it and try to correct your mistakes and move on to next ball game.”
One area of concern for Copperas Cove entering tonight’s game will be containing the Knights’ running game. Led by Marcus Anderson II, who ranks fourth in district with 949 rushing yards to go with four touchdowns, Harker Heights is averaging 212.3 rushing yards per game.
In addition to passing for 1,274 yards and 14 touchdowns, dual-threat quarterback Troy Smith adds another dimension to the Knights’ ground game, rushing for 520 yards and 11 touchdowns.
Against Temple, the Bulldawgs struggled to stop the district’s best rushing team as Jeff Carr ran for 199 of the Wildcats’ 418 rushing yards, including 233 in the second half.
“We’ve got to play very solid,” Welch said. “First of all, we have to stop the run and we, obviously, did not do that this last ball game. … They’re very potent and have a chance to break any time they touch the ball. They also do an excellent job of throwing the ball deep.”
Harker Heights (2-7, 2-4) is also fighting for an outside shot to get in the playoffs, needing to beat Copperas Cove, along with having Temple beat Killeen just to force a multi-team tiebreaker.
Outside of consecutive wins against Killeen and Ellison, victories have eluded Harker Heights this season as the Knights allow 439.7 yards per game and have surrendered 113 points during their current three-game losing streak.
Nevertheless, Welch believes Harker Heights poses a serious threat.
“They might be struggling, but to us, they don’t look like they’re struggling,” he said. “They’re very feisty on film, and they’re playing very hard, tenacious football.
“The thing I’ve been impressed most with is their overall team speed. I saw (district-leading rusher Daniel) McCants, from Killeen, breakout on them, and they were able to catch him and run him down, and, of course, we could not.”
In Copperas Cove’s first game at Hood Stadium, McCants rushed for 276 yards and six touchdowns as Killeen snapped an 11-game losing streak to the Bulldawgs.
Copperas Cove bounced back, though, beating Shoemaker 63-41 the following week before returning to Hood Stadium and beating Ellison 48-28 on Oct. 25.
Now, with everything riding on tonight’s game, Welch hopes his team rises to the occasion once again.
“It’s not a guarantee to win this game and be in the playoffs,” he said, “but the most important thing right now is to play this game and do the very best we can.”