COLLEGE STATION Sometimes half the battle is just getting there.
Despite struggling some offensively, both Belton and Copperas Cove advanced to the Division I championship bracket at the 13th annual Texas 7-on-7 state tournament Friday on the Texas A&M campus.
Both teams went 2-1, after winning their first two games of the day.
The Bulldawgs turned to their defense to reach their first championship bracket since 2006 and the Tigers scraped by to advance for the first time in at least four years.
"I'll take that. I'll take that every day," Belton football coach Rodney Southern said after the Tigers fell to Pool C top seed DeSoto 42-20.
Winning their first two games by a combined three points edging Lufkin 27-26 and Memorial 21-19 the Tigers struggled against DeSoto's three-year starting quarterback Ryan Polite, who shredded Belton's secondary for six touchdowns.
"We didn't really play all that well," said Belton senior quarterback David Ash, who's committed to play at the University of Texas. "But it's a state tournament and there are some good teams here."
Belton takes on Plano in the first round of the championship bracket today while Cove opens against Lamar. Both games begin at 9 a.m.
While the Tigers' pass defense was being picked apart, Copperas Cove's secondary helped salvage a tough game against Richland, which won the tournament in 2008.
With four interceptions, including a game-clinching pick by Myron Taylor, Cove pulled off a tight 13-7 win in its second pool game.
"We just manned up, there wasn't a lot of time, so we just stepped up and did our job," Taylor said.
After the Bulldawgs scored on their opening possession, Richland answered one play later on a 50-yard bomb that made it 7-6 following a successful extra point try.
But that was all the Bulldawg defense allowed. Cove forced five consecutive turnovers on downs and had three goal-line stands.
Despite struggling through the air himself, Cove quarterback Austin Greene connected with Johnny Sirmans on a 9-yard touchdown for the 13-7 victory.
But the Bulldawgs couldn't pull out another game-saving interception against rival John Tyler, which ousted Cove in the bi-district round of the playoffs last year and came out on top again, 27-26, in their final pool game to finish 2-1 in Pool N. In their first pool game, the Bulldawgs doubled up The Woodlands 28-14.
From behind the tall shadows of graduated receivers Dominique Moore and Ross Wallace, Gatesville senior Nardi Meyers is showing he can take the spotlight.
With 18 touchdown receptions over six games, Meyers tried to lead his team to the Division II state 7-on-7 championship game.
"I was just going with the basics and using the skills God blessed me with," Meyers said. "I was just trying to make it happen for my team, doing all I could do."
However, officials called back two scores and the Hornets fell to Celina 26-20 in the championship bracket quarterfinals Friday.
"I don't personally get mad over calls, they just make me want to work harder," Meyers said. "I don't know if they were trying to cheat us, but that's what it felt like. ... We can't beat the refs, we can only beat the (other) team."
After Meyers scored on a 12-yard touchdown to end the first half with a 14-13 lead, Celina answered on its first second half possession, but only after a third-down stop by Gatesville was negated by a pass interference call.
On the ensuing drive, Gatesville senior quarterback Jake Truss hit Christian Santulan on a 2-yard shuffle pass for a touchdown that an official called offensive interference on. Truss then connected with Meyers on a fourth-and-12 situation that made it 20-20.
But with time winding down, Celina scored again and held Truss to three straight incompletions to advance to the semifinals, where eventual champion Brownwood pulled off a 39-27 victory. Brownwood then beat Cameron 34-32 in the championship game.