There was no other option.

After experiencing a taste of success last year by helping Harker Heights advance to the playoffs for the first time since 2012, Knights running back Jaquan Tillis wants more before graduating.

Along with his teammates, the senior expects to surpass last season’s seven-win showing and produce a deeper playoff run.

To achieve the goal, however, Tillis felt it was critical to capture a victory in last weekend’s season opener at Elgin, and Harker Heights did.

Tillis accounted for more than 100 total yards as the Knights withstood a late rally attempt by the Wildcats en route to a 27-21 win.

Following the game, Tillis admitted defeat was not an option.

“We’re ready now,” he said. “We had to come out and win the first game, so we could take the momentum on to the next game and the next and so on.

“Now, we just have to build on to it one game at a time.”

Early on, Elgin was celebrating, though.

The Wildcats allowed a mere 15 seconds to elapse from the clock before crossing the goal line as junior Ty McFarlin returned the game’s opening kickoff 97 yards for a touchdown.

But Harker Heights responded with 13 unanswered points before halftime as senior kicker Seth Bodolus sandwiched field goals measuring 32 and 35 yards around a 37-yard touchdown pass from Knights starting quarterback Marcel Ramirez to Markel Reo.

The offensive outburst was aided by a strong defensive showing with Harker Heights halting three of Elgin’s four first-half drives with turnovers, including interceptions by Knights juniors Thian Pate and Devin Barnes.

“That start could have been deflating for a young team,” Harker Heights head coach Jerry Edwards said, “and it knocked the wind out of our sails in a hurry.

“So, for our offense to get a 13-7 lead by halftime helped a lot.”

The Knights’ cushion inflated to 20-7 after driving 59 yards in 10 plays, culminating with senior Jameel Hodges’ three-yard touchdown run. Hodges accounted for 40 yards on the possession en route to a game-high 175 rushing yards on 26 carries.

With less than a minute remaining in the third quarter, the Wildcats scored but failed to make the extra point, making the score 20-13 heading into the final period.

The squads exchanged turnovers on their following possessions before Ramirez (6-9- 0-91) connected on a 20-yard touchdown pass to Reo, giving the Knights their final points.

Elgin capitalized on a Harker Heights fumble and scored with 2:52 remaining in the contest, pulling within six points, 27-21, after a successful two-point conversion.

The Wildcats would not receive another opportunity to score, though, as an onside attempt failed, allowing the Knights to run out the clock thanks in part to Tillis converted a fourth-and- 5 with a six-yard run. Tillis finished with eight rushes for 85 yards and three receptions for 27 yards.

Senior running back Michael Collier tallied 10 carries for 52 yards for Harker Heights.

The Knights hosted Round Rock McNeil in their home opener Thursday and are set to play Waco at Leo Buckley Stadium on Sept. 15.

“We’re excited to start the season off 1-0,” Edwards said, “but we’ve got to learn from every game and use each one to prepare for the next.”

Contact Clay Whittington at clayw@kdhnews.com

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