It doesn’t get any closer than the District 8-5A race heading into Week 6 of the high school football season.
After two weeks of district play, half of the eight-team district sports 1-1 records in league play, with just two unbeatens.
By Saturday, it’s possible for five teams to sit atop the district with identical 2-1 records in league play.
On the flip side, it is also possible that six teams can sit behind undefeated Waco Midway and Belton with 1-2 records.
Tonight, the race intensifies with traditional rivalries like Belton-Temple and newer rivalries like Midway-Copperas Cove taking center stage.
After Killeen, Harker Heights and Temple finished with identical records last season — leaving Temple out of the playoffs on a tiebreaker — it was hard for some to imagine the district getting any closer.
But not for the coaches.
“I did (expect it to be this close),” Ellison coach Trent Gregory said. “On each and every Friday night, regardless of who’s playing, people are going to have a chance to win games.”
Killeen served notice in its district opener, when the winless Roos toppled perennial power Copperas Cove
for their first win against the Bulldawgs since 1995. Belton also entered district play looking for its first victory, and two weeks in, the Tigers are one of two undefeated teams in league play.
“This is what high school football’s all about,” Belton coach Rodney Southern said after the Tigers’ win against Ellison. “Some people probably wrote us off three weeks ago.”
Except no one can be written off in 8-5A, and Killeen coach Sam Jones and Shoemaker coach Channon Hall — who agree that 8-5A competition comprises a competitive, flat playing field — believe the reason is innovative, effective offenses.
High levels of athleticism and quick-scoring ability presented teams with more opportunities to win games this year, Jones said. While Midway and Copperas Cove traditionally displayed dominance, the district race is a tug of war this season.
“The teams are just a little bit more even in terms of who can score points,” Jones said. “The scores might be higher, but the games are more evenly matched.
“Everyone can run the read (option). Everyone can throw the football.”
Shoemaker is a fine illustration of Jones’ point. While the Grey Wolves are 0-2 in district, they kept pace with Temple and Copperas Cove for much of the first halves, tying Cove at 21 at one point. The Bulldawgs went on to win 63-41.
“We’re very competitive,” Hall said. “Both of those games, we felt like we had a chance to win. We made some mistakes here and there and other teams made plays here and there, that we didn’t, to win.”
Shoemaker competes in one of the top districts in the state, Hall said, and despite the team’s winless district record, it is still in the heat of the playoff hunt.
Gregory’s Ellison team is in a similar situation, also starting district play 0-2.
Despite its last win coming in 2010, Gregory continues to preach to his team the reality that they are as much in the district race as anyone.
“We’ve got a chance every night,” Gregory said. “We’ve got a chance every ball game and we’re not going to put our head down.
“We don’t have time to feel sorry for ourselves.”
Hunter or hunted
Gregory is right, as Ellison hosts a Harker Heights team fresh off its first victory of the season against Killeen, who defeated Copperas Cove the week before.
But Knights coach Jerry Edwards and his staff have been sure to remind their team that it can quickly go from hunter to hunted.
“We’ve just got to maintain our focus,” Edwards said. “We’ve got to treat every opponent with respect, and we’ve got to prepare ourselves to take care of business.”
Jones and Killeen are treating 0-2 Shoemaker with the same respect, knowing that its Killeen ISD rivals are just as capable of knocking off them as they were against Copperas Cove.
“Any given Friday, any team can get up for another team and they can beat them,” Jones said.
Jones said Shoemaker’s two turnovers were the deciding factors in the Copperas Cove game and believes turnovers will continue to be key in district matchups.
“The game is won on mistakes, whoever makes the fewest mistakes, or whoever can stop their opponent, maybe two or three more times than their other opponent,” Jones said.
The margin for error is slim, but it seems the coaches, and players, are enjoying the parity each week.
“I told (my team) if you can’t get motivated from this point forward then there’s something wrong with you,” Southern said.