Naashon Hughes didn’t give himself long to enjoy Harker Heights’ first victory of the season. Not with cross-town rival Killeen coming up.
“Basically all week, from Saturday morning, we came back from the game and all we’ve been talking about is Killeen,” said the 6-foot-4 Hughes, whose fourth-down knockdown of a pass meant for 6-foot-6 Belton tight end Durham Smythe effectively sealed last Friday’s 7-0 victory over the Tigers.
“We’ve talked about it all summer because they’re trying to get back at us for last year’s win against them.”
When the two programs square off for their 11th meeting, the Knights (1-3, 1-0 8-5A) will try to replicate last year’s victory after upsetting the then-4A Roos 38-27 to halt a five-year win streak for Killeen dating back to 2006. In all, the Roos (3-1, 0-1) hold a 7-3 advantage in the all-time series.
But if Heights is going to take its first two-game win streak in the series, it’s going to be because its defense stepped up once again.
“There’s definitely a lot of pressure on us as a defense because we’re No. 2 (in the district) behind Waco Midway, so we have to prove it now,” Hughes said.
Last Friday the Heights defense forced three second-half turnovers to shutout Belton in their District 8-5A opener at Leo Buckley Stadium.
“It’s surreal,” said Knights senior safety Tyrel Stokes, who had a one-handed interception and two pivotal deflections on third down to stall a pair of Belton second-half drives.
“We lost those first three games but it’s OK because we bounced back and we did it — we got that win,” added Heights cornerback Samson Gray, who contributed a forced fumble and an interception.
Struggling with turnovers and costly offensive mistakes through a winless non-district run, the Knights (1-3, 1-0 8-5A) turned to its senior-laden defense Friday.
“As a defense, we like to play (mad),” Hughes said. “So we just came out and tried to do what we could.”
Hughes, who committed to Texas as a greyshirt, did plenty by himself, flushing Tigers quarterback Peter Shelburne when he rushed and then blanketing Smythe when he didn’t, limiting the fellow Longhorns commit to no catches.
The last of those opportunities proved to be the game-clincher.
With less then two minutes on the clock, Belton (3-1, 0-1) was locked into a do-or-die fourth-and-goal play from Heights’ 18 after Stokes knocked down a pass intended for Tigers’ sure-handed receiver Derick Bates on third down.
Not finding much open down field, Shelburne (9-of-21 for 121 yards) uncorked a jump-ball to Smythe in the left corner of the end zone. Not to be outjumped, Hughes swatted the ball down with 1:37 left to play.
“I just timed my jump perfectly,” he said.
From there, the Heights’ ground-and-pound offense wrapped it up thanks to a career-high 116 rushing yards from senior fullback Tyler Brown, including a 3-yard touchdown 2:20 into the third quarter for the game’s lone score, and another 58 rushing yards from Terance Goodwin.
With a lead, Heights defense — and Stokes — took over.
Following a missed 45-yard field goal by Belton kicker Carlo Mosnia, Stokes sealed the next Tigers drive with a diving one-handed interception on a deep pass over the middle to Bates, who just missed a diving 33-yard catch on the play.
“What a great interception by Stokes, oh my gosh, that was something that you don’t see very often,” Mullins said.
Gray ended Belton’s next drive by intercepting an under-thrown pass to Smythe at the 2-yard line — his second touchdown-saving play after stripping Bates on the Tigers’ opening series — and Hughes swatted another Smythe touchdown opportunity as the Knights walked away winners for the first time this season.
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