BELTON — Belton safety Malik Green said no words were spoken among his teammates during halftime of Friday’s game against Harker Heights. In silence, the defense of the Tigers found their strength for their best half of football this season.
The Belton defense forced three turnovers and the offense took care of the rest, rallying from a 38-17 deficit for a 42-38 victory over Harker Heights in the District 8-5A opener for both teams at Tiger Field. The Tigers went ahead for good on a 12-yard touchdown pass from Shane Stafford to Andre Ewing with 4:42 remaining. Belton (1-3) avoided its second 0-4 start in four years.
Harker Heights (0-4) couldn’t hold a double-digit lead for the third time this season and remains winless under first-year coach Jerry Edwards.
Belton overcame a big game by Heights running back Marcus Anderson II, who finished with 211 yards rushing, 175 in the first half.
Two plays after Ewing’s touchdown Green made an interception off a Troy Smith pass that was deflected by linebacker Tevin Jones to put the Tigers in position to win. Green also made a pivotal interception with 2:56 remaining in the third quarter to help set up a 3-yard touchdown run by Kavan Johnson on the final play of the third quarter, cutting Heights lead to 38-28. Belton coach Rodney Southern said Green’s first interception was the most important play of the game.
“There was no talking in the locker room at halftime. We sat down, relaxed, forgot about the first half and came out the second,” Green said.
“I couldn’t have made the interceptions without our linebackers putting on the pressure.
“If we keep playing defense like we did in the second half, we’re unbeatable.”
Jones also forced a Gilbert Miller fumble that Brandon Sullivan recovered and returned to the Heights 39-yard line.
This set up a 4-yard touchdown run by Brandon Rhoads with 8:31 remaining to cut Belton’s deficit to 38-35. Rhoads may have had his best game for Belton as he rushed for 163 yards and two touchdowns while also returning a kickoff 89 yards for a touchdown.
“I didn’t know I would be the workhorse this week. It just happened during the game and I was very surprised,” Rhoads said.
Rhoads also had a 29-yard reception on Belton’s game-winning drive off a sidearm pass from quarterback Shane Stafford after he avoided a sack.
Belton’s defense did not look good in the first half, allowing scores on all five Heights drives.
After Rhoads’ kickoff return gave Belton an 8-7 lead with 8:26 left in the first quarter, Heights countered with a 76-yard drive capped by a 4-yard touchdown run by Smith on a fourth-and-goal play.
Belton gave up the ball on its own 23-yard line on its next drive thanks to a bad snap on a punt attempt. The Knights built a 31-14 lead at halftime on a gamble as Miller had a 1-yard touchdown run with 2 seconds left in the first half.
The Tigers cut the deficit to 31-21 on a 13-yard touchdown run by Kavan Johnson with 8:27 left in the third quarter, but a 64-yard return by Damaria Moon on the ensuing kickoff set up a 17-yard touchdown pass from Smith to Trey Lockhart with 7:29 left in the third quarter. Belton’s defense held Heights to 39 total yards the rest of the game.
“We got in a couple different fronts on defense in the second half that
helped,” Southern said. “We challenged the manhood of the guys on the whole team and some of them responded.”