By Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
Former Harker Heights coach Ross Rogers remembers the Knights' history with the Timberwolves and said he and his father, legendary Killeen High coach Gene, will be in attendence for Harker Heights' 7 p.m. season-opener tonight at Leo Buckley Stadium.
He won't be coaching and that's something he's still adjusting to, Rogers said, but he still gets to visit coaches and field houses with the football equipment company, Riddell.
"I think it's Harker Heights' year against Cedar Park," Rogers said. "We've, Harker Heights, played Cedar Park more than any other team. The first two times, we were in the same district (17-4A) and either played for the district championship or at least a playoff spot."
His replacement, Knights' first-year coach Todd McVey said tonight's game is what he's been looking forward to since he took over the program in March.
"It's a new year with new players," McVey said. "It's the one time of year that you go all out for during the offseason. I've been trying to savor the moment and enjoying being with the kids.
"For the seniors, they're on a countdown backwards. I've been telling them they should enjoy every game because it's their last."
Harker Heights and Cedar Park have played eight times in seven years with four overtimes – and the most memorable was the last meeting of the series.
That was the Knights' 36-29 double-overtime loss to the Timberwolves last year in the first round of the playoffs. Cedar Park holds the advantage in the silent rivalry, five games to three, including the last three by a 98-36 margin.
"It's all new to me," McVey said. "The kids are fired up about playing them obviously because of what happened last year."
Trailing 21-7 after the first half, Knights' quarterback Ryan Balentine completed seven of his nine second-half passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns to pull the Knights even at the end of regulation.
On fourth-and-10 in the second overtime, Balentine completed his pass to receiver Nick Trice (Texas A&M), but officials ruled Balentine crossed the line of scrimmage in the process, ending the Knights' hopes of winning their first-ever 5A playoff game.
After giving up big play after big play last week in their scrimmage against Pflugerville Connally, the Knights offense and defense stepped up late and put up their first points – a 22-yard field goal by Colton Carlisle – in the timed quarter and shut out the Cougars.
Of the five Pflugerville touchdowns, three were plays that went farther than 20 yards – a 65-yard run, a 21-yard pass and a 69-yard pass. In the timed portion, the Cougars were held to just one first down on a 15-yard pass, which also was their largest gain in the quarter.
"A scrimmage being what it is, those things happen," McVey said. "These guys learn from it."
The Timberwolves return eight starters – four on each side of the ball – and 58 letterman from last year's 9-3, area-finalist team, including quarterback Michael Cochran (446 yards, 3 TDs). Lining up behind Cochran are Hunter Dixon (78-373, 2 TDs) and Dedrick McNight (38-236, 2 TDs). Travis Smith (14-288,1TD) will be on the receiving end of Cochran's passes.
They are led on defense by defensive end Michael Damron and defensive backs Brandon Lopez and Matt Knicky.
"They try to get you out of your comfort zone," McVey said. "They get in their defense and stay in their defense and they have tremendous success at that."
Knights' running back Chris High carried the ball 12 times for 177 yards and two touchdowns against Bastrop, but was slowed to 44 yards on 17 carries against Pflugerville.
Balentine was 4-of-15 for 35 yards against Bastrop, 4-of-10 for 44 yards against Pflugerville Connally and hasn't thrown a touchdown. He has, however, connected with five different receivers.
Rogers coached Balentine through the Knights' final four games last season and said Balentine's cool-headedness is one of his greatest strengths.
"He's got that ability to make something happen when a play goes bad," Rogers said. "He's definately a catalyst for what the Knights have to do this year."
The Knights have opened the last two seasons against Cedar Park and lost 35-0 in 2005 and 27-7 last year. The Knights beat Cedar Park 15-9 in double overtime en route to their first district championship in the first meeting in 2000. The Knights also beat the Timberwolves in 2003 and 2004.
Contact Kevin Posival at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7562.