By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
Bryan was undermanned, and a desperate and opportunistic Harker Heights took advantage.
But the Knights sure didn't take it easily.
Needing to win two of their final three games to get themselves in the playoff picture, the Knights defense forced three turnovers and then held firm despite some late lapses as Vikings kicker Chris M. Johnson missed a potential game-tying field goal with less than a minute left for a 17-14 victory Friday night at Leo Buckley Stadium.
It's Heights' first win over Bryan since 2005, their lone victory in seven meetings before Friday.
"We (knew) we hadn't beaten Bryan in years, so it's time to change the tradition," said Heights senior offensive tackle and homecoming king Camrhon Hughes. "We've been trying to change traditions this whole year, and we're trying to break one more and make it to the playoffs."
By knocking off the Vikings, the Knights (5-3, 3-2 12-5A) move into a three-way tie with Belton and Temple, who have the edge for the final two District 12-5A playoff spots with wins over Heights already.
Despite surrendering a couple of big plays to a few Bryan backups, including a pair of touchdown throws from senior quarterback Zach Alvarado over an 11-second span in the fourth quarter, the Heights defense had its second straight stout performance ending in a victory.
"It seemed like an eternity to be honest with you," Heights coach Mike Mullins said of Bryan's 14-point swing. "I look up and its 5:26, and we've worked on our hands team all week and I'll be dangit, all of a sudden I look up and they got the ball. I was just about ready to throw up on the sideline."
After a bad snap on a Heights punt attempt set Bryan up at the Knights' 16, Alvarado - playing in place of injured starter Chris Johnson (knee) - came out of a timeout on fourth down and lofted a jump ball to the back of the end zone that 6-foot-1 receiver Tim Willett outjumped three Knights defenders for a 14-yard touchdown with 5:30 left in the game.
"He went up and made a big play," Bryan coach Bob Bellard said of Willett. "They had him pretty well covered and he just went up and made a real good catch on it."
In an obvious onside situation, a squib kick bounced right through the hands of usually sure-handed junior safety Naashon Hughes as Bryan senior Granger Dewitt recovered at the Knights' 27.
On the next play, Alvarado - who was 5-for-19 at that point with two interceptions - found Ziquarius Webber in the far left corner of the end zone, dropping it in behind Heights defensive backs Carlos Cacho and Tyrel Stokes, who misjudged where the ball was going to land.
Despite giving Bryan a chance to at least tie the game after a fumbled punt attempt, the stout Knights defense held as a 43-yard field goal attempt went to the right to allow Heights to end the game in style - the victory formation.
After the Knights managed just two first downs the entire first quarter, sophomore tailback Marcus Anderson II broke things open on his very first carry of the game - juking to his left and taking it 56 yards to the Bryan 5-yard line. Senior quarterback C.J. Rodriguez did the rest, pushing his way forward for the 5-yard touchdown run to put Heights on the board, 7-0 with 8:16 left in the second.
"They were loading everybody in and ... we kind of got in a few different formations and when Marcus busted it, it went open," Mullins said.
Following a three-and-out by the Vikings, it was another hidden gem that finally shone through for the Knights as senior receiver Jamal Williams - who missed all of last season with a broken collarbone - pulled in a 13-yard reception on a quick hitch and then sprinted past three Bryan the final 68 yards to the end zone.
"This whole year, I've been trying to get back and amerced into football, and when I caught it I was happy because I was able to redeem myself and help out my team," Williams said of several drops this season.
Heights entered halftime up 17-0 after Harler nailed a 19-yard field goal with six seconds left on the clock.