Jerry Edwards regrets his decision.
Despite already committing five turnovers, Harker Heights was within striking distance of Belton as the teams opened District 8-6A play at Leo Buckley Stadium.
Then, everything changed.
Trailing by six points, Edwards decided to go for it on fourth-and-1 near midfield late in the third quarter, but the Tigers delivered a stop, transformed the turnover into a touchdown and cruised to a 49-28 victory.
Following the loss, Edwards admitted the call altered the outcome.
“This loss is on me,” he said. “I went for it on fourth-and-short, and it was still a pretty tight game at that point.
“That was a mistake on my part. We should have punted it and played the field-position game, so this is my fault.”
At the time, however, it appeared to be a sound call.
Harker Heights averaged 10.5 yards per carry during the first half, and the Knights produced eight runs measuring at least 5 yards to begin the third quarter.
But with less than two minutes remaining in the period, Harker Heights senior Jaquan Tillis was tackled for a 1-yard loss, turning the ball over to Belton.
Nine snaps later, Tigers junior quarter Connor Carothers found Denver Holman for an 11-yard score, and Belton added the 2-point conversion to inflate its cushion to 42-28 early in the fourth quarter.
The drive helped ruin an impressive outing from Knights running back Jameel Hodges, who finished with 275 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 20 carries.
The game was wild from the very beginning.
After Belton (3-2) lost a fumble on the first snap, Harker Heights needed just one play to capitalize as Hodges broke free for a 48-run into the end zone.
The squads exchanged scoreless possessions before the Tigers tied the score on Carothers’ 6-yard touchdown pass to junior Anthony Fairbanks on the heels of teammate T.J. Gift’s interception. Carothers completed 23 of 33 passes for 217 yards and four touchdowns in the victory.
The Knights, who have lost three consecutive games, committed another costly turnover on their ensuing possession as Michael Collier lost a fumble, and Tigers defensive lineman Clayton Blank returned it for an 8-yard score.
But Harker Heights (2-3) had an answer as Hodges recorded his second touchdown on a 16-yard run, tying the score 14-14 with 3 minutes, 43 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
The score held until Carothers and Chandler Vela connected for a 13-yard touchdown, but the Knights sandwiched two touchdowns — a 2-yard run from Marcel Ramirez and a 17-yard run from Hodges — around a Tigers’ punt to claim a 28-21 advantage. Hodges had 218 rushing yards on 10 carries in the half.
With heavy rain falling, Belton was unable to reach the end zone again, but senior kicker Nyle Tabat connected on field goals from 33 and 28 yards away to pull the Tigers within a point, 28-27, at halftime, concluding two quarters with five combined turnovers and a dozen penalties.
Harker Heights finished the contest with three interceptions and lost four of its five fumbles.
“I just didn’t get the kids prepared,” Edwards said. “That’s my fault.”