Punt return TD propels Copperas Cove past 'Cats

Herald/Steven Doll - Copperas Cove senior Nik Greene breaks away from the grip of Temple sophomore punter Joseph Pickett to score on an 81-yard punt return in the second quarter Friday at Bulldawg Stadium.

By Angel Verdejo

Killeen Daily Herald

COPPERAS COVE – Heading into Friday's match between district-favorite Copperas Cove and struggling Temple, the big story, as it's been for much of the last year, was Wildcat running back Lache Seastrunk.

One of the top recruits in the nation, Seastrunk's seven touchdowns before Friday covered an average of 56.7 yards, whether they came on runs, passes or returns. His big-play ability is the top reason he received his U.S. Army All-American Bowl game jersey on Tuesday, accepting an invitation to play in the nation's most prestigious high school all-star game.

Despite that, it wasn't Seastrunk who made the big play. It was Cove's Nik Greene, whose 81-yard punt return opened up the Bulldawgs' lead on the way to a 24-10 win at Bulldawg Stadium.

"Really and truthfully, I thought our special teams was the difference-maker tonight," Cove coach Jack Welch said. "That with our defense carried us. That was not a full-cylinder game on offense and sometimes that happens.

"Sometimes you don't a have cylinder on defense or kicking game."

In addition to Green's score, Brelan Chancellor set up Cove's first score with a 56-yard kickoff return while kicker/punter Chris Barrick pinned Temple inside its own 20-yard line three times.

Defensively, the Dawgs contained Temple (1-4, 0-2 in District 12-5A) and forced the Wildcats to eat up clock while slowly moving the ball up the field instead of gaining huge chunks of yards. Seastrunk finished with 104 yards, but it took 20 carries, while fullback Derrick Davis ran 20 times for 76 yards and the Wildcats' lone touchdown.

"We knew he had to stop Lache Seastrunk and stop the inside trap with Davis – he was a bull," said junior defensive lineman Trevor Valdez. "We had to stop the run, we had to play physical and we had to play all night."

Seastrunk, the nation's third-ranked recruit according to the latest rivals.com Rivals100 lists, actually showed his breakaway speed at the end of the first quarter. With Temple down 7-3 and the Wildcats starting at their own 28-yard line, Seastrunk took a pitch, ran left, cut upfield and ran untouched for what should have been a 72-yard score. The play was called back however, on an illegal-blocking penalty and Temple was forced to punt after reaching midfield.

On the punt, Temple's Joseph Pickett angled the kick near the Cove sideline but the ball bounced back away from the sideline and toward Greene. The do-it-all senior picked up the ball at the 19-yard line and ran through a hole opened up by the Dawgs' return unit. He outran three Wildcats to the end zone for the 81-yard score.

"Matt Garrett was the man right in front of me and he's the one that opened up the big hole for me," Greene said. "He's the one who really sprung me loose. It was a great job by the special teams and everybody executed the play."

The teams traded scores in the first quarter, with Cove answering a Temple field goal with a Cody Vaughn touchdown pass to Brelan Chancellor. The Dawgs lost yardage on two consecutive plays before Vaughn found Chancellor in the right flat and the senior dived and stretched the football over the goal line for the score.

Vaughn threw for just 78 yards, but Cove ran for 148 yards and overcame sloppy second-half play. The Dawgs (5-0, 2-0) answered Davis' third-quarter touchdown with 10 points on consecutive drives, stretching the lead to 14 points.

Cove had problems with the center-quarterback snap exchange and twice fumbled on the first scoring drive (a 32-yard Barrick field goal). Vaughn lost a third fumble, while Greene lost two snaps before falling on both late in the game.

"It's something because both quarterbacks had the problem and we just have to take a look at it, dissect it and find out what's wrong," said Welch of a Dawg offense that fumbled six times. "Haven't had that problem in 16 years but tonight we did.

"This was not a pretty win by the standpoint that everything clicked and went our way, but it's a beautiful win in the fact that we won it."

Contact Angel Verdejo at averdejo@kdhnews.com or (254) 501-7564.

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