Copperas Cove’s Ronique Williams (34) wrestles an A&M Consolidated ball carrier to the ground during Friday’s game at Tigerland Stadium in College Station.

There is nothing left to do but learn.

Copperas Cove fell into an early hole in its season opener Friday at A&M Consolidated and never recovered, trailing by double digits within eight minutes of kickoff before losing 51-14.

The lopsided defeat was not the performance the Bulldawgs hoped for as they were held to less than 15 points for just the second time since 2011.

Despite the outcome, however, the team emerged with a sense of optimism for the future but knows similar slipups cannot be repeated.

“This is going to make us better,” Copperas Cove linebacker D’Mani Peapealalo said. “We’ve got this huge loss behind us, and now we just have to watch film, see what we did and find out how we can get better for the next game.”

The senior, who finished with a pair of solo tackles, is one of just 13 returning players from last season’s squad that went 7-4 and finished second in the District 12-6A standings.

From the first possession on, the Bulldawgs’ collective inexperience showed on both sides of the ball.

The Tigers scored on their first five possessions of the game, including four touchdowns and were threatening to enter the end zone once again as halftime approached, but their drive stalled in the red zone and a field-goal attempt at the buzzer was blocked.

Conversely, Copperas Cove held the ball a mere 6 minutes, 15 seconds during the first two quarters, punting three times, including a pair of three-and-outs and missed a 33-yard field goal attempt.

The lone bright spot occurred when senior running back Antonio Lealiiee broke free for a 51-yard touchdown 90 seconds into the second quarter, but it did little to keep the Bulldawgs in the game as A&M Consolidated took a 31-7 advantage into the locker room.

“I was trying not to think about it,” Lealiiee said of the early deficit. “I try to tell the team to not think about it, try to play like the scoreboard reads 0-0 and move on to the next play.”

The strategy did not lead to a comeback, though.

After exploding for 424 total yards of offense in the first half, the Tigers finished with 609 yards as quarterback Mason Hickson completed 18 of 24 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Tyri Merchant rushed for 192 yards and a pair of scores on 28 carries. As a team, Copperas Cove had just 297 yards.

“Our coaches prepared us for the speed of the game during our practices and scrimmages,” senior linebacker Austin Rice said. “It wasn’t that. ... Their running back was just really good, but we have to fix our mistakes and perform better in the next game.”

The Bulldawgs have not lost consecutive games to start a season since head coach Jack Welch took over the program in 1994, but the streak could come to an end if significant improvements are not made before Friday.

Copperas Cove travels to face state powerhouse Class 6A No. 12 Lake Travis this week. The Cavaliers are coming off a dominating opener at Waco Midway, where they defeated the then-No. 18 Panthers 48-24, dropping them out of this week’s poll.

While the Bulldawgs would prefer to go into the game riding the momentum of a season-opening victory, Welch saw enough during the loss at A&M Consolidated to feel his team can compete.

But he knows upsetting Lake Travis will not be easy.

“The kids had fight and enthusiasm,” Welch said. “They kept going and driving until the very end.

“There were a lot of positives in this game, but the difference was the Tigers’ high level of experience and our inexperience.”

Contact Clay Whittington at clayw@kdhnews.com

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