By Tony Adams
The Belton Tigers made the road trip to Hood Stadium to play the Killeen Ellison Eagles in search of their second victory of the season and of District 8-5A play.
The Tigers averaged 406 yards per game going into the contest going up against the Eagles defense, who led the district with surrendering an average of 334 per game.
Ellison looked to put an end to a torturous 24-game losing streak and end a losing streak against the Tigers, dating back to 2008. Their offense only averaged 182 yards a game, more than double the yardage less than the next team in district (Heights averaged 377 yards per game).
Kavan Johnson scored two fourth down touchdowns in the second half to give the Belton Tigers a 34-26 win over Ellison. The win takes the Tigers to 2-0 (2-3 overall), tied for tops in District 8-5A with Midway, who won 63-43 over Temple. The loss drops Ellison to 0-2 in district, 0-5 overall and gave the Eagles their 25th consecutive loss.
Belton received the ball to start the game. They took the ball down to the Ellison 44, but could not convert on third down. The Tigers punted to the Eagles 24.
Ellison’s first drive covered 10 plays and took them into Belton territory. On fourth down and five yards to go on the Belton 41, the Eagles attempted a fake punt. The punt was snuffed out by the Tigers’ special teams unit and gave Belton the ball on their own 42 yard-line.
Just four plays after receiving the ball back, quarterback Shane Stafford found Andre Ewing over the middle. Ewing broke into the open field and scored from 46-yards out. Nick Amato’s point-after kick was good. With 4:48 to play in the first quarter, Belton led 7-0.
Ellison started driving to answer the Belton score. On the sixth play of the drive on third down and two yards to go on the Belton 41, the Tigers forced and recovered a fumble to stall out the Eagles drive with 1:44 to go in the first quarter.
Johnson saw four carries on Belton’s next drive, with his 52-yard carry setting up Brandon Rhoads’ 1-yard plunge. The point after from Amato was true and Belton led 14-0 just a play into the quarter.
Ellison hit the score column on the following drive, as Deon Burch picked up 40 yards on the first play. The Eagles worked the ball down to the Belton 17 and settled for a Burch field goal from 37-yards out to make the score 14-3 with 5:55 remaining in the half.
Ellison kicked a pooch kick, which they recovered on the Belton 37. Jacob Ledford found Hayward Clay for a 26-yard gain. Just two plays later, Ledford found Clay again, this time from eight yards out for an Eagle touchdown. Suddenly, Ellison cut the lead to four points at 14-10.
Belton started a drive to try and bleed out the remainder of the first half clock. Stafford held onto the ball for the entire drive. However, the drive ended on an interception by Taylor Jacobs with 48 seconds to go in the half.
Ellison pulled two trick plays out of the back to get the Tigers’ defense to bite. A throwback pass from Clay to Reggie Jackson was good for 15 yards. The second throwback was unsuccessful, as was the third down pass. The Tigers defense stood firm and forced an incompletion on fourth down, giving the Tigers a second turnover on downs in the half.
The Tigers gained 23 yards on first down on a pass play from Stafford to Ewing. The Tigers were content to run out the clock and take a 14-10 lead into the locker room.
It took Ellison just :49 seconds to take the lead in the second half. Following a 10-yard gain by Burch, Jackson rushed the ball 51 yards to the Belton 14. Burch did the rest of the work from 14 yards away and he kicked the point after. The Eagles took the lead 17-14.
The touchdown fired up the Tigers’ sideline, as they took the kickoff and methodically worked the ball down the field. Stafford for Bryce Thomas on a nice gain. Belton found themselves in a tight down-and-distance situation, with a fourth down and four yards to go on the Ellison 38. Stafford handed the ball to Johnson. He split between two defenders, sprinted down the left side and into the end zone from 38 yards away. Amato’s extra point was good and the Tigers regained a 21-17 lead with 8:16 to play in the third quarter.
Belton attempted an onside kick, but was unsuccessful, giving the ball to Ellison on its own 49-yard line. The Eagles could not convert and punted away, trading punts with the Tigers.
Ellison put another field goal on the board to close out the third quarter, with Burch hitting a 24-yarder to put the Eagles to within one point at 21-20 as the quarter turned to the fourth.
The Tigers started the fourth quarter on the ground, as Stafford and Johnson worked their way into Ellison territory. The Eagles defense started to stiffen up, forcing the Tigers into a fourth down and six yards to go on the Ellison 30. Stafford took the snap, was flushed out of the pocket to the left, stopped and threw a jump pass to a wide-open Johnson, who raced down the sidelines 30-yards for the touchdown. The touchdown brought the Belton faithful to their feet. The two-point conversion failed and the score remained 27-20.
The Tigers defense roared up and grounded the Eagles into another three-and-out drive, get the Tigers’ offense the ball back on its own 44.
The Big Red offense started chewing away at the clock, running over four minutes off. Rhoads’ 4-yard touchdown run gave the Tigers a 34-20 advantage with 3:38 to go in the ball game.
Ellison answered just 1:10 later on a 75-yard, seven-play drive, Ledford hooked up with Clay once again, this time from 30-yards away. The two-point conversion failed and the Tigers held an eight-point advantage at 34-26 with 2:28 remaining.
The Eagles lined up for the onside kick, but Belton sniffed it out from the start and fell on the loose ball.
The Tigers milked the clock down to :54 and were forced into a fourth down and one yard to go situation. Stafford went under center, fell forward for three yards and sealed the ball game.
Belton head coach Rodney Southern felt the team played good enough to win.
“We played consistent tonight, I wouldn’t say we played good,” said Southern. “But we’re still giving up big plays defensively. The last screen pass they ran, they missed two tackles. That just can’t happen.”
Johnson’s emergence helps give the running back trio of Johnson, Rhoads and Kyle Adamson a dangerous force. And it opens up the Tigers for other options in the playbook.
“We rep those guys every week,” said Southern. “It makes that route to Andre (Ewing) a little easier. We have to put all of it together.”
Belton converted seven fourth down conversions on the evening, two of them found the end zone.
Temple is the next game on the Belton at Tiger field next Friday night. Southern addressed his team following the game.
“I told them if you can’t get motivated from this point forward, there’s something wrong with you. This is what high school football is all about.”