FORT HOOD — Copperas Cove had to win, and Jack Welch believes the Bulldawgs did so on their first drive.
After forcing Harker Heights to punt away the game’s opening possession, Copperas Cove drove 87 yards for a touchdown. While the score was important, it was not nearly as important as how the Bulldawgs accomplished it.
Copperas Cove converted two fourth downs by using fake punts to extend the possession and set up Shaq Fluelen’s short touchdown run.
It was not the only score of the night, but it was the most important, according to Welch.
“I thought the first series, the very first drive was crucial and very key,” he said. “Even though the game continues on for 48 minutes, I thought that was a big drive.”
It did not prove to be the difference, but it set the tone for Copperas Cove’s 45-23 victory over Harker Heights at Hood Stadium.
Facing fourth-and-11 from their own 23-yard line, Bulldawgs punter Hunter McVeigh caught the Knights sleeping and was able to run 21 yards for a first down. Three snaps later, Copperas Cove was in a similar position, facing fourth-and-6 at their own 48-yard line, and Trent Canion ran turned another fake punt into a first down, breaking free for an 11-yard run.
Moments later, Fluelen scored to give Copperas Cove (6-4, 4-3 District 8-5A) a lead it would not relinquish as it clinched a 10th consecutive playoff berth thanks in part to 63-45 victory against Killeen.
The Bulldawgs’ reward for surviving an up-and-down showing in district is drawing No. 2 DeSoto in the opening round, but Copperas Cove quarterback Manny Harris would not want it any other way.
“To be the best, you’ve got to beat the best,” said the junior, who threw for 298 yards and three touchdowns said. “Everybody wants to upset the best team, and we want to be the one to do it this year.”
The bi-district game will be played at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Waco ISD Stadium.
Copperas Cove’s opening drive, proved to be the only touchdown of the first quarter, but Harker Heights got on the scoreboard thanks to Austin Roden’s 24-yard field goal with 31 seconds remaining. The Bulldawgs answered early in the second quarter as Jayson Stanley connected on a 26-yard field goal to give Copperas Cove a 10-3 lead.
The score held for a majority of the second quarter until the teams combined to score 17 points in the final 1:13.
The outburst began with Roden’s 43-yard field goal, which was erased on the ensuing kickoff as Bulldawgs’ senior Phillip Baptiste returned the ball 92 yards for a touchdown to put Copperas Cove ahead 17-6.
Harker Heights (2-8, 2-5) responded 22 seconds later, however, as Tony Barnes caught a 56-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Troy Smith, and the Knights went into halftime trailing 17-13, but could not get any closer.
Copperas Cove scored on its first drive of the second half and exploded for 21 points in the fourth quarter to secure the win while ending the Knights’ season.
“These seniors got dealt a tough hand with a new coach coming in,” Harker Heights first-year head coach Jerry Edwards said, “but they accepted me, and they came in and played hard tonight.”
Led by Smith, who completed 14 of 29 passes for 265 yards and two touchdowns, including five to Damaria Moon for 110 yards, the Knights finished with 330 yards of offense. Harker Heights’ defense, however, could not slow down the Bulldawgs.
Copperas Cove had 429 total yards as Harris and Baptiste connected 12 times for 124 yards and two touchdowns while McVeigh caught six passes for 108 yards.
Welch would like to see his team run the ball more, though. The Bulldawgs produced 131 rushing yards on 33 attempts against the Knights.
“This is a high-powered offense,” he said. “There is no question about it, but when you’ve got a real run game that can ground it out and grind it out and wear people down, that is real potency. ... We need to get better at being able to run the ball and throw the ball.”