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Harker Heights' Re'Shaun Sanford (6) signals touchdown after running in for a score against Round Rock McNeil on Sept. 10 at Panther Stadium in Hewitt. Heights won 64-28.

Now, it begins.

After months of anticipation and weeks of preparation, District 12-6A programs take their first steps toward sorting four playoff qualifiers out of the eight-team field tonight, when high-scoring Harker Heights hosts Ellison.

Then, on Friday, crosstown rivals Killeen and Shoemaker clash, Temple embarks on its quest to repeat as champions, and the winner between Belton and Copperas Cove hopes to turn its fortunes around.

Along with an intriguing first leg of District 12-6A’s seven-week race, the schedule also features a trio of small school encounters after the teams combined to go 4-1 while the larger programs were on a bye.

With the showings, area teams boosted their combined record above .500 for the first time this season, improving to 21-19 overall, but one of the key contributors to the accomplishment will not be on the field.

On the heels of winning a total of three games during the three previous seasons, Florence collected its third consecutive victory last week, defeating Goldthwaite 10-7. The Buffaloes are on a bye this week.

THURSDAY

Ellison (1-2) at Harker Heights (3-0)

The Knights topped the 40-point plateau five times last season, and they have accomplished the feat in every game this year, including consecutive 60-point outbursts. With playmakers all over the field, Harker Heights averages a district-high 493 yards per game, creating a massive conflict of styles with the Eagles.

Ellison has only scored 33 points this season and will need to rely on its defense to slow down the Knights.

FRIDAY

Shoemaker (1-1) at Killeen (2-1)

Following a disappointing loss in the season opener and nearly three scoreless quarters to open Week 2, the Kangaroos flipped a switch, closing their contest at Pflugerville Hendrickson with 15 unanswered points before beating Waco 42-6. The Grey Wolves, who have yet to play in consecutive weeks, are coming off a 52-point outing and have won each of the last two encounters against Killeen, but records are irrelevant in this rivalry.

Belton (1-2) at Copperas Cove (0-3)

Each of these teams is struggling early as they hope to end playoff droughts, and this contest could be the perfect opportunity to alter fate. The Bulldawgs have allowed 174 points in their trio of losses despite averaging 240.7 rushing yards, while the Tigers are experiencing opposite issues. Belton simply cannot move the ball since opening the season with a 35-31 win at Georgetown, recording just one offensive touchdown and averaging 91.25 total yards.

Temple (1-2) at Bryan (0-3)

After opening the season with consecutive losses for the first time since 2011, the Wildcats exploded for a 60-53 victory against Hutto in Week 3, and it could be the spark responsible for propelling them to repeat as district champions. Temple went undefeated en route to the title last year, including a 44-7 win against the Vikings, who have posted 14 points and been outscored by double digits in three games.

Lampasas (1-3) at Gatesville (2-2)

The last time these teams played, the Badgers dominated, winning 59-0 at Gatesville in 2019. Now, it could be time for the Hornets to get revenge. Shutting out Lampasas, which is averaging 34.8 points, will be difficult, but the Badgers are coming off their worst defeat since 2017, losing 47-7 to Class 4A, Division II No. 5 China Spring. Beating Hillsboro 40-6 behind a 33-point first half after combining for 10 points in two losses should also motivate the Hornets.

Katy Jordan (1-3) at Lake Belton (4-0)

Like the Broncos, the Warriors are only in their second season of existence. Unlike Lake Belton, however, Jordan is struggling. While the Broncos are easily winning, outscoring opponents by a combined 55 points en route to a trio of double-digit victories, the Warriors keep encountering disappointment. Outside of a 57-0 win against Danbury in Week 2, Jordan had not been competitive until last week, when they lost 52-45 at San Antonio Davenport.

Taylor (3-1) at Salado (2-2)

The Eagles have come full circle in four games, opening the season with a blowout victory before following with a narrow defeat and one-sided loss. Last week, Salado completed the loop by emphatically

shutting out Mexia 57-0, and now, the opportunity to potentially repeat or break the cycle looms against a balanced Ducks team. A total of 11 players produced yards for Taylor during last week’s 18-14 win against La Vernia.

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