By Monty Campbell
Killeen Daily Herald
COPPERAS COVE – Two teams from two very different sides of the tracks are prepping to meet for a second consecutive year.
The top-ranked Copperas Cove Bulldawgs and rebuilding Corpus Christi Tuloso-Midway face off tonight at Bulldawg Stadium, with the Warriors hoping for a more favorable outcome than the 61-0 shellacking of last year. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
"I think you need to keep last year's game in perspective," Copperas Cove head coach Jack Welch said. "Tuloso-Midway had a new head coach (Rodney Willams) and seven starters that hadn't played coming into that game."
Last season, the Dawgs scored early and often against Tuloso-Midway. With 4:32 remaining in the first quarter and the score 16-0 in favor of Copperas Cove, Welch began substituting at will and let many of his players see action for the first time at the varsity level.
While the game was out of control early and the Warriors continued to struggle for the rest of the season – winning just one contest – Williams did get his team to begin believing that they could win and the experience that the junior-laden team needed.
As a result, the Warriors entered 2007 with much improved confidence and it was confirmed last Friday as they held 3A's ninth-ranked Ingleside scoreless through halftime.
Ingleside went on to win the contest 22-6, but it was a moral victory for the Warriors nonetheless after falling to the same team 52-7 last season.
As solid as the Warriors defense was in the first half, it was Ingleside's defense that set up the first score of the game for the Mustangs as Stuart Hamilton recovered a third quarter fumble at the Warriors 4-yard line.
Ingleside tacked on another touchdown, after holding the Warriors to three-and-out, but Tuloso-Midway turned the tide on the Mustangs as Nathan Miller recovered a fumble at the Ingleside 35-yard line.
That's when the Warriors leading rusher Javy Pena (four rushes, 32 yards) broke free for a 10-yard touchdown run. A failed two-point attempt and ensuing onside kick resulted in the final Ingleside score of the game, which Tuloso-Midway could not counter.
After Pena at the running back position, Tuloso-Midway has some more-than-capable weapons in the backfield. Second-year quarterback David Alvarez (4-of-10 passing for 19 yards and one interception) is looking for added offense from Deandre Darrington (4-26) and Michael Reyes (5-16).
Defensively, the Warriors are led by senior defensive lineman Nathan Miller, linebacker Andrew Esquivel and two-way standout Ray Sanchez.
Although, the Warriors lost for the 10th time in their last 11 games, Welch is more concerned about his own team and its preparation for the District 16-4A season.
"We aren't really focusing on Tuloso-Midway or any of our nondistrict opponents, we are focusing on making ourselves better," he said. "Any team in nondistrict play should focus on themselves."
Copperas Cove (1-0) did focus on themselves last week and on keeping Central off the board.
The Dawg defense, led by defensive linemen Steven Welch and Anthony Gonzales and linebackers Tanner Brock and Phillip Tedder, stymied the San Angelo Central offense to the tune of 73 total yards and a 33-0 Cove victory.
The Bulldawg offense, which amassed 327 yards, was led by senior running back Troy Vital (13-135, 2 TDs) and the arm of quarterback Robert Griffin III (8-of-16, 137 yards and one TD).
Griffin's favorite receivers in the first contest appeared to be Josh Boyce (two receptions, 25 yards) and tight end Donel Morrison (2-49).
While the Dawgs got a stellar performance from the defense and offense, the Cove special teams provided a mixed review for their head coach.
Boyce returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter for the Dawgs, but they missed three extra-point conversions (two kicks and one run).
"Our kicking game needs to improve, that much is glaring," Welch said. "We are looking for consistency in the kicking game this week with ongoing battles to improve that area of the game."
Contact Monty Campbell at email@example.com or call (254) 547-9173.