AUSTIN — Jerry Edwards gives all the credit to his opponent.
Despite orchestrating its offense around the run game, Harker Heights could not execute its game plan Friday, finishing with a mere 110 rushing yards en route to a 31-10 loss to Austin Vandegrift.
Although the Knights’ head coach knows some of the blame for the performance belongs to his players, after the game, Edwards admitted the Vipers simply would not allow Harker Heights to generate any momentum on the ground.
“Vandegrift is a really good football team,” he said, “and they play really good assignment football.
“They just came out and played good, hard, smash-mouth football, and they were just better than us tonight — for sure.”
Despite having their offense contained for a majority of the contest, the Knights kept the score close as the teams exchanged scoring possessions to begin the game.
Vandegrift capped off the night’s opening drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Justin Moore to Justin Florence, but Harker Heights responded with a successful 25-yard field goal from senior Seth Bodolus with 5 minutes, 56 seconds remaining in the first quarter.
It proved to be the Knights’ final points of the half, but the Vipers extended their advantage to 10-3 at halftime thanks to a 41-yard field goal from Alex Stadthaus.
The Knights went into intermission with 103 yards on 16 carries, but in the second half, they produced just seven rushing yards on 15 carries.
“Some things just didn’t go our way in the second half,” Edwards said, “and they jumped on us.”
First, however, Harker Heights tied the score.
The Knights needed just three snaps to reach the end zone after receiving the opening kickoff of the second half as Marcel Ramirez connected with Jurgen Kruse for a 53-yard score.
Harker Heights would not cross midfield for the duration of the contest, though, and Vandegrift took advantage.
The Vipers responded to the score with a seven-play, 70-yard drive punctuated by junior running back Isaiah Smallwood’s 5-yard touchdown to put his team ahead 17-10.
Two possessions later, Smallwood, who finished with more rushing yards (115) than Harker Heights, crossed the goal line for his second touchdown on a 1-yard run with 8:52 remaining in the fourth quarter. Vandegrift recorded the game’s final points with 1:42 remaining on a 9-yard run from Brendan Bennett.
Jaquan Tillis, a senior, led the Knights, who have lost consecutive games, offensively with nine carries for 90 yards and a pair of receptions for 15 yards, while Jameel Hodges added 42 rushing yards on 13 carries.
While the intention was to win the game, Edwards views the contest as his team’s final tune-up for next week’s District 8-6A opener against Belton, and although taking an undefeated record into the game would be preferred, he is pleased.
“We’ve been in every game,” Edwards said. “We know we are a good football team, but we’ve just got to put it all together and play a complete game.
“We’ve played playoff-caliber teams the last two weeks, so we’re not playing any slouches. To come out and play with those teams is refreshing, but we’ve just got to get refocused and make sure these two losses don’t carry over into next week.”