This is “the” game.
Tonight is the encounter District 8-5A enthusiasts have been waiting for. Most expected it would be under slightly different circumstances, but, nevertheless, Copperas Cove versus Midway is the district’s biggest game this season as the defending champions host the perennial powerhouse.
Despite preseason expectations, neither team is entering the game unscathed with both losing close contests to A&M Consolidated early in the season. The Tigers earned national attention on the opening night of the season by returning a lateral-filled kickoff for a touchdown with no time remaining to win against Copperas Cove and then jumped out to a 28-7 lead against the Panthers before holding on for narrow victory.
With the wins, A&M Consolidated was capable of removing some of the sizzle from the matchup, but it didn’t extinguish the intrigue.
Copperas Cove and Midway come in as the area’s most decorated Class 5A programs with a combined three state championship appearances since 2006. The Bulldawgs lost in 2006 and 2007, while the Panthers were victims of Lake Travis’ unprecedented run in 2011.
Since Jack Welch came to town as Bulldawgs head coach in 1994, Copperas Cove is 6-2 against its on-again, off-again rivals, but the Panthers won last season’s encounter 42-32, triggering an extremely rare occurrence. A 35-31 loss the following week gave Welch his first consecutive defeats in one season since a four-game losing skid closed out the 2003 campaign.
In the months since, even more streaks have been snapped and several records have fallen at Copperas Cove as a powerful passing attack alters the team’s dimensions.
With junior quarterback Manny Harris, who has already eclipsed last season’s team passing total by 358 yards, averaging more than 365 yards passing per game, Copperas Cove’s air-it-out philosophy will test the district’s stingiest defense, which is allowing a mere 306.4 yards per game, including 172.2 through the air.
Likewise, the Bulldawgs’ secondary will be tasked with Midway’s equally impressive offense. The loss of district MVP Kramer Robertson did little to slow down the Panthers, who are putting up 485.4 yards per game while averaging more than 43 points per game.
Odds are this will be a track meet on turf, and who doesn’t love a shootout? Well, defenses for one.
Make no mistake about it, high-scoring, back-and-forth games almost always lead to defensive lapses at some point. When challenged repeatedly, high school athletes are bound to make an error in judgment while in coverage, and the outcome could hinge on which team makes the fewest errors.
The Bulldawgs have displayed a tendency to get beat over the top, giving up numerous explosive plays during the season, but so far, nobody outside of A&M Consolidated and Killeen have been able to take advantage.
Speaking of the Tigers and Kangaroos, Copperas Cove fans should be oddly appreciative of the pair of unexpected defeats. The Bulldawgs understand the importance of every game thanks to Killeen snapping its losing streak dating back to 1995, while the Tigers proved a team’s heart could be broken in the span of a second.
Copperas Cove (3-2, 1-1) cannot afford a second district loss at this point. The district has as much, if not more, parity than ever and the standings should reflect it for the duration of the season. As the Bulldawgs found out last week, Shoemaker is no longer a pushover, Temple’s offense continues to produce despite losing its starting quarterback, and Killeen is already ridding old skeletons from its closet, while Harker Heights and Belton serve as near mirror images of one another on paper.
The playoff picture already appears poised to become a big, jumbled mess and both Midway and Copperas Cove know this. Wins, especially for the Bulldawgs, are of utmost importance, and no game looms bigger on either team’s schedule than tonight’s encounter at Panther Stadium.
There is no telling exactly what fans will see during the 48-minute battle, but, barring a pair of complete collapses, they will be watching the district’s most attractive and anticipated game of the season.