By Angel Verdejo
Killeen Daily Herald
WACO - It's not always going to be pretty.
But even though the statistics don't look nice, it has to be done.
Copperas Cove quarterback Orlando Thomas threw three interceptions in the first half against Waco.
He finished the game completing just 4 of 13 passes. A running game that tallied more than 400 yards a week ago - 237 at halftime - had just 90 at the break Friday night.
But Cove got the work it needed before going to its bread and butter in the second half. The Bulldawgs, after scoring on three of their opening four possessions, stayed on the ground in the final two quarters and held off Waco 41-31 in what turned out to be a shootout at Waco ISD Stadium.
"These first three ballgames, we have to get our offense and our defense together for district play," Cove head coach Jack Welch said of the nondistrict schedule. "You can worry about the scoreboard 100 percent and not really take care of your football team. We all want to win, but more importantly, we have to get ourselves so we can win in district.
"And so we forced ourselves to do things regardless of what happened. I think it will benefit us in the end."
Thomas is only in his 13th game at quarterback. He grew up a running back, moving to wide receiver as a sophomore before taking over at quarterback before the 2010 season.
There was some good – Cove's first touchdown came on a 36-yard pass from Thomas to Andre White four minutes into the game. White got just behind a Waco defender and Thomas hit the senior in stride.
But there were also misfired passes, drops from the receiving corps and the interceptions that ended Cove's final three first-half possessions. One came right at the goal line, keeping a 13-7 Cove from stretching out.
"We have some inexperienced football players and Orlando is throwing the ball much better - they have to help him out. We have to make sure we make those catches," Welch said. "We had one bad read down there on the goal line. He'll get that - he knew as soon as he let that go.
"That's learning experience."
That all changed in the second half when Cove's lead disappeared. After a Dawg (1-1) punt three minutes into the third quarter, Waco went 77 yards on six plays, with Will Hines running a reverse 29 yards for the score and a 14-13 Lions lead.
Waco (1-1) went for the pooch kick on the ensuing kickoff, recovering the loose ball and eventually getting a field goal.
But while Waco scored 24 points in the second half, Cove scored 28 with its run game. Leading the way was running back Brandon Hamilton, who had just four carries for 21 yards in the first half.
The senior finished with 230 yards on 19 carries and two second-half scores.
"He had to make an impact for us – bottom line," Welch said of Hamilton. "We had to generate first downs and we had to get touchdowns."
Following the Waco field goal, Cove needed just two plays to retake the lead. Thomas went 4 yards on a keeper before Hamilton went up the middle and outran the Waco defense for a 54-yard touchdown.
He added a 32-yard score, while Thomas scored twice as well - each scored stretched Cove's lead back to 10 points when Waco would get to within three.
"The second half tonight - we talked about it at halftime on what we needed to do and we came out and did it," Welch said of his team coming out with a tenacious attitude. "And we overcame a lot of obstacles. We knew what we were battling and we had to go make it happen.
"And our kids made it happen."