BELTON — The Tigers’ offensive fireworks dimmed to a smolder and Belton’s 20-point advantage had just turned to six when defensive end Octavius Davis sacked Copperas Cove quarterback Easton Simpson at the Bulldawgs 5-yard line midway through the third quarter Friday night.
The spark to relight Belton’s fuse?
Jason Stephens blocked the ensuing punt and recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a much-needed touchdown. Dean Blondmonville’s 44-yard scoring run on the Tigers’ next possession became pivotal down the stretch, and Belton made enough big plays to outlast Copperas Cove 35-28 on Friday night in a slippery and sloppy District 12-6A opener at Tiger Field.
“We always preach adversity. It’s going to happen. Coach (Sam Skidmore) preached to us to stay on the grind,” Stephens said. “Cove’s got heart. They are going to keep coming. We just knew we had to stay on the path and stay up. Scoreboard says we stuck with it.”
Belton had to stick with it essentially right down to the buzzer, because Tommy Connell’s blocked-field-goal-turned-87-yard-touchdown return with 42 seconds left pulled Cove within seven points.
The Tigers, though, gained possession after an onside kick was touched too soon by Cove and kneeled out the remaining seconds.
“We made too many mistakes. It was sloppy. But our kids responded. Kept fighting. That’s what we ask them to do. We ask them to respond and play the next play, and that’s what they did,” Skidmore said.
Belton (2-1) and Cove (2-1) combined for six lost fumbles — seven turnovers in all — 21 penalties and eight punts, and rain pelted the turf for a majority of the first half, which went Belton’s way during the initial 12 minutes before the Tigers hit a lull and led 20-7 at the break.
Cove drove 75 yards on eight plays and capped the opening sequence of the second half with Simpson’s 2-yard quarterback sneak to get it to 20-14 at 8:06 of the third.
Belton went three-and-out on its next possession and Cove did the same before Davis and Stephens put together the one-two punch that staved off further damage, and Blondmonville’s best run of the night padded the advantage to 35-14 late in the third.
“We needed a change of momentum. We needed that little spark. We weren’t really clicking on all cylinders tonight. We flashed it, but sometimes you need big plays,” Skidmore said. “Wet conditions. Poor execution. I don’t know. We’re glad to get out of there with a win. That’s the most important thing. But a lot of stuff we have to clean up.”
Blondmonville finished with 80 yards on 13 carries for Belton, which gained 133 yards on the ground. Quarterback Connor Carothers completed 16 of 23 passes for 223 yards and two TDs, with an interception. Anthony Brown collected five catches for 94 yards, and Jose Perez hauled in three for 72.
Shontez Simmons gained 76 yards rushing, and Micah Cox added 47 yards rushing and two scores for Bulldawgs first-year head coach Jack Alvarez, who lauded his team’s effort and said his team will use the opener as a building block.
“We’re not going to dwell on it long, just try to fix the mistakes that are there,” he said.
The rain poured down early in Friday night’s proceedings almost as quickly as the Tigers piled up points in the opening quarter.
Carothers went 6-for-7 for 61 yards on the Tigers’ first drive, which finished with his 13-yard touchdown toss to a leaping Brown.
Belton linebacker Patrick Frazho returned a Cove fumble 41 yards to the Bulldawgs 24-yard line. On the next play, Carothers hit Perez for the score and a 14-0 lead.
Aguilar’s 8-yard TD run made it 20-0 at 1:33 of the first.
Cox’s 4-yard touchdown put the Bulldawgs on the board, 20-7, a minute into the second quarter and also kick-started a stretch of unproductive offense from both sides — as in fumble, fumble, punt, punt, turnover on downs, punt, interception, turnover on downs and halftime.