NEW BRAUNFELS — Even in August, the Killeen Kangaroos are more than capable of hitting home runs.
Eric Jackson’s 66-yard touchdown catch just happened to be the walk-off type.
Jackson hauled in Garrett Gaskamp’s throw and darted from the right side of the field to the left to score the game-winning touchdown with 45 seconds left in Killeen’s 33-28 come-from-behind win over New Braunfels Canyon on the bright red field of Cougar Stadium.
“Perseverance. We just pushed through all the adversities, everything, all the troubles. We kept our heads calm, stayed in the game and we were able to push through in the end,” Jackson said.
Thanks to its defense, which was at times overpowered by Canyon’s ground game, Killeen (1-0) had two chances to score late.
Canyon missed a 31-yard field goal with just under seven minutes remaining, but inside the Cougars’ 35-yard line, Canyon two-way player Philip Shelton knocked down Gaskamp’s fourth-and-12 pass to Akeem Harrison to give Canyon the ball back with 1:36 left.
Killeen forced a three-and-out and the Roos mounted a final drive from their own 44-yard line.
A holding penalty, one of 10 Roos penalties for 75 yards, backed Killeen up to the 34, but Jackson only needed a window.
“I just made a move and hoped that it worked,” Jackson said of his scoring catch-and-run, one of three long-range touchdowns by the Roos. “I just hoped I’d see daylight.”
Canyon’s Gibreel Evans ran for 138 yards and two touchdowns, including a 9-yarder with 4:01 left in the third that gave Canyon (0-1) a 28-21 lead.
Killeen’s Naaman Young answered with a 1-yard push that made it 28-27 after a missed point-after kick. Young’s score, his second of the game, was aided by a third-down pass interference call in the end zone and a 43-yard run by Matthew Ballard on a fake punt to the Canyon 5-yard line.
“We always talk about playing for 48 minutes, and this time we played 48 minutes. Some people say 47, 46 or 40, but we had to play for 48 minutes to win,” Killeen head coach Sam Jones said. “I’m extra proud of our kids for the way they stood up. We challenged them at halftime to make plays and they did, they played hard.”
Killeen led 14-7 after running just four offensive plays, but trailed 21-14 at halftime because of its offense’s inability to sustain drives.
Junior running back Daniel McCants burst through the Canyon defense for a 77-yard touchdown run on Killeen’s second offensive play of the game to the tie the score at 7 with 4:18 left in the first quarter.
Following a Canyon three-and-out, Young scored on a 69-yard screen pass from Gaskamp for a 14-7 lead with 1:46 still left in the first. Gaskamp finished with 241 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-22 passing with an interception.
The Cougars scored twice in the second quarter as Killeen’s offense fizzled.
“In a first game and a young offensive line, we didn’t block well some plays; we didn’t catch the ball well in some places, we didn’t throw it well in some places,” Jones said. “We did a lot of things wrong, but if you can get out of those games and learn from your mistakes, next week, you’ll be a whole lot better.”
Canyon’s Trevor Luckemeyer tied the game at 14 with a 54-yard run less than a minute and a half into the second quarter.
Shelton, the Cougars starting quarterback as well as starting free safety, picked off Gaskamp in the final minute of the first half and then threw the go-ahead touchdown pass to Kody Wilson with 30 seconds left.
McCants, who led the Roos with 75 yards on 10 carries rushing the ball, opened the second half with a 58-yard kickoff return, setting up Killeen’s third quarter-opening drive touchdown, a 1-yarder by Gaskamp that tied the game at 21.
“It’s all got to come down to team. We all stick together, especially on offense,” Gaskamp said. “For the first part of the game, we weren’t all together — one puzzle piece was missing every drive. Finally, at the end, we brought it together.”