By Angel Verdejo
Killeen Daily Herald
SOUTHLAKE - Copperas Cove had the game.
The Bulldawgs, after beating Southlake Carroll at home last year, had the Dragons on the ropes again on Friday. This time, Cove led by a touchdown at Dragon Stadium and was running at will against the Carroll defense.
But just like that, the tables turned. And when they did, so did the game.
Carroll tied the game with just over four minutes to play and got the game-winning touchdown with 35 seconds left, walking away with the 38-31 win to even this short, but budding rivalry.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a few times," said Cove running back Brandon Hamilton, who combined with Orlando Thomas to lead a Dawg running game that accounted for 441 yards.
With Cove leading 31-24 three minutes into the fourth quarter, the Dawgs forced Carroll's third punt in a row and looked to push their lead to double digits.
But Carroll's defense, which spent most of the first half chasing Thomas and Hamilton, finally made the plays it needed to get off the field.
It was short lived - the Dragons went three-and-out. But the momentum had already turned.
"The defense did a better job in that second half," Carroll head coach Hal Wasson said. "That was my fault in the first half. I just told them to lay their hair back and play."
On Cove's next possession, Thomas was stopped for a short gain on first down before two incomplete passes led to a punt. Carroll quarterback Kenny Hill led the Dragons right down the field, capping off an eight-play, 75-yard drive with a 13-yard touchdown strike to Sabian Holmes. The score tied the game with 4:28 to play.
Cove again had a chance to answer, but two Hamilton runs for five total yards sandwiched another incomplete pass. Thomas, a converted quarterback, completed just 5 of 16 passes for 45 yards.
The Dawgs punted again and Carroll took advantage. With three minutes to play, Hill drove the Dragons to the Cove 9, and he went in for the go-ahead touchdown. The 38-31 Carroll lead with 35 seconds remaining gave the Dragons their first lead since midway through the opening quarter.
"It's easy to forget that Kenny Hill is only a junior," Wasson said of Hill, who threw for 380 yards and four touchdowns. "In that fourth quarter, you want to see your quarterback take over."
Friday's start looked like a back-and-forth shootout.
Carroll took the opening kickoff and quickly went 81 yards on nine plays. Hill, who made his varsity debut against the Dawgs last year as a sophomore, completed 5 of 6 passes on the drive - the only miss was a drop.
He found Peyton Williams for the game's first score, a 46-yarder off a bubble screen that the Colorado commit took before outrunning the Cove defense.
Cove answered on the ground - the Dawgs ran eight straight times to start. A chop block erased a would-be touchdown from Hamilton, but Cove went back to him two plays later on an option and he went in from 19 yards out, tying the game eight minutes in.
Thomas gave Cove its first lead late in the second quarter, breaking loose on 32-yard run. Carroll tied the game on its ensuing possession, but Thomas came right back.
On the Dawgs' next drive, a holding penalty backed the offense back to its own 10. Thomas went for 40 yards, found Hamilton for 29 and capped off the drive with a 21-yard scoring run on a play where he mishandled the snap.