Walking off the field following an emotionally-draining overtime loss at A&M Consolidated last Friday, a few of the Harker Heights players openly wept.
They knew what it meant it was over. The postseason dreams theyd been fighting for all season were no longer even an option, and they had nothing left.
Thats what makes tonights season finale against Copperas Cove all the more difficult.
I think were up to the challenge, weve just got to come back from the mental part of it, Harker Heights coach Mike Mullins admitted.
The challenge awaiting them across the Leo Buckley Stadium turf will be the Bulldawgs (8-1, 6-0 12-5A), who can clinch their first outright district title since 2005 with a win.
I think it means a lot to this team because they are playing extremely hard and focused, and usually you can tell what something means to a team by how they respond, Copperas Cove coach Jack Welch said of the Bulldawgs motivation this week.
Fresh off a record-setting 70-6 rout of Shoemaker last week, Cove hasnt lost since a Week 0 defeat to state superpower Southlake Carroll. So not only do the Bulldawgs have momentum this season, but also in the series against Heights, winning every season since they became district rivals in 2004 and having outscored the Knights 253-74 in those seven contests.
The most points any Heights team has scored on Cove came in 2005 in a 35-20 loss.
Theyve had that tradition for so long that they just believe that they can win, Mullins said. For them (this season), theyve stayed healthy, theyve had a lot of things go right for them and plus theyre well coached and they do some things that you have to stop.
And when they get in there foot-to-foot and say here we come, you better be ready to tackle well.But although they may be out of the playoff chase, the Knights (5-4, 3-3) are playing for something potentially even bigger the programs first winning season since a six-win campaign in 2005.
You see a team that is in the game like Heights is, and they have the strength that Heights has, it makes you aware that every time they touch the ball, they can make big things happen and that raises your level of intensity, Welch said.
Leading the way for Coves district-leading rush attack is the backfield thunder-and-lightning duo of tailback Brandon Hamilton and quarterback Orlando Thomas.
Wearing the No. 81 in honor of deceased friend and teammate Rafael George, who died prior to the season, Hamilton has been a man on a mission this season. He ranks second in 12-5A with 1,236 rushing yards (averaging 7.6 yards per carry) and a district-leading 19 touchdowns.
Hes such a force, Mullins said of Hamilton. His size is one thing you got to deal with, his speeds another one and just his determination and will to get extra yards when you think you have him tackled is a tribute to a guy thats really an outstanding running back.
Thomas, whos committed to the University of Texas as an athlete, ranks fifth with 857 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns while throwing for 686 passing yards and six scores.
Offensively, you start with Thomas and Hamilton, and they are such a one-two punch, Mullins said. But theyre a different type of team that can run right at you, but then they can also run around you because of their speed,
On the other hand, injuries have hampered the Knights offense as starting tailback Marvin Jackson has dealt with a severe ankle injury for several weeks and even left against A&M Consolidated after reinjuring it in the third quarter. Sophomore Marcus Anderson II has filled in, averaging 7.7 yards per carry since a season-high 128-yard performance against Temple in Week 7.
Thats another challenge for us is being banged up and not really knowing at several key position who were going to have (available), Mullins said.
But while they have taken diverging paths, and the motivations might be different, neither Cove nor Heights is minimizing the importance of a win tonight.
I think weve got a lot to play for and hopefully well be up and ready for that task, Mullins said.