After going through a non-district to forget, the Harker Heights football team has seemingly turned it around and is one of the area’s hottest teams.
Despite being without all-state center Darius James for all but one-half of a game and talented junior tailback Marcus Anderson II for six games, the Knights (3-4, 3-1 8-5A) have managed to find themselves in rarefied air sitting tied for second in district with three games remaining.
But this week begins what is sure to be the toughest three-game stretch of the season, as Heights travels to Temple to take on the only other team with a 3-1 district mark — the host Wildcats (5-2, 3-1).
Interesting about this game is the dicotomy at place as the Knights enter with 8-5A’s top-rated defense, limiting opponents to an average of 272.6 yards, and it’s least-productive offense, averaging just 241 yards and 11 points per game this season.
On the other hand, the Wildcats feature Syracus-committed quarterback Zach Allen, the district’s top passer (1,885 yards, 20-3 TD-INT ratio), and speedsters Gaylor Sanders and Keith Buhl (combined 1,103 rushing yards) leading 8-5A’s top offense (averaging 555.7 yards per game).
But, while Temple has scored an average of 40.6 points per game, its swiss-cheese defense has surrendered an average of 41.7 and 447 yards per game.
If Heights hopes to continue it’s recent success, and potentially secure its first playoff berth in six years, it’s going to take a concerted effort on both sides of the ball.
Anderson II returns from a one-week hiatus to team with quick tailback Terance Goodwin and run-first quarterback Troy Smith and give the Knights a three-headed backfield monster while linebacker Naashon Hughes, safety Tyrel Stokes and cornerback Jalen Crooms help slow down Temple’s high-octane offense.
Last Friday, the Knights were able to accomplish both in a 28-12 victory over Shoemaker in the inaugural game at Hood Stadium.
Smith ran for a team-high 111 yards including an 80-yard touchdown on the second play of the second half as Heights took advantage of big plays to stay in the thick of the District 8-5A playoff race with three weeks left and its toughest stretch of games to come.
“We had a rough start, but we just had to pull everything together and come together as a team,” said the sophomore quarterback. “We just had to make it happen and we did tonight.”
Smith’s season-long run put Heights up 14-0 with 3½ minutes into the third quarter and gave his team enough cushion to stick to the game plan — running the ball.
“We finally got the big plays today, and usually it’s not there, but today everything just worked out perfectly like we needed,” Smith said.
While the Knights’ defense was able to keep Grey Wolves star Johnny Jefferson to short gains all night, the Heights offense took advantage of its big plays, finding the end zone on all four of its 20-plus yard plays.
With Texas-committed linebacker Naashon Hughes shadowing him all night, the Baylor-bound Jefferson finished with 125 total yards of offense, including 93 rushing. But he could never break loose for the big play, with only six of his 27 rushes going for more than 5 yards, including his 6-yard touchdown with 8:36 remaining in the game.
Jefferson’s 6-yard score cut the Grey Wolves’ deficit to 21-12 with plenty of time left — until Malik Calip got his hands on the ball.
During the ensuing kickoff, Calip fielded the squib kick at midfield on the Heights’ 35 yard line, made a move left before backtracking to his right and found a crease behind some blockers for a 65-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.