Harker Heights needed a spark, and Michael Collier provided it.
Late in the first half, anything that could go wrong for the Knights did.
After a fake punt attempt led to a turnover on downs, visiting Round Rock McNeil sandwiched a pair of touchdowns around a successful onside kick, inflating their advantage to 28-7 with 23 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
Then, Collier exploded.
The senior ran the ensuing kickoff 81 yards for a touchdown, cutting the deficit to a manageable 14 points by halftime and propelling Harker Heights to a come-from-behind 38-35 victory with the deciding touchdown coming with 28 seconds left in regulation.
While it took the Knights nearly the entire second half to complete the comeback, Collier could feel the momentum was fully in Harker Heights’ favor before the third quarter began.
“The energy was incredible,” he said. “Everybody’s heart was racing, and we went into the locker room with our heads held high. Nobody had their head down.
“That return really gave us a lot of energy, and we dominated the second half.”
Harker Heights head coach Jerry Edwards agreed.
“They were beating us pretty good,” he said, “so to get that little spark let us take a deep breath.
“I just told them to keep fighting.”
And the Knights did.
After receiving the ball to start the second half, Knights kicker Seth Bodolus connected on a 22-yard field goal. Then, following a three-and- out by McNeil, Collier needed just one snap to find the end zone again, rushing for a 77-yard score to trim the deficit to 28-24.
Collier finished with four carries for 97 yards.
The score held until the Mavericks responded with a fourth-quarter touchdown, inflating their cushion to 35-24 with 7:15 remaining.
Harker Heights (2-0) answered approximately four minutes later as Jameel Hodges scored on a 2-yard run. Then, after forcing McNeil to punt, Knights quarterback Marcel Ramirez completed a pair of 38-yard passes before scoring on a 1-yard run with 28 seconds left to give Harker Heights its only lead of the contest.
“These kids showed a lot of fight and a lot of determination,” Edwards said. “They really had to persevere, and they took the challenge at halftime.
“They never stopped fighting and never gave up.”
After Harker Heights tied the game 7-7 on Hodges’ 4-yard touchdown run with 3:43 remaining in the first half, McNeil (1-1) took control of the contest.
The Mavericks recorded 21 unanswered points as quarterback Zane Kampfer accounted for all of his team’s points. The junior threw a 12-yard touchdown to Elliot Holmes to open the night’s scoring before engineering an eight-play, 70-yard drive into the end zone, culminating with his 12-yard pass to Jordan Kerley on the heels of Hodges’ score.
Then, in a mere 29 seconds, Kampfer sandwiched two more touchdowns around a successful onside kick attempt by McNeil. First, he ran for a 1-yard score and followed it with an 18-yard touchdown pass to Kerley to give the Mavericks a 28-7 lead with 23 seconds remaining in the half.
But Collier had a response.
“I just really wanted to return it,” he said. “When I caught the ball, I just took off and didn’t see anything, but when I got to the middle, there was just a huge hole.
“I just trusted my hands, trusted my feet and trusted my teammates.”