By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
SAN ANTONIO – After a 15-year absence, the Roos are back in the state quarterfinals, where they'll face District 25-4A nemesis and top-ranked defending Division I-4A state champion Lake Travis.
With their two starting running backs – Marcus Tillman and Jaquail Haskins – suited up but not playing, junior LeMarquis Jones ran for 221 yards and three touchdowns on just 22 carries and the Roos beat perennial power Gregory-Portland 42-21 in a Division I-4A regional semifinal in the Alamodome.
"I'm just happy to be here and happy to finally start," Jones said. "The O-Line did a great job, I'm just real excited."
The Roos (9-4) will get their chance to soil the Cavaliers' current 27-game winning streak next Saturday at the University of Texas at 2 p.m.
"Nobody thought we'd be where we are," Jones said. "I believed that we would (play Lake Travis in the playoffs) deep down in my heart, if we just kept improving."
The Roos ran for 395 yards and put up 490 total against Gregory-Portland (9-4), while the Wildcats were held to 301 yards and were shut out in the fourth quarter. It was Killeen's first regional semifinal win since 1993. That 1993 team played district rival Temple in the regional final but lost.
"We're confident with who we are as a team," said Killeen senior defensive back Tamarcus Brown. "If we're playing together, we can play with any team."
Killeen sophomore Michael Cummings became the first Killeen quarterback to throw for more 1,000 yards and rush for 1,000 in a single season.
Cummings carried for 94 yards and sophomore Du'Juan Sylvester got his first two carries of the season for 44 yards and a 24-yard touchdown.
Cummings' 1-yard touchdown run on the opening drive of the third quarter gave the Roos their first lead in the game.
Gregory-Portland's Kevin Venton answered with a 1-yard score that tied the game at 21 with less than a minute left in the third quarter.
LeMarquis Jones, though, struck back in a 72-yard scoring hurry with no time left in the period to put the Roos back up to start the fourth quarter.
Gregory-Portland posted just 35 yards in the fourth quarter, including a 15-yard personal foul penalty against Killeen.
After its first drive of the fourth stalled, Gregory-Portland had the Roos pinned back at their own 8, but LeMarquis Jones sprinted for 38 yards on first down and added an 8-yard run at the end of the drive to put Killeen up by two scores.
Needing a score to keep pace, the Wildcats' ensuing drive lost 4 yards but they were given a reprieve from a third-and-long from their own 7 by a face mask penalty against Killeen that gave Gregory-Portland an automatic first down at the 22.
Sterling Martin threw three straight incompletions and the Wildcats were forced to punt away their season.
"We finally had success trying to stop the run," Sam Jones said. "(Gregory-Portland) ran the Slot-T and we'd had difficulty against the Wing-T against Ellison and Hutto. They've finally bought into the system. The kids got up for this and did what they were told to do."
Gregory-Portland, which had three running backs who had run for more than 500 yards this season, and four who had 400 or more, was held without a 100-yard rusher against Killeen.
"The defense has played the last two games lights-out," Sam Jones said.
For the second straight week the Killeen defense collected a first-drive turnover as the Wildcats threatened to cap an impressive 72-yard drive with a game-opening score, but Brandon Howard picked up the Kyle Fishbeck fumble at the Killeen 6.
The offense sputtered to a three-and-out and Duck Lowrence sprinted for 18 yards with the shortened field after the punt to give the Wildcats a 7-0 first quarter lead.
Killeen again was forced to punt after three unsuccessful plays, but a penalty on the Wildcats backed them to a first-and-20 from their own 12 and they, too, were forced to punt after three.
On third-and-six, KHS' Michael Cummings was forced to scramble and picked up 18 hard-earned yards to spark the offense.
The Roos picked up three first downs in their next five plays and Cummings hit Royce Asi on a 1-yard dump-off touchdown to tie the game at 7 early in the second quarter. LeMarquis Jones' 8-yard run later in the period tied the game at 14 at halftime.
Contact Kevin Posival at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7562.