KILLEEN — Harker Heights could have folded, but refused.

After a 41-yard pick-six by Austin Vandegrift’s Luke LeBlanc put the Vipers ahead of the Knights 13-7 with 1:46 remaining in the third quarter Thursday night at Leo Buckley Stadium, all the momentum was on the visitor’s side.

But in a wild finish, Heights cornerback Pablo Alejandro intercepted Vandegrift quarterback Alex Fernandes at the 3-yard line with 55 seconds left in the fourth quarter to give the Knights a 20-19 victory in their final nondistrict tuneup.

“A great effort by our kids,” Heights head coach Jerry Edwards said. “I can’t put into words how proud I am of them. There were many opportunities in that game to fold tent, feel sorry for yourself and give up, but we responded.”

The first half was controlled by the Knights (3-1). Led by C.J. Parker and their defense, they held the Vipers scoreless on five drives. Two of those drives ended with a turnover on downs.

Heights running back Jameel Hodges scored on a 3-yard run with 2:39 remaining in the first quarter, place-kicker Seth Bodolus’ point after was good, and the Knights ended up taking a 7-0 lead into the locker room at halftime.

But Vandegrift (1-3) stole the momentum in the third quarter.

The Vipers scored a touchdown with 2:32 left in the third on a double-reverse pass. Wide receiver Peyton Ausley found Fernandes in the end zone for an 11-yard score to tie the game up at 7 after the extra point was true.

On the subsequent possession for Heights, LeBlanc jumped a curl route on the left sideline, picked off the pass and streaked into the end zone to give Vandegrift the lead. But the extra point failed, and that point ended up being costly.

The Knights answered immediately, as running back Madu Eneli took a handoff 64 yards to pay dirt on the next possession. Bodolus’ point after put Heights up 14-13.

Eneli ended the game with 132 yards rushing on 11 carries, and Hodges finished with 25 rushes for 97 yards.

Late in the fourth quarter, the Knights’ offense drove down to the Vipers’ 13-yard line before the drive fizzled. But they faked a 30-yard field goal, and holder Marcel Ramirez rolled out to his right and found Parker in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.

The subsequent PAT failed, however, and Heights led 20-13 with 3:58 left in the game.

On the very next drive, on fourth-and-17 for Vandegrift from the Knights’ 49, Fernandes hit a streaking Ausley along the left sideline for a touchdown to make it 20-19 with 2:20 remaining till the final whistle.

Rather than attempt to tie the game, the Vipers went for two. Fernandes rolled out to his right, headed for the pylon at the goal line and was stopped by a handful of Heights defenders at the 1.

On the ensuing kickoff, however, Vandegrift recovered an onside kick. But Alejandro was able to intercept Fernandes on a post route deep over the middle, and the Knights walked away the victor.

Heights’ defense was solid throughout the ballgame. It held the Vipers to just 3-for-11 on third down and 1-for-4 on fourth down.

Eneli had two sacks defensively for the Knights while Parker had one.

“We also held them out of the end zone and off the board in the first half,” Edwards said. “Our defense has been playing good all year, and I can’t give them enough credit. They do a good job of following the game plan of our defensive staff."

Veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Previously spent time as sports editor at both the Hereford Brand and the Gatesville Messenger. Graduate of West Texas A&M University.

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