By Alex Byington
Harker Heights Herald
For the second week in a row, Harker Heights got a heavy dose of its own medicine. And it left a bitter aftertaste.
Temple's junior backfield duo of speedy Gaylon Sanders and quarterback Zach Allen combined on 273 of the Wildcats' 329 rushing yards and five touchdowns to put the struggling Knights down 40-30 Thursday evening at Leo Buckley Stadium.
"The whole team is upset, but we told them in the huddle (afterward) that it's all right to be upset," Heights quarterback C.J. Rodriguez said. "Mistakes are going to happen, and tonight, it felt like everything that could have happened wrong did happen."
Coming up on the short end of three fumbles - including a dagger-in-the-heart safety on their first offensive snap of the second half - costly turnovers continued to be the Knights' (3-3, 1-2 District 12-5A) downfall for the second week in a row.
Out of halftime, following a 28-yard field goal by kicker Jake Harler to end the first half, Heights' beleaguered defense got a big lift when cornerback Marcus Washington sacked Allen on third down to force a punt on Temple's opening possession.
But backed into the shadow of its own end zone, starting at the 5-yard line, Rodriguez couldn't handle the snap by Darius James and the ball bounced out of the end zone for a safety.
Two plays later, working with a short field, Allen scored on a 29-yard keeper to put the Wildcats (2-4, 1-2) ahead 26-10 with 7:58 left in the third.
"It was a killer because I knew we were in a bad spot right there and those things are going to happen but all of a sudden we give up nine points," Heights coach Mike Mullins said of the safety.
The Knights continued to fight though, as sophomore tailback Marcus Anderson II ripped off a 60-yard run to the Temple 7-yard line. Five plays later, after a couple of Wildcat penalties, Rodriguez scored a 1-yard touchdown to once again pull Heights within 10 (26-16) with 4:19 left in the third. Filling in for injured starter Marvin Jackson, Anderson came through with 128 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
The Knights attempted a squib kick that speedy cornerback Tyrel Stokes recovered 45 yards down field at the Temple 14. Two plays later, Rodriguez found Haynes again for a 14-yard touchdown. A two-point run by Anderson again pulled Heights within 10 (40-30) with 2:22 left in the game.
Late rally saves Belton
It was supposed to be a mismatch - a district favorite, Belton, facing the district doormat, Shoemaker.
It proved to be otherwise.
The Grey Wolves had Belton, which was without leading rusher Donavan Williams due to a suspension, on the ropes for more than three quarters.
However, a team that has been taught how to win by coach Rodney Southern rallied against the team that hasn't quite figured out how to do it yet.
Belton scored late, converted a two-point conversion, hit a quick field goal, got an onside kick and then scored again. And it still wasn't done. They forced a fumble on a bad snap in the end zone for a safety to complete the 20-point turnaround, all in the last 16 minutes of the game.
Third down highlights Salado's offensive woes
Entering the District 25-3A schedule, Salado was averaging an area-leading 45.4 points and 483 yards per game.
But against defending district champion Liberty Hill, the Eagles failed to convert a single third-down opportunity, finishing 0-for-9.
The offensive problems were only accentuated by two first-half turnovers. The first one led to the Panthers' second touchdown as Salado quarterback Mike Richardson was intercepted on third-and-16. Six plays later, Liberty Hill running back Jonathan Johnston broke free for a 68-yard touchdown run.
Although the second turnover, a fumble by tailback Peyton Best on a 19-yard completion, didn't result in a Panthers score, it would have given the Eagles a first down inside of two minutes before halftime.
The third-down woes continued the rest of the game, including falling short on a third-and-22 situation in overtime.
Contact Alex Byington at email@example.com or (254) 501-7566.
Harker Heights (3-3, 1-2 12-5A) at Ellison (0-6, 0-3), 7:30 p.m. today - Both teams will be looking to break out of a funk. Still seeking an identity, the Eagles have yet to win a game this season while the Knights have back-to-back losses.
Belton (5-1, 2-1 12-5A) at Temple (2-4, 1-2 12-5A), 7:30 p.m. today - The rivalry will be more important than it has been in a while as both teams have playoff aspirations. Temple needs a win to get in the race. Belton needs a win to keep its position.
Salado (3-3, 0-1 25-3A) at Burnet (3-3, 0-1), 7:30 p.m. today - Both teams entered the year with playoff hopes, yet opened the District 25-3A schedule with tough losses. The loser Friday could find itself on the outside of the 25-3A postseason hunt.