ROUND ROCK — With its starting tailback on the sideline in a walking boot, Harker Heights’ young offense knew it had its work cut out for it entering its season-opener.
Things only got worse when its biggest cog — 6-foot-5, 320-pound University of Texas-committed center Darius James — was relegated to the sidelines in crutches after having his left foot stepped on right before halftime.
“When you’re missing two starting pieces, key pieces of your offense, it’s hard to fill those spots,” said Knights junior receiver Damaria Moon.
Without junior tailback Marcus Anderson II, who is out several weeks with a broken bone in his left leg, the Harker Heights offense managed just 127 total yards in an 18-3 season-opening loss to Round Rock Stony Point on Thursday at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex.
“We had our moments, but it’s just one of those deals where we couldn’t ever get anything consistently going,” said Knights head coach Mike Mullins. “I thought we played well enough the first half to score one or two touchdowns, we just didn’t do it.”
Trying to break in an offense that was made up almost entirely of JV players from a year ago, the Knights (0-1) were held in check, mostly by their own doing with 9 penalties for 54 yards and five turnovers.
The most devastating of those turnovers was an interception return by Stony Point linebacker William Bowden, who picked off Heights junior quarterback Damion May rolling to his left inside his own end zone for a 7-yard return for a touchdown to put the Tigers ahead 18-3 with 6:35 left in the fourth quarter.
The pick-6 came one play after the Knights defense stuffed Tigers tailback Jordan Tonkins on a 4th-and-goal at the 1-yard line for a turnover on downs.
“It was at that point because we were trying to hurry up and score, but we were pinned inside the one after a great stop by our defense, … so those guys aren’t used to trying to come out and get a couple of first downs to get us field positions,” Mullins said.
May finished just 8-of-17 for 65 yards and three interceptions, two of which came late in each half on lofting heaves down field.
“This was the first time for a lot of them and when we lose Darius and Marcus, we have to regroup and see what happens,” Mullins said.
James, rated the No. 1 center in the nation by Rivals.com, was a force in the first half, especially on defense where he was constantly disrupting things in the Stony Point backfield, twice sacking Tigers quarterbacks Damian Lindley and Aidan Barrera.
But it was his last play, a sack of Lindley for a six-yard loss on the final play of the first half, that proved costly as James came up limping after another player stepped on his foot.
He spent the rest of the game on crutches. This isn’t the first foot injury for James, who broke his right foot during spring practices.
“He got his foot stepped on so we’re kind of in a wait-and-see, we’re going to have to get an X-ray and go from there,” Mullins said, adding James couldn’t put any pressure on the foot.
The Knights’ lone score came when kicker Ethan Rhoden capped an 18-play, 7 ½-minute drive with a 35-yard field goal for a 3-2 lead with 8:53 left in the second.
But that lead was short lived as Lindley broke free for a 39-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive with 6:25 left before halftime. A two-point try failed, though, and Stony Point took an 8-3 lead into the break.
“On a hot Thursday night in zero week, they were on the field too long,” Mullins said of his defense. “We just didn’t have enough depth at that and it catches up with you on Aug. 30.”
The Tigers were helped early when deep snapper Trey Hagey’s snap flew over the head of punter Keith Herbert and into the back of the end zone for a 2-0 lead with 5:03 left in the first quarter.