By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS — If there were two players the Harker Heights Knights couldn’t stand to be without for any length of time, it’s the two standing on the sideline in walking boots.
Yet, that’s the new reality that the Knights face after 6-foot-5, 320-pound two-way lineman Darius James was lost for 6-8 weeks with a broken left foot suffered on the final play of the first half of last week’s 18-3 loss to Round Rock Stony Point. Coupled with the preseason broken left leg suffered by expected No. 1 tailback Marcus Anderson II, Harker Heights is left reeling, wondering how it’ll fair without its two biggest cogs.
“It’s a tough situation, but in all the years that I’ve had, and with all the things that does happen, injuries are a part of this game and you have very little time to go back and reflect on it until it’s over,” Harker Heights coach Mike Mullins said. “But (James) is such an impact player on both sides of the ball that when you lose a guy like that it does kind of pop your balloon.”
The Knights host Round Rock tonight at 7 p.m. at Leo Buckley Stadium in a game between two teams still seeking a win.
The good news is Anderson is hopeful to return for Week 4’s District 8-5A opener against Belton. James’ return isn’t as hopeful, with the earliest he’s expected back is mid-to-late October, and that’s only if Heights is still in the playoff hunt with 2-3 weeks left in the season.
Without Anderson and James, Heights (0-1) only features senior tackle-turned-center Jacob Miller with any prior varsity experience on offense, and that dearth of time was evident last week when the Knights registered a district-low 144 yards of total offense.
“Every practice is a step better, every meeting is a step better, and every game will get a step better until we get to that time when we start district,” Mullins said.
But if the Knights are going to keep improving, Mullins admitted it’s going to take the youthful offense growing up, and fast.
“We’ve got to step it up and make some catches that might have hit us in the hands and we’ve got to make some better throws that were maybe six inches to a foot off, run a little harder if we’re getting an arm tackle,” Mullins said, “just the little things that maybe will get us to the next step and maybe a little more yardage to help not only their confidence but everybody’s confidence.”
That begins with the continued improved play of quarterbacks Damion May and Troy Smith, who combined for just 9-of-21 passing for 85 yards and three interceptions, all credited to May.
To be fair, two of May’s three picks were on desperation heaves down field late in each half.
But the Knights will nonetheless have to cut back on their mistakes against an experienced defense like Round Rock (0-1) that returns half of its starting lineup from a year ago, including quarterback-turned-linebacker Sam Lawlis and defensive backs Dakari Antoine and Brandon Roberto.
“We’ve got to pick and choose our battles, and find the matchups that are good for us and see if we can take advantage of that,” Mullins said.
One of those matchups could be had by running from the quarterback position after Temple quarterback Zach Allen scrambled for nearly 100 yards against Round Rock last week. Both May and Smith are sound athletes who are more than capable of tearing off big gains on the ground.
That plan could also help Heights’ beleaguered defense, which was solid against Stony Point but spent too much time on the field to be effective. With a little more time to rest between series, the Knights’ experienced defense will be counted on to slow down the passing of Dragons quarterback Tyler Gurds, who threw for 248 yards on 17-of-24 passing versus Temple.