It was a first.
Throughout his career, Harker Heights head coach Jerry Edwards, who took over the program in 2013, experienced plenty of exhilarating wins and heartbreaking losses, but Sept. 7 was unique.
After allowing visiting Round Rock McNeil to score two touchdowns in the final minute of the first half, the Knights trailed 28-7 and appeared destined for defeat.
But Harker Heights senior Michael Collier returned the ensuing kickoff 74 yards for a score, igniting an offensive outburst and propelling the Knights to a 38-35 home-opening victory at Leo Buckley Stadium.
Following the win, Edwards admitted the performance was overwhelming.
“I have never been more proud to be a Harker Heights Knight than I am now,” he said. “The kids never stopped fighting and never gave up, and that is the culture we’ve been building.
“I am just so, so proud of them.”
On the heels of senior Jameel Hodges’ four-yard run across the goal line to tie the score 7-7 with 3 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in the first quarter, Harker Heights’ offense went silent as the Mavericks constructed their 21-point advantage. The run culminated with McNeil sandwiching a pair of touchdowns around a successful onside recovery, leaving 23 seconds until halftime.
It proved to be too much time as Collier changed the complexion of the contest with his return.
“The thing about this team is that we don’t stop,” he said. “No matter what happens, we trust and believe in our coaches, we do our jobs, and in the end, good things are happening.”
Upon receiving the second-half kickoff, the Knights displayed their ability to score quickly as Seth Bodolus made a 22-yard field goal, and 100 seconds later, Collier recorded a 77-yard touchdown with 3:54 remaining in the quarter.
The Mavericks extended their lead to 35-24 with their lone score after halftime, but Hodges punched in his second touchdown of the game on a two-yard run. Then, Harker Heights (2-0) made another defensive stand, and the Knights took control with 1:46 remaining in regulation.
Seven plays later, junior quarterback Marcel Ramirez gave the Knights their only lead of the game on a one-yard run into the end zone before Jaquan Tillis added a 2-point conversion, avenging a failed attempt on the previous drive.
Tillis led Harker Heights offensively with 15 carries for 55 yards and three catches for 61 yards, while Hodges added 101 total yards of offense, and Collier finished with 97 yards on four carries.
The Knights will attempt to remain undefeated tonight, hosting Waco at 7:30 p.m.
The Lions also enter the game with an unblemished record after soundly beating San Antonio Roosevelt 41-17 and Killeen 52-20 behind a rushing attack averaging 228.5 yards.
“We’ve got to be prepared,” Edwards said. “We’ve got a really tough four-game stretch coming up, so we’ve really got to be focused.
“We only have two more tune-up games left until district, but the win against McNeil is going to go a long way for us,” Collier agreed.
“We are feeling spectacular as a team right now,” he said. “We’re 2-0, we won our first home game, I got to be part of senior night, so we are feeling really good about ourselves.”