BELTON — The Copperas Cove football team has never missed the playoffs in consecutive seasons since coach Jack Welch ended the school's 38-year playoff drought in 1998.
It took a wild comeback to keep that streak alive.
Copperas Cove scored 23 unanswered points for a 37-35 comeback win on the road against Belton at Tiger Field.
That, coupled with a 25-24 Harker Heights win over Killeen, gave the Bulldawgs the final playoff spot with a 3-3 District 8-6A record.
Belton finished second in District 8-6A with a 4-2 record. The Tigers are 6-4 overall.
Cove senior Andy Riley-Clark kicked a 20-yard field goal with 32 seconds remaining to give CCHS the win. “There was so much pressure ... I have never been in that position,” Riley-Clark said. “I was on the sideline, kicking into the net to get ready.”
Only minutes earlier, the Bulldawgs had a similar kick for an extra point blocked that would have tied the game at 35.
Heading into game, the Bulldawgs were tied for the fourth and final playoff spot with Killeen and Harker Heights and needed a win. The Bulldawgs had the tiebreaker over Harker Heights with a regular-season win over the Knights, while Killeen would have had the edge over Cove, if the Roos had won.
The Bulldawgs finished the regular season 5-5.
“This is an average team playing over their heads,” Welch said. “But they have a lot of heart.
“They were not down when we were losing.”
Belton dominated the first half, taking a 28-14 halftime lead.
Belton scored first on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Connor Carothers to Anthony Fairbanks.
The Bulldawgs tied the score at 7-all on a 41-yard touchdown pass from CCHS senior Jalen Smith to Floyd Connell.
Belton scored the next three touchdowns taking a 28-7 lead. Darren Rector scored on a 1-yard run at the 2:47 mark of the first quarter. Chandler Vela scored on a 55-yard pass from Cameron Davis at the 9:08 mark for the second quarter. Denver Holman raced past the defense for a 71-yard touchdown run with five minutes remaining in the half.
Cove struck late in the half on a 30-yard pass from Smith to Bryce Ranes with 29 seconds remaining in the half.
Belton started the scoring in the second half with a 4-yard touchdown run by Carothers at the 5:51 mark. The extra point by Nyle Tabat gave the Tigers a 35-14 lead.
Connell caught his second touchdown pass of the game on a 2-yard pass from Smith with 1:17 remaining in the third quarter.
Belton led 35-21 at the end of the third quarter.
Ranes caught his second touchdown of the game on the first play in the fourth quarter. He caught a 30-yard touchdown pass from Smith.
Cove had a chance following a strip by Bulldawgs defensive player Jack Shumaker and a recovery by Connell.
Dylan Taijeron scored on a 1-yard run five plays later for Copperas Cove. Belton player Trey Berry blocked the extra point and the Tigers kept a 35-34 lead.
Connell intercepted a pass to end the contest for Copperas Cove.
Smith threw for 365 yards and four touchdowns for Copperas Cove. Brandon Russ led the defense with eight tackles.
Rector ran for 129 yards for Belton.