COPPERAS COVE — Jack Welch knows his team’s season is in jeopardy.
After being overwhelmed in the second half Friday against Midway, Copperas Cove’s streak of 11 consecutive playoff appearances took a hit. With a District 12-6A record of 2-2, the Bulldawgs head coach understands the importance of his final two games.
Starting this week, there is no room for error if Copperas Cove is going to maintain control of its postseason destiny.
“We have to win this next game,” Welch said. “We have to do it. These upcoming games are must-wins.”
The Bulldawgs are currently tied for third place in the district standings following their 54-35 home loss to the Panthers, and while they are situated where they need to be in order to extend their playoff run, Welch does not feel secure.
The best chance for Copperas Cove (2-6 overall) to secure a berth without needing the help of other teams is to close the regular-season schedule with victories against Harker Heights and Shoemaker.
Following the Bulldawgs’ performance against the lone unbeaten team in the district, however, Welch feels his team is prepared for the challenge.
Despite giving up 385 yards and 38 points to Midway in the second half and having a potential victory ripped away, Welch saw enough to feel his team has made tremendous strides since opening the season with five consecutive losses — the worst start during his 22-year reign overseeing the program.
More importantly, he believes the Bulldawgs now possess the mentality to get the job done.
“The thing I like about this team is that they are not giving up and they’re not slowing down,” Welch said. “The kids are battling, and I think that is because of the coaches. The coaches are battlers, and our program is a battling program, so I think we are going to be OK.”
And there were opportunities to concede victory to the Panthers.
After putting together a strong first half despite missing two field goals and giving up a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown, the Bulldawgs lost all momentum in the third quarter as Midway scored 17 unanswered points to build a 33-14 advantage.
Facing a third consecutive three-and-out series, though, the Bulldawgs reached into their bag of tricks, and senior running back Antonio Lealiiee scored a 63-yard touchdown on a fake punt.
But the Panthers responded with a one-play touchdown drive as Korey Chatman ran for a 69-yard score.
Then, Midway (4-3, 3-0) did it again, answering Copperas Cove’s four-play, 83-yard drive capped off with Lealiiee’s 1-yard run into the end zone by scoring on a 64-yard run from Chatman 17 seconds later.
Lealiiee reached the end zone again, cutting the score to 47-35 with 4:19 remaining in the game to keep hope for a comeback alive, but the Bulldawgs’ onside kick attempt failed, virtually allowing the Panthers to secure the win.
Like his head coach, Lealiiee, who finished with a game-high 221 rushing yards, feels the team’s showing late in the game proves Copperas Cove refuses to lay down regardless of the situation.
“I feel like we are ready to make a push for the playoffs,” he said. “We have to win this week to help get that spot, but if we keep executing and doing our jobs, we’ll be fine.”
While a victory against Harker Heights (1-6, 0-3) on Friday would help the cause, it guarantees nothing as Killeen (2-5, 1-2) and Belton (3-4, 1-2) both have three district games remaining, meaning the Bulldawgs’ best opportunity to clinch a playoff berth is to win out.
It will not be easy, but Copperas Cove receiver Ra’shaun Henry feels it is possible if the team puts forth the proper effort.
“We have to work continuously,” the senior said. “We have to work hard every day.”