With a 1-2 District 8-5A record, Belton’s playoff hopes looked grim as the Tigers went into halftime of last Friday’s game against Copperas Cove trailing 21-7.
But the Tigers’ fortunes turned in the third quarter.
All three phases of the game came together for Belton as it produced a pair of three-and-outs defensively, leading to three touchdowns, including one off an onside kick, and the Tigers rallied for a 35-31 victory.
While a victory was not absolutely necessary to keep Belton (5-2, 2-2) in the chase for a postseason berth, head coach Rodney Southern, even before kickoff, stressed the importance of winning the game and in particular, the third quarter.
“In the past three years, Copperas Cove has beaten us by the third quarter, and the game has been basically over by that point,” the coach said. “We stressed all week that has got to be the quarter when we play really well.
“The onside kick probably was the biggest momentum shift because there were three opportunities (for us), where they only got to touch the ball twice. That made a huge difference.”
Belton forced the Bulldawgs to punt on the second half’s opening possession and sandwiched a pair of touchdowns around the successful onside kick. Then, after forcing another punt, the Tigers claimed their first lead of the game on a 30-yard touchdown run from sophomore Brandon Rhoads.
Despite holding a 28-21 advantage with 4:56 remaining in the third quarter, the game was far from over, and Copperas Cove went back on top, 31-28, early in the fourth quarter when quarterback Robbie Seybold found Rashaun Gibson for a 23-yard touchdown.
Following several scoreless possessions, Belton took advantage of a short field set up by a defensive stop, forcing Copperas Cove to punt out of its own end zone. The Tigers needed four plays to cover 30 yards as quarterback Peter Shelburne (22-of-39 for 251 yards and two touchdowns) scored the game-winning touchdown on a 2-yard run.
Prior to the touchdown, Shelburne converted a third-and-7 at the Copperas Cove 27-yard line by finding Chase Thornal for a 25-yard reception. The play allowed the Tigers to go ahead on the touchdown instead of possibly settling for a 44-yard field goal to tie the game.
“The play had broken down, but the good thing is our receivers understand (how to adjust),” Southern said. “Chase was actually on the back side of the play and hustled all the way across the field to make a heck of a catch going out of bounds.”
The victory thrusts Belton into a three-way tie for fourth place in the district standings with another important game against Killeen (5-2, 2-2) looming Friday at Fort Hood Stadium.
Ground and pound
Temple could not stop the Ellison Eagles on the ground.
The Wildcats gave up 178 yards to Kaimen Roberson and another 172 to Isiah Cowan. And those two led Ellison to 48 points, which is 38 percent of their season total and four more than they had in their first three district games combined.
Still, it wasn’t enough for the Eagles to pull out the win, falling 55-48 to Temple. The Wildcats had three running backs eclipse 130 yards rushing, and managed to run for 471 yards — 83 more than Ellison. Quarterback Zach Allen led all rushers with 191 yards on 14 carries, Keith Buhl had 149 on 19 attempts and Gaylon Sanders had 131 on 18 rushes.
Big plays key to Heights offensive explosion
Be it injuries or inexperience, the Harker Heights offense has been downright atrocious much of the season.
But in the last two weeks, after managing just 24 points through the first five games, the Knights have produced 68 percent (53 points) of their season scoring total while racking up 786 yards of offense in back-to-back wins against Ellison and Shoemaker.
A big reason for the uptick in scoring is a dedication to the run game and the big-play potential that comes only from wearing down an opponent with short and steady gains.
Despite averaging just 2.1 yards per play on plays that went for less than 20 yards, Heights’ offense had four plays go for 20 or more, three of which went for scores, including touchdown runs of 20, 40, and 80 yards from Tyler Brown, Terance Goodwin and Troy Smith. There was also a 65-yard kickoff return for a touchdown from Malik Calip.
Roos offense can’t keep up with Kelly, Panthers
The Killeen Kangaroos did everything but score on every drive.
But that’s exactly what the Roos needed to do to keep up with B.J. Kelliy and the Waco Midway Panthers. Kelly ran for 348 yards and three scores and proved to be the uncatchable carrot in front of a stubborn Roos offense that didn’t go away.
Daniel McCants ran for 212 yards and two touchdowns, and Killeen (5-2, 2-2 8-5A) churned out 470 total yards, including 372 on the ground, on 56 offensive plays. But the Roos had to punt four times, turned the ball over on downs twice and the Panthers (7-0, 4-0) scored touchdowns following all but one of those possessions in their 44-17 win. Midway punted just once and managed at least a field goal in eight of its 11 possessions.
By the Numbers
- 66 — Rushing yards for Copperas Cove in the second half against Belton. The Bulldawgs entered the game averaging 318 rushing yards per game.
- 19 — Rushes by Johnny Jefferson that went for less than 5 yards. Jefferson finished with less than 100 rushing yards in his third straight game (93 yards on 27 carries) and averaged just 1.5 yards-per-rush on those 19 carries.
- 33.3 — Completion percentage for Allen in Temple’s win over Ellison, as the Eagles held the Syracuse commit’s passing game in check.
- Belton (5-2, 2-2 8-5A) at Killeen (5-2, 2-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday (at Fort Hood) — The Tigers restored their season with a 35-31 win over Copperas Cove to become one of five teams tied for second-place in 8-5A with a 2-2 record in district. The Kangaroos will try to avoid a second straight loss after giving up 426 rushing yards in their 44-17 loss to district-leading Waco Midway.
- Ellison (0-7, 0-4 District 8-5A) at Copperas Cove (4-3, 2-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday — Ellison is better than its record indicates, and the Eagles have the potential to pull off an upset after losing their last two district games to Harker Heights and Temple by a combined 10 points. But Copperas Cove has not lost three games in a row since 2003 and has not lost to Ellison since 1998.
- Harker Heights (3-4, 3-1 8-5A) at Temple (5-2, 2-2), 7:30 p.m. Friday — The Knights have won two straight for the first time all season but will match up their District 8-5A leading defense and district-worst offense against it’s inverse in Temple. Led by the big three of Syracuse-bound Allen, Buhl and Sanders, the Wildcats average 555.7 yards per game while the stingy Knights are limiting opponents to 16.7 points per game and 272.6 yards per game.
- Waco Midway (7-0, 4-0 8-5A) at Shoemaker (1-6, 0-4), 7:30 p.m. Friday (at Buckley Stadium) — B.J. Kelly emerged as one of the top running backs in District 8-5A with a 348-yard, three-touchdown performance in Midway’s win over Killeen. One of the others, Shoemaker’s Johnny Jefferson, was held 7 yards shy of eclipsing the 100-yard mark for the first time in district.
Contact Clay Whittington at email@example.com
Alex Byington, Kevin Posival and Nick Talbot contributed to this report.