By Angel Verdejo and Kevin Posival
Killeen Daily Herald
Copperas Cove struggled throughout the first half Saturday against Mesquite Horn.
The defense couldn't stop the Jaguars, who scored touchdowns on four of their six offensive possessions (one ended in a fumble and another ended the half). Horn added a fifth score on a 27-yard interception return - one of two Cove turnovers.
It carried over into the third quarter as Mesquite Horn took its final 21-point lead with just over a minute remaining in the period.
But the Bulldawgs didn't panic, instead embarking on the biggest comeback in program history under head coach Jack Welch, now in his 18th season in Cove.
"So I'm thinking the whole time. I don't think I ever think about just exactly where we're at as far as feeling pity, poor me," Welch said. "I always think about what we have to do to win and what's the next step. You have to continue to think positive."
Cove scored at the end of the third quarter and three more times in a 3½-minute span in the fourth to take the lead.
Roos' defense, experience the difference in playoff win
Some of them had never won a playoff game before Saturday's 36-3 drubbing of Granbury, but those that had been there - the postseason - wanted to stay there at least a week longer. Killeen's defense, offensive line and receiver Devarri McCray were the Roos' bridge to the team's first playoff win since 2009.
Killeen's defense - returning seven starters and a bevy of others who saw playing time last season - forced four turnovers, allowed just 160 yards of offense and held its opposition without a touchdown for the third time this season.
Behind an experienced offensive line, 10 different Killeen ballcarriers - eight of which are varsity newcomers this season - combined for 205 rushing yards and McCray, who played last season as the Roos' No. 3 quarterback, caught six of Garrett Gaskamp's 13 completions for 109 yards and two touchdowns.
L-train keeps on rolling
Why pass it when you don't have to?
That's what Lampasas coach Joey McQueen told reporters after another dominating game, where the Badgers ran for 407 yards, but didn't complete a single pass. Four different Badgers carried the football as all four vie to become 1,000-yard rushers this season.
Secody Howard has now rushed for 1,342 yards and Marcus Kehoe crossed the barrier (1,071) in the 35-21 win over Boerne. Quarterback Brandon Scott is 16 yards short of the mark (984) and Justin Maldonado still has an outside chance (823) if the Badgers can get past La Vernia on Friday and make a deep playoff run.
Belton to move forward after season-ending loss
After David Ash graduated at Belton and left to be the starting quarterback for the Texas Longhorns, the Tiger program was expected to take a step back.
Instead it took three small steps forward, improving from 5-6 to 8-3 behind a stronger and stingier defense.
But, the season still ended the same way - with a first-round playoff loss (35-23 to Mesquite).
"It is always disappointing because unless you win a state championship, you are going to end (the season) in a loss," said Belton coach Rodney Southern. "You hate when you lose, especially when you don't play well and we did not play as well as we are capable of playing."
Now, Southern will try to do it without senior running back Donavan Williams, who rushed for more than 1,300 yards this season. But the coach knows that in order to keep a program moving in the right direction, new players have to be ready to fill the shoes of departed seniors.
"Under the circumstances for where we are as a program - and we will have to go back and evaluate the last three of four games - you hate to lose one because you didn't play well, but 8-3 is not a bad year. You want it to be better, but we will evaluate where we are and try to take the next step as a program."
By the Numbers
9 - Points scored by Killeen's defense in the Roos' Division I-4A bi-district playoff game. Ameer Lee returned a fumble 41 yards for a touchdown and Derriel Collins and Artrez Price added a safety with a sack in the end zone.
4 - Rushes Mesquite had in its win over Belton. The Skeeters passed for more than 200 yards in the first half against the Tigers as they decided to become a pure passing team after a loss to Mesquite Horn.
27 - First downs by Lampasas in its bi-district playoff win over Boerne. The Badgers ran 62 times for 407 yards as they moved the chains time and time again.
1:11 - Time left in the third quarter Saturday when Mesquite Horn took its final 21-point lead, scoring a touchdown to go up 41-20 (the Jaguars also led 28-7 and 34-13). Copperas Cove then rallied, scoring 28 points over the next 9:24.
Killeen (7-4) vs. Fort Worth Arlington Heights (9-2), Friday at Waxahachie, 7:30 p.m. - The Roos' defense spotted its offense a 9-0 lead in Killeen's 36-3 bi-district win over Granbury and will have to have the same unapologetic attitude against Arlington Heights, which beat Birdville 14-13 in its bi-district match-up.
While the Yellow Jackets' offense isn't the best the Roos have seen - they average 287 yards and 30 points a game - their defense is just as formidable as Killeen's, allowing just 236 yards and 14 points per game.
Copperas Cove (10-1) vs. Rowlett (7-4), 9 p.m. Friday at Cowboys Stadium (Arlington) - The Bulldawgs are riding an emotional high after beating Mesquite Horn for their first playoff win since 2008. Rowlett beat Richardson Lake Highlands 53-14, getting a five-touchdown game from Jalen Rhodes.
Lampasas (10-1) vs. La Vernia (6-5), 7:30 p.m. Friday at Round Rock's Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex: The Badgers won their first playoff game since 1998 and head into the area round with their high-powered rushing offense. La Vernia, which also features a run-first offense, beat Somerset 28-0 on Friday.
Nick Talbot contributed to this report.