LEANDER — During the 2013 season, Killeen Kangaroo fans had to wait for almost a month to celebrate a victory. The wait in 2014 was a lot shorter.
Keondre Parker-Sheppard engineered a 71-yard scoring drive late in the game to that culminated in a Brian Rubin 1-yard touchdown run that gave the Roos a 23-20 road win over the Leander Lions.
“We believe in each other,” Killeen head coach Sam Jones said. “Something bad may happen, something good may happen, but if we just stay together at the end of the game, we’ll be winners.”
Rubin’s second score came with 24 seconds left and completed an 11-play scoring drive that took 2:50.
After the score, the Killeen defense held the Lions at bay to clinch the win.
“You can’t give up and it’s not over until it’s over,” Rubin said. “You’ve got to give it your all.”
Rubin finished the night with 13 carries for 77 yards and two touchdowns from a yard out. DJ Lilley had a strong game on the ground with 43 yards on nine carries.
Parker-Sheppard completed 6 of 19 passes for 71 yards while rushing for 54 yards on 12 carries. He split time with Kenneth Arnold, who completed 5 of 10 passes for 99 yards.
“It feels good,” Parker-Sheppard said. “The team worked hard all season and came into the first real game and even though we made mistakes, we capitalized on what we do.”
Killeen’s defense set the stage for the comeback. With Leander leading 20-16, the Lions took over at their own 35 with five minutes remaining in the game before the Roos defense forced them to punt on five plays.
“We just take it one game at a time,” junior defensive back Eddie Adams said. “Hopefully, that second game will put us where we’re confident enough to go on.”
The Roos faced a 4th-and-1 from the Leander 37 when Rubin broke through with a 20-yard run to extend the drive. Parker-Sheppard hit Quemasi Brown for a 12-yard reception on the next play to put the Roos in inside the 10.
Rubin finished off the drive with two runs for seven yards.
“I thought it was a better effort that it was last week and the last part of last year, but I still think we’ve got to take a giant step forward,” Jones said. “We’ve still got to get better and we’ve got room to grow.”
After struggling to find momentum in the first quarter, Killeen’s offense got things going in the second quarter. The Roos managed nine first downs in the second frame, but the problem was that most of that movement took place between the end zones.
Killeen got to the red zone three times in the first half, but managed just nine points through the first 24 minutes. Alex Gilland hit field goals from 27, 28 and 30 yards out, the latter of which cut Leander’s halftime lead to 13-9.
The hometown Lions also had a slow start on the offensive side of the ball as Leander’s first drive ended with a punt and second drive lasted only one play after Adams picked off Brandon Hoppe for the first Roo takeaway of the season.
Hoppe finally got the Lions going by leading an eight-play, 52-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 27-yard touchdown reception to Michael Berry.
Some penalties are to be expected in the opening game of the season, but those ended up costing Killeen. The Lions had a first and goal from the 8-yard line and ended up driving to the one on three plays.
On fourth and goal, Darian McClatcher took the hand off up the middle, but was stuffed for what appeared to be a momentum changing defensive play. However, that play was nullified by an offside play that gave Leander a new set of downs from the 18-inch line.
Hoppe took it in one play later to extend Leander’s lead to 13-3 with 8:51 remaining in the half.
Hoppe completed 7 of 13 passes for 139 yards and two touchdowns, but was intercepted twice by Adams.
Dante Ellis-Thomas was Killeen’s leading receiver with five catches for 95 yards.
The Roos have a short week before hosting the Round Rock Dragons on Thursday at Leo Buckley Stadium. Kickoff is scheduled for 7 p.m.
“It’s a good feeling, but you’ve got to keep working hard,” Rubin said. “When you get a win, you’ve got to bring that momentum to the next game.”