ELGIN — When Jerry Edwards needed a big play, he knew exactly who would deliver.
After Harker Heights allowed a 27-13 fourth-quarter advantage to dwindle down to six points with less than three minutes remaining in its season opener, the Knights were in danger of losing control.
Then, things got worse as host Elgin produced a series of stops, forcing the Knights into a fourth-and-5 situation.
Knowing a turnover on downs could prove critical, Harker Heights turned to senior captain Jaquan Tillis.
And he delivered.
Tillis ran for a 6-yard gain with 71 seconds remaining, allowing the Knights to run out the clock and secure a 27-21 victory, and Harker Heights’ head coach was completely confident in the call.
“I decided to put the ball in our best player’s hands with the game on the line,” Edwards said. “If we wanted to win, then he’d get the 5 yards, and if he didn’t get it, then we’d put the defense out on the field and try to win that way.
“I just didn’t want to give them back the ball, because they had a lot of momentum.”
The Wildcats forced three turnovers and scored twice in the second half after being limited to seven points through the first two quarters, and their final touchdown drive was comprised of two plays measuring at least 37 yards and a successful 2-point conversion.
Then, trailing 27-21 with 2 minutes, 45 seconds remaining, Elgin attempted an onside kick but could not recover.
Moments later, Tillis made the Wildcats pay with his fourth-down conversion.
“I have to give all the thanks to the offensive line for that play,” he said. “They got the push, I just tried to make the play, and it worked — success.”
Tillis finished the contest with eight carries for 85 yards and three catches for an additional 27 yards, but he was not the only player to produce 100 yards. Senior running back Jameel Hodges finished with 175 yards and a touchdown on 26 carries.
“Jameel was just solid,” Edwards said. “He’s a leader, and he came out and ran the ball extremely hard.”
The Knights had the worst possible start to their season, giving up 97-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and trailed 7-0 a mere 15 seconds into the game.
Despite the immediate miscue, Harker Heights rebounded thanks in part to kicker Seth Bodolus, who connected on a pair of field goals measuring more than 30 yards in the first half.
The Knights marched inside the Wildcats’ red zone on their opening possession before settling for a 32-yard field goal, and Harker Heights’ defense forced a pair of turnovers on Elgin’s ensuing drives, recovering a fumble and capturing an interception.
In between, the Knights capitalized with a one-play scoring drive as quarterback Marcel Ramirez connected with Markel Reo for a 37-yard touchdown, giving Harker Heights a 10-7 lead with 11:49 remaining in the second quarter.
The Knights’ following possession resulted in another field goal from Bodolus. This time the senior was good from 35 yards away, allowing Harker Heights to take a 13-7 advantage into halftime.
Hodges’ 3-yard touchdown run pushed the lead to 20-7 with 8 minutes remaining in the third quarter, but Elgin responded with a seven-play, 78-yard scoring drive.
Then, Ramirez and Reo connected for a 20-yard score two possessions later, but it was not enough to put Elgin away.
Tillis’ run, however, was.
“We’re ready for the season now,” Tillis said. “We wanted to come out and win the first game, and we’re going to take this emotion into the second game.”