BELTON — Harker Heights’ Madu Eneli said because of some lingering injuries he wasn’t sure how effective he’d be Friday night against Belton, so he wrote “mind” and “matter” on the athletic tape wrapped around each wrist.
Ball carrier over defender would’ve worked, too.
Eneli, a two-way player for the Knights, helped his team’s defense keep the high-powered Tigers mostly under wraps and sparked his offense with three second-half scoring runs en route to a long-awaited victory over Belton, 34-28, in the District 8-6A opener for both teams at Tiger Field.
“Honestly, I can’t even tell you how much this means to me. Every year it’s been a neck-to-neck game with Belton and in the second half they’ve always gotten us,” said the running back/linebacker Eneli, in reference to Belton wins in 2014 and 2015 that knocked the Knights out of playoff contention. “So to be able to come out here to their home on homecoming and fight our hardest and get the win, it means the world to me and the team.”
The Tigers (3-2) entered having won three in a row overall and also had a three-game winning streak over the Knights (4-1), who scored on three of their five second-half drives — Eneli touchdown runs of 10, 51 (on fourth-and-1) and 32, which made it 34-21 with 2 minutes to play in the game.
Eneli finished with 14 carries for 148 yards — 139 in the second half — as Harker Heights outgained the usually potent Belton offense 449-332. Jameel Hodges added 99 yards rushing for Heights.
“They controlled the line of scrimmage most of the time," Belton coach Bob Shipley said. "They’re everything we thought they’d be. They’re a great football team, very well-coached, very disciplined.
“It’s disappointing, but these kids will rebound. They have resilience and it stings tonight for sure, but we’ll come back with new resolve and try to get back on the winning track and continue our goal to win the district championship, because this is a district that anybody can beat anybody.”
At times Friday, Belton beat itself. The Tigers had two touchdowns negated by penalty, a pair of crucial drops on what looked to be sure scores, and when starting center Aaron Kruger went out with an injury, snapping the ball to quarterback Peyton Mansell became an unwanted adventure.
The rest of Belton’s frustrations, though, were created by Harker Heights, which limited Mansell to 201 total yards after he exploded for 509 last week.
“Our kids play good defense. We don’t really get enough credit half the time,” Harker Heights coach Jerry Edwards said. “I think we did a good job on almost everybody except for (Belton running back Davion Peoples). He’s very talented.”
Peoples was the one thorn for Heights, and the Tigers senior backed up a seven-catch, 130-yard performance last Thursday with eight catches for 141 yards and four TDs ( 27, 26, 50 and 7 yards) plus 104 yards rushing on 18 attempts.
“The most satisfying thing is that we are 1-0 in district. That’s huge,” Edwards said. “It’s a big win to come on the road to play Belton, which is the preseason favorite, everybody had them picked. Nobody gave us a chance, but I love my kids. They’ve been working hard.”
The Tigers scored on the game’s first drive with Peoples’ 27-yard TD catch. The Knights countered with an 80-yard scoring connection between quarterback Robert Gray and receiver Jaquan Tills, but the point after was blocked
Mansell hit Peoples for a 26-yarder to give Belton its 14-6 lead ,but the Knights had 3:53 to answer before half and went 70 yards in eight plays, a drive highlighted by a 43-yard completion to Zavier Rembert and third-down scramble from Gray, and finished with Alex Pons’ 13-yard TD catch with 5 seconds left. The 2-point pass made it 14-14 at the break.
Eneli and Peoples scored each scored for a 21-21 tie midway through the third. Eneli hit paydirt twice to stretch the lead to 13 before a late Peoples TD provided the final points.