COPPERAS COVE — Belton forced three second-half turnovers, shutting out Copperas Cove during that time to turn a close game at halftime into a commanding 41-14 win to open District 12-6A play Friday night at Bulldawg Stadium.
After leading by three at the break, the Tigers (2-2, 1-0) pulled away with a 21-point third quarter that featured touchdown drives on two of three possessions and a 55-yard interception return for a score by Taylor Evans.
Kage Carmichael added an interception and Gabe Kalama had a fumble recovery for Belton, which snapped a two-game slide. Cove (0-4, 0-1) extended a losing streak that dates to last October to 11 games.
“We didn’t turn the ball over (in the second half),” Belton head coach Brett Sniffin said. “In the first half, we made it a lot closer than it needed to be because of some turnovers.”
In the second half, Belton reversed that trend.
“That’s what you want,” Sniffin said. “Our defense held them in check, besides that last drive there. If we keep doing that against everybody else, we’ll be right there in it.”
Elijah Warner scored the Tigers’ final touchdown of the third on a 38-yard screen pass from Slade LeBlanc to push the lead to 38-14 with 2:24 left.
Warner finished with 137 yards rushing on 15 carries. He also scored on a 21-yard screen pass from Brown in the first half, adding 59 yards and two TDs on two grabs.
“We took care of it tonight,” Warner said. “In the second half, we hit the holes right. It was real good.”
Belton overcame two first-half fumbles to hang on for a 17-14 halftime lead as the teams traded scores in a second quarter that saw three lead changes.
Seth Morgan provided the last of those when he ran under a floating 19-yard pass from Brown in the right corner of the end zone that gave the Tigers the three-point lead.
Belton then forced a turnover on downs on the Bulldawgs’ ensuing possession but gave the ball right back two plays later on a fumble at its 37.
Cove’s Kevin Pontious and Jaylen Donnell recovered Belton fumbles in the first half, but only one led to points.
The Bulldawgs advanced inside the red zone following Donnell’s recovery but, after taking their last timeout of the half, they elected to go for it on fourth-and-3 from the Belton 11 and the Tigers’ Tanner Conroy blew up a running play, stopping Malcom Roberts as soon as he touched the ball for a 4-yard loss.
It was the seventh play of the half in which the Tigers stopped Cove for no gain or negative yardage.
The Dawgs scored the game’s first points — following Pontious’ fumble recovery on Belton’s first possession — when Shane Richey went in from 27 yards out on a QB keeper on the very next play.
Belton got on the board later in the first on a 30-yard field goal from Zach White, marking the Tigers’ first successful field goal of the season after going 0-for-3 in the first three games.
Following another Cove turnover on downs, the Tigers took their first lead of the night at 10-7 early in the second when Warner hauled in the screen pass from Brown.
Cove answered on its ensuing possession, using four Roberts runs for 65 yards to comprise a five-play drive that ended in Roberts’ 9-yard scoring plunge and a 14-10 Dawgs lead at the 8:31 mark of the second.
BELTON 41, COPPERAS COVE 14
Belton 3 14 21 3 — 41
Copperas Cove 7 7 0 0 — 14
Bel — Zach White 30 field goal
Bel — Elijah Warner 21 pass from Ty Brown (White kick)
CC — Malcom Roberts 9 run (Steward kick)
Bel — Seth Morgan 19 pass from Brown (White kick)
Bel — Garrett Mooney 17 pass from Brown (White kick)
Bel — Taylor Evans 55 interception return (White kick)
Bel — Warner 38 pass from Slade LeBlanc (White kick)
Bel — White 30 field goal
First downs 17 13
Rushes-yards 37-200 35-190
Passing yards 224 51
Comp.-Att.-Int. 17-24-1 6-19-2
Punts-average 0-00.0 3-38.3
Fumbles-lost 2-2 2-1
Penalties-yards 6-65 5-50
RUSHING — Belton, Warner 15-137, LeBlanc 7-39, Ritchie Willess 5-28, Ayon York 3-16, Garrett Oliveira 1-3, Javier Luna 1-1, Team 1-(minus 4), Brown 4-(minus 20). Copperas Cove, Roberts 17-118, Craig Brown 8-43, Richey 7-31, Ezekiel Kaleopa-Lynn 1-(minus 1), Bra’dyn Brooks-Smith 2-(minus 1).
PASSING — Belton, Brown 10-14-1-122, LeBlanc 7-10-0-102. Copperas Cove: Richey 5-16-2-26, Blaine Butler 1-3-0-25.
RECEIVING — Belton, Morgan 6-63, Bryan Henry 5-39, Warner 2-59, Mason Ramm 1-18, Oliveira 1-18, Mooney 1-17, Angel Guerrero 1-10. Copperas Cove, Demetrius Pearce 2-36, Wyatt Nelson 2-10, Kaleopa-Lynn 1-6, Trey Fossett 1-(minus 1).