By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
CEDAR PARK - It was feast or famine for the Harker Heights offense as four second-quarter turnovers - including three interceptions - proved to be the difference as Cedar Park Vista Ridge pulled out a 31-21 victory Friday night.
"The first half was just awful," second-year Knights coach Mike Mullins said.
Starting the second game of his prep career under center, Heights junior quarterback C.J. Rodriguez finished the evening with a career-high 277 yards on 14-of-24 passing but four costly interceptions.
"Basically, (the interceptions) were miscommunications really," Rodriguez said. "... It was just miscommunication and if we'd have cut down on that, we'd probably have won this game."
The interception bug bit hardest in the second quarter when his first two picks directly led to both Vista Ridge touchdowns.
Things were looking up for the Knights after Rodriguez tied the game at 7-7 with a 58-yard fly route touchdown pass to junior receiver Greg Haynes - who finished with 112 yards of total offense and two scores (one receiving, one running).
But two plays into their second possession of the second quarter, Rodriguez scrambled and threw a pass to sophomore Rasheed Dashiell that was tipped in the air and picked off by Rangers linebacker Dylon Lyon at the Knights' 18 yard line.
Vista Ridge scored four plays later when quarterback Kyle Sullivan took it in from 1-yard out to make it 14-7.
Three plays later, after Rodriguez connected with Haynes on a 49-yard bomb to put Heights in great field position on Vista Ridge's 15-yard line, Rangers linebacker Cooper Foster stepped in front of another errant pass at the 31 yard line.
From there, Vista Ridge tailback Chris Showels put on a display, completing a 22-yard reception from Sullivan and then breaking through the Knights defense for a 38-yard touchdown dash that made it 21-7 with 2:01 remaining before the break. Showels finished with 136 yards on 16 carries.
"(Rodriguez) made couple of bad throws, but on the same hand, he got out of some jams, we dropped some that could have gone for big plays," Mullins said. "But Greg Haynes had a super game, Rasheed (Dashiell) makes a couple of great catchs in the game, and CJ is just going to get better."
Rodriguez ended the next drive with his third second-quarter interception, but the experienced Knights defense held strong to go into halftime only trailing by two scores.
After rushing for just 14 yards in the first half, Heights came out determined to move the ball on the ground in the second half.
But after advancing the ball to Vista Ridge's 32-yard line on seven rushing plays in Heights' first opening drive, Rodriguez was again picked off - this time by Rangers two-way threat Jaylen Harris, who also had 64 yards rushing on five carries on offense.
Vista Ridge then ate more than seven minutes off the clock on an 11-play drive that ended with a 44-yard field goal by kicker Cory Patton that made it 24-7 with just 15 seconds remaining in the third.
The Knights offense responded with their own clock-eating drive, as Haynes scored from 4 yards out to cap a nine-play drive to cut the lead to 24-14.
But thanks to penalties - which Heights tallied 13 for 120 yards in the game - anytime they stopped the Rangers on third down would quickly turn into a first-down to negate the effort.
"That's still some growing pains that we're going through with our offensive line and a new quarterback, but we'll coach harder and get ready for next Saturday (against Killeen)," Mullins said.