BELTON — Blaine Barker said he felt devastated last week after his team lost by four points on a touchdown with 8 seconds left.
So, figure Friday night as a slice of redemption and a heavy dose of elation for the junior quarterback and Pflugerville Hendrickson.
Trailing Belton by three with 3 minutes, 50 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter, Barker orchestrated a 17-play, 82-yard drive that included four third-down conversions and one fourth down against the Tigers’ stout yet staggering defense. And his 19-yard touchdown toss to Jaylon Taylor with 10 seconds left spoiled Belton’s home opener at Tiger Field and sent Hendrickson home with a 20-17 victory.
“We ran a little rub route and my receiver came open, and I just gave it to him. I gave it to my playmakers all day and they worked,” said Barker, who finished 22-of-41 for 262 yards passing and another 119 on the ground a week after his team fell 24-20 to Smithson Valley. “I just wanted to get a win. We have good chemistry, we kept our heads up and we kept fighting.”
A week after leading rival Temple by 14 points midway through the third quarter only to lose by seven, Belton held a 14-point advantage after the first period Friday behind a pair of touchdown passes from junior quarterback Connor Carothers, making his inaugural start at the varsity level in relief of Cameron Davis, who suffered a broken collarbone against the Wildcats.
But the Tigers, who churned out 200 yards on the ground in their season opener, couldn’t get that same rushing attack in gear, and the offense mostly floundered after the opening 12 minutes en route to an 0-2 start to the season by a combined 10 points.
“We struggled a little bit up front still," Belton head coach Sam Skidmore said. "We’ve got some young guys and we had to move some guys around playing new positions. At times, they did a real good job.
“We didn’t execute well enough in certain spots. We need to block better on the perimeter. We had a lot of busts out there. We have to eliminate the busts. We can’t put ourselves in bad down and distance because of mistakes.”
Hendrickson held Belton to 241 total yards (137 rushing on 35 carries) and kept the Tigers out of the end zone on three tries from inside the 10-yard line that led to Nyle Tabat’s 18-yard field goal for a 17-7 Belton lead with 10 minutes to go in the fourth, and left the door open for Barker and the Hawks.
“It was one we had to win. We should have got it last week. It’s great for the kids. They’ve worked so hard since we got them in. That’s a gut-check. Energy and effort. Made it a little interesting, but they kept battling,” Hendrickson coach Chip Killian said. “Shoot. They are scary up front. They block out the sun. It’s spring break around them. I just think that the kids played to the scheme. That stand at the goal line and made them kick the field goal, that’s the difference in the game.”
So were the Hawks’ final two offensive possessions.
Hendrickson (1-1) answered the three points with an eight-play, 74-yard drive, capped by D.J. Jackson’s 28-yard touchdown run on a nifty cutback to bring the Hawks within 17-14 after the point-after kick with to go.
Jackson went for 109 yards rushing on 16 attempts.
Belton’s next drive stalled after one first down, just their fourth of the second half, and the Tigers punted back to the Hawks, who took over at their 18 with to go and a stingy Tigers defense — one that upped its takeaway total to six through two games after Clayton Blank forced a first-half fumble and Mitchell Dunahoo’s second-half interception — in the way.
But one third-down conversion after another prolonged the eventual game-winning drive and the Tigers eventually cracked.
“We were definitely picking up momentum,” Barker said. “It was just a matter of time. I knew we were going to score.”
Carothers (9-of-15, 104 yards, two TDs, two interceptions) and the offense recovered from an opening-drive three-and-out in a hurry on its second possession as Anthony Fairbanks grabbed Carothers’ short screen pass, picked up a trio of blocks about 2 yards past the line of scrimmage and scampered untouched 60 yards with a convoy to the end zone.
Another defensive stop by the Tigers yielded a short field following an 18-yard punt, and it took Belton five plays to cover 35 yards and make it a two-score lead. Carothers connected with Garrison Vaughn on a fade at the back left pylon where Vaughn stuck both feet in the end zone before being shoved out for an 8-yard TD with 41 seconds to go in the first.
Belton’s offense went stagnant in the second quarter while the Hawks found some life behind Jackson’s 31-yard rush, a subsequent late-hit penalty at the end of the run and a 2-yard touchdown dive by Dre Conley that sliced Belton’s advantage in half, 14-7, before the break.