FORT HOOD — Belton quarterback Shane Stafford knew his receiver was there — he just didn’t know exactly where.
So, on fourth-and-6, with the defense bearing down on him, Stafford felt he had no choice — he jumped.
The jump pass ended up in the hands of Kavan Johnson, who raced 30 yards into the end zone for a crucial touchdown late in the Tigers’ 34-26 win against Ellison on Friday at Hood Stadium.
“I couldn’t really see what was going on and the (defender) was taller than I was,” Stafford said. “So, I knew my receiver was out there, so I jumped to see if he was there, and I just threw it.”
The unconventional touchdown came with 9:36 to play and was one of four fourth-down conversions by the Tigers (2-3, 2-0 in District 8-5A) in the second half Friday.
But this one finally gave Belton some breathing room, up 27-20, before it eventually went up 14 points, which was enough to hold off the resilient Eagles, who lost their 25th straight.
“We’re going to keep fighting, we’re going to keep battling,” Ellison coach Trent Gregory said. “They’re great kids, and we’re going to get up.”
Ellison (0-5, 0-2) found itself ahead 17-14 at the 11:11 mark of the third quarter after junior Deon Burch, who had a game-high 145 yards on 15 carries, ran in a draw from 13 yards out. That capped 17 unanswered points by the Eagles.
Belton extended its lead to 14-0 on a 1-yard touchdown by junior Brandon Rhoads. That score came on the first play of the second quarter, but Ellison used a strong run game to keep the ball away from the Tigers until 3:04 before halftime.
“We worked really hard on (the running game),” Gregory said. “We spent a lot of time on it in practice and it showed tonight.”
After Ellison grabbed the lead to start the third, Belton responded when Johnson, who rushed for 108 yards on 14 carries, took a delayed handoff 40 yards for a score on fourth down.
“(Johnson) was huge,” Stafford said. “Without Kavan, this game could’ve turned out completely different.”
Clinging to a one-point lead entering the fourth, Belton returned the favor to Ellison as the Eagles only possessed the ball for 2:25 in the final quarter.
Stafford not only had the touchdown that put his team up by seven points, but he hit Andre Ewing, who led Belton with six catches for 107 yards, on a fourth down in its next drive. That possession ended with Rhoads’ second touchdown and a 14-point lead.
Ellison responded when Hayward Clay bobbled a screen then took it in from 29 yards to cap his 145-yard, two-touchdown performance with 2:28 to play.
But Belton recovered the onside kick, and it was Stafford sneaking for the final fourth-down conversion of the night to seal the victory.
“The offensive line was really grinding, making holes,” Stafford said of the conversions.
And while Ellison was deprived of its first win since 2010, Gregory wasn’t any less confident in his team after the game.
“You get knocked down seven times, you get up eight,” Gregory said. “That’s what we’re going to continue to do, and we’re going to do it with a smile on our face and a great attitude.”
Contact Jordan Mason at email@example.com or 254-501-7562