When watching film on Cedar Park, Harker Heights coach Mike Mullins can’t help but feel like he’s looking in a mirror.
“We do see a lot of similarities there,” Mullins said.
Both Cedar Park and Harker Heights enter tonight’s non-district game at 7:30 at Leo Buckley Stadium with identical 0-2 records and an eerily similar makeup — with a talented and experienced defense carrying an equally inexperienced and mistake-prone offense.
“I think, from what I can see, we’re pretty even from that standpoint,” Mullins said.
The only real difference has been the level of competition played, with the Timberwolves — which entered the season ranked No. 2 in 4A — losing to perennial 5A playoff contenders Austin Westlake (21-7) and Abilene Cooper (17-14). While dealing with injuries to key players, the Knights have seen Round Rock Stony Point (18-3) and Round Rock (27-7) pull away late for victories.
“I think the thing for them, they’ve played two really good 5A teams, (but) I think we’ve played a tough schedule — maybe not as tough as that — but at the same time, who knows?” Mullins said. “We know it’s one more (game) and we want to try and get some momentum going heading into the off week and regroup (before district play in two weeks).”
One of the major reasons for Heights’ struggles have been the turnovers — 11 through the first two games, one more than points scored this season (10).
“I was looking at that (stat), and that can’t happen if you expect to win games,” Mullins said.
Making matters worse, three of last week’s seven total turnovers against Round Rock directly resulted in 20 points — the difference in the game — for the Dragons, including both an interception and fumble return for touchdowns.
“None of those plays were called,” Mullins joked.
Mistakes from the quarterback position have certainly put Heights in a bind as more than half the turnovers this season have come via interceptions. That includes six from junior starting quarterback Damion May, who has split time with sophomore Troy Smith.
“Both will (continue to) play, but at the same time, we’re looking for one to step forward,” Mullins said of the on-going quarterback competition.
If not for a stifling defense, which held the visiting Dragons to just 182 yards of total offense last week, including 76 rushing, things could have been a whole lot worse.
“They played outstanding, they played physical and we’re just going to have to live on those guys until we get these other (offensive) guys going,” Mullins said last Friday.
Holding on to a 14-7 halftime lead last Friday, Round Rock and Heights were in a battle for field position throughout much of the second half, combining on eight punts and seven three-and-outs up until the 7:33 mark of the fourth quarter.
But, after playing relatively clean ball in the second half, the turnover bug bit back in a big way when senior tailback Tyler Brown fumbled on the opening carry of the Knights’ sixth offensive series of the second half.
Three plays later, Round Rock tailback Deandre Story punched it in from less than a yard out for his second touchdown of the game to put the Dragons ahead 21-7 with 6:56 left in the game.
“It’s a killer, it doesn’t matter what level, it’s such a downer for that to happen,” Mullins said of Brown’s fumble. “You just keep telling them to hang in there, and they played hard for 48 minutes — I can’t ask anything better than that — we’ve just got to keep working.”
The nail-in-the-coffin score came two drives later when Dragons corner Ryan Lamar stepped in front of a Smith pass to the sideline and tiptoed 29 yards into the end zone to make it 27-7 with 2:28 to play for a 13-0 turnaround in five minutes.
While Mullins said he’s not expecting a perfect performance tonight against Cedar Park, he is hoping to see wholesale improvement, especially from an offensive standpoint.
“That’s from our receivers, to our quarterbacks, to our running backs, to our offensive line, all of whom are now working on their third varsity game,” Mullins said. “And at times, I thought we were much better last week in some areas, (but) I hope that continues to improve and we’ll see how it goes.”