Naashon Hughes said he “kinda expected” last week’s 42-7 upset of Temple.
Just judging by the celebration afterwards, he was probably one of the only few. Of course, with a confidence and swagger of a rare three-game win streak, and as a leading member of a defense with a clear chip on its shoulder, the senior Harker Heights linebacker expects that kind of showing every week.
“There’s definitely another level of confidence from earlier this season, but I tell the guys each week: each team is different,” the Texas-committed Hughes said after recording two forced fumbles, a sack and a number of quarterback pressures against Temple.
“Defensively, we take everything as a challenge. We try to shut everybody down.”
The challenge will be amplified even higher tonight at 7 when District 8-5A leader and 12th-ranked Waco Midway (8-0, 5-0 8-5A) comes to Leo Buckley Stadium for a de facto district championship game against upstart Harker Heights (4-4, 4-1).
“That’s something we have talked about, that we’re playing for a spot to be a district champion, and I think that helps with the mentality of that,” Knights coach Mike Mullins said. “So regardless of what happens, our mindset right now is to get a piece of that pie and go from there.”
The Knights haven’t won district since Hall of Fame coach Ross Rogers, in his first year at Bryan, won three titles in his first four seasons at Harker Heights (2001-02, 2004).
“We’ve been talking and we get a gold ball if we win both of these (next two games), and that’s here forever,” Hughes said. “That’s a chance for some of these guys to leave their mark on Harker Heights, so we’re definitely going to be focused and ready to play.”
Midway’s offense hasn’t been held to less than 34 points all season, and has outscored the district competition by nearly four touchdowns per game, scoring at least 44 points in three games already this season.
“We don’t even want them to score 35,” Hughes said.
In contrast, last week’s 42-point outburst was a season high for Heights by 14 points, with the previous best of 28 coming in a win over Shoemaker. By the same token, the Knights have only allowed two teams to eclipse 20 points all season, including surrendering a season-worst four touchdowns in a 28-7 loss to Killeen a month ago.
That loss also came the week following their previous “big win” when Heights upset Belton 7-0 in the district opener, which coaches credited to a hangover effect they are desperate to avoid this time around.
“You try to guard against it, but I don’t know if you ever avoid it because we haven’t been in that spot a lot,” Mullins said.
Potentially the biggest challenge for Heights will be offensively as the Panthers also feature a defense that is second only to its own, allowing 302 yards and just 17 points per game, again, second only to Heights’ 15.5 per-game average.
“We’ve got to limit turnovers, we’ve got to control the ball, we’ve got to pick our spots here and there on things and continue to play good defense,” Mullins said. “Because with Midway, there’s very few flaws with their offense, defense and in their kicking game.”
Midway is led by its senior three-headed monster on offense — dual-threat quarterback Kramer Robertson (1,616 passing, 365 rushing, 19 combined TDs), tailback B.J. Kelly (926 rushing, 13 TDs, 8.12 yards per carry) and Division I-bound receiver Hunter Jarmon (district-leading 45 catches for 737 yards).
“It causes some sleepless nights from the standpoint that you watch film and you see them scoring from all directions,” Mullins said. “We’re really going to have to play well on both sides to stay in the game with them.”
But Heights isn’t without its own weapons on offense, with what was a four-headed rushing attack last week against Temple, highlighted by recently healthy junior tailback Marcus Anderson II (299 yards on 41 carries in two games), seniors Terance Goodwin (502 rushing) and Tyler Brown (5 rushing TDs) and sophomore quarterback Troy Smith (730 total yards, 4 TDs).
So, while the year may not have started out so well with three straight losses, the Knights believe their presence in such a meaningful game is no fluke.
“Now we’re starting to click, (but) I think we should have been (at this level) all along,” Hughes said.
Contact Alex Byington at email@example.com or (254) 501-7566