By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
For more than 40 minutes Thursday night, Harker Heights did enough to win.
And, if not for the four turnovers in a span of 5 ½ minutes in between, it might have.
Round Rock took advantage of six total Knights turnovers, including a fumble return for a touchdown and an interception for another score, to send Harker Heights to a hard-to-swallow 27-7 loss Thursday evening at Leo Buckley Stadium.
“Six turnovers. I can’t beat anybody with six turnovers,” said Knights head coach Mike Mullins.
If not for a stifling defense, which held the visiting Dragons to just 182 yards of total offense, including 76 rushing, things could have been a whole lot worse.
“They played outstanding, they played physical and we’re just going to have to live on those guys until we get these other (offensive) guys going,” Mullins said.
Holding on to a 14-7 halftime lead, Round Rock and Heights were in a battle for field position throughout much of the second half, combining on eight punts and seven three-and-outs up until the 7:33 mark of the fourth quarter.
But, after playing relatively clean ball in the second half, the turnover bug bit back in a big way when senior tailback Tyler Brown fumbled on the opening carry of the Knights’ sixth offensive series of the second half.
After a scrum for the ball, Dragons defensive end Breylin Mitchell emerged from the bottom of the pile like a proud conqueror at Heights’ 17-yard line.
“Any time you can get momentum in a game, you’ve got to hold on to it, and I thought we did a great job when we got that turnover we were able to hold on to that momentum,” said Dragons coach Jeff Cheatham, formerly of Salado.
Three plays later, Round Rock tailback Deandre Story punched it in from less than a yard out for his second touchdown of the game to put the Dragons ahead 21-7 with 6:56 left in the game.
“It’s a killer, it doesn’t matter what level, it’s such a downer for that to happen,” Mullins said of Brown’s fumble. “You just keep telling them to hang in there, and they played hard for 48 minutes — I can’t ask anything better than that — we’ve just got to keep working.”
And that’s just what the Knights did, as sophomore quarterback Troy Smith connected on four consecutive passes for 64 yards to Round Rock’s 24-yard line.
But on Smith’s fifth straight completion, receiver Tyler Wade tried for extra yardage on a 5-yard screen play and had the ball punched out by Dragons defensive back Mason Ramirez and recovered by linebacker Zach Pleasant at the 14 with 5:39 remaining.
Heights’ defense held yet again and forced Round Rock’s eighth punt of the game, but on the offense’s very next play, Dragons corner Ryan Lamar stepped in front of a Smith pass to the sideline and tiptoed 29 yards into the end zone for the score to go ahead 27-7 with 2:28 to play for a 13-0 turnaround in 5 minutes.
“I thought both of them still have a long way to go, but they’re going to learn from these mistakes,” Mullins said of quarterbacks Smith (11-of-21 for 136 yards) and Damion May (3-of-13, 3 INTs in the first half). “We’ve just got to get through this tough part and keep going.”
After Round Rock took an 8-0 lead on the first of Story’s scores, the Dragons scored again 11 seconds later when Heights returner Tyrone Bonhomme fumbled trying for extra yardage and Ramirez picked up the loose ball and returned it 21 yards for a 14-0 advantage after a missed two-point try.
The Knights responded though, thanks to some trickery and some nifty running by May, whose 36 yard scramble set up a 28-yard double pass from May to Smith in the left flat to a wide-open Texas recruit Naashon Hughes for the touchdown as Heights made it 14-7 with 29 seconds left in the first quarter.
“That was our Dragon special,” Mullins laughed. “We’d worked on it and it was perfectly executed. But now we have to execute the simple things of catching the ball in the open or hitting the right receivers.”