By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
The Belton Tigers’ 7-On-7 team took to the field at UMHB Crusader Stadium Saturday looking for a berth in the State 7-On-7 Tournament in College Station next month.
The Tigers swept through Pool A of morning qualifying play and rolled to an easy victory in the semifinals to make the field of 64 in Division I of the Texas 7-On-7 annual event.
In game one, Belton overcame a 13-7 deficit at halftime with 20 unanswered points win the first game of the pool 27-13 over Bastrop. Payton Mansell threw four touchdowns: a 4-yard pass to Olajuwon Taylor, 29-yard pass to Davion Peoples, 5-yard pass to Braden Shaffer and 32-yard pass to Weston Lucas.
Garrison Vaughn had a key interception and added a pair of pass defenses. John Harvey also had a pair of pass swats in the game.
Mansell was 28-of-32 passing for 265 yards, four touchdowns and an interception. John Taggart was 2-of-3 for 51 yards and one interception. Taylor led all receivers with 97 yards on 12 receptions and People contributed 94 yards on five receptions.
It was the first game in the 7-On-7 season that Belton saw man-to-man coverage.
“It really was good for us to see,” Belton head coach Bob Shipley said. “It was something out of the norm, but it helped our quarterbacks with different reads.”
In the second game, Belton overcame a two-point deficit at halftime with another unanswered 20-point streak to give the Tigers a 38-20 win against Marble Falls.
Mansell had six touchdown passes, connecting with Taylor (5 and 10 yards) and Marshall (45 and 10) twice, while connecting with Peoples (10 yards) and Lucas (20 yards) once).
John Harvey made a key interception at the end of the game, while he, Vaughn, Chris Jones and Zaki Hill provided great stands on defense.
Mansell was 33-of-46 for 282 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Taylor led all receivers with 13 catches for 119 yards.
In the third game, Belton jumped on Lake Travis for two early touchdowns and had the Cavaliers scrambling the entire ball game, as the Tigers emerged with a 32-20 win.
Taggart had five touchdown passes, including two TDs to Lane Holmes (2 and 45-yard passes) and one each to Peoples (seven yards), Lucas (six yards) and Anthony Mirabel (one yard).
Hill and Carlton Shanks III made key interceptions, keeping the Cavaliers offense on the sidelines for a large portion of the contest.
Taggart was an efficient 24-of-28 passing for 276 yards, five touchdowns and an interception. Holmes had 85 yards to lead the Tigers in receiving yardage.
The Tigers were paired up with Leander Vista Ridge in the SQT semifinals, who went undefeated in Pool B play. They defeated Pflugerville Connally 49-0, Austin Anderson 46-18 and Copperas Cove 26-20.
In the other semifinal, Hutto beat Killeen Ellison 32-12, outlasted Austin Bowie 44-40 and lost to Round Rock McNeil 19-6 to win Pool C. Temple outlasted Harker Heights 47-20, Georgetown 48-19 and Leander Rouse 41-19 to win Pool D.
With Temple beating Hutto 61-6 for the first of the two automatic state bids, it was up to Belton to take care of business against Vista Ridge.
The Rangers held the ball for the first nine plays. Jones bookended pass defenses and Hill had two late defenses to stall Vista Ridge on the 6-yard line.
Mansell hit Shaffer for a pair of four yard completions to start the drive. Mansell found Taylor for a 32-yard strike to set up another connection between the two, a 5-yard touchdown. Mansell hit Marshall in the back corner of the end zone to complete the conversion and give the Tigers a 7-0 lead.
Vista Ridge picked up 14 yards in two plays, but found themselves in a third down and one situation. Hill put his hands on a pass and deflected it to give Belton the ball back.
Belton and Vista Ridge swapped possessions before the Tigers found pay turf again. Mansell hit Marshall with a 43-yard pass to get Belton down to the 2-yard line.
Following a pair of incompletions, Mansell found Marshall to finish the job from two yards out. He hit Matt Mahler in the end zone to complete the conversion and lead 14-0.
The Rangers scored seven plays later, but Vaughn intercepted the conversion to keep the score 14-6. The scored remained that way at the half.
The Tigers started the second half with an incompletion and a four-second violation to give them a pivotal third down. Mansell found Lucas on the fly for a 45-yard touchdown strike. The conversion was intercepted, keeping Belton’s advantage to 14 points at 20-6.
Vista Ridge worked their way down to the 6-yard yard line before Vaughn made another interception to stop the drive. The Tigers were not able to convert, giving the Rangers another change to work the deficit back down. Seven plays later, a 5-yard touchdown narrowed the score to 20-12, but Shanks deflection of the conversion try kept Belton’s edge at eight points.
Mansell and Lucas had consecutive connections of 14 and 21 yards to set up Taylor for a 10-yard touchdown reception. The conversion was intercepted, keeping the score at 26-12.
Hunter Garrett got into the defensive mix for the Tigers, making an athletic stop after a play the Rangers picked up 18 yards on the previous conversion. Three straight stops gave the Tigers the ball back.
After sandwiching completions to Taylor (nine and five yards) around a four-yard completion to Mirabel, Mansell found Marshall for a 21-yard pass to the 6-yard line, After an incompletion, Mansell hit Mirabel over the middle for a 6-yard touchdown. The conversion failed, but the drive killed any time that Vista Ridge had to make up 20 points. The final two plays of the game featured Garrett/Harvey pass defenses to seal the deal for the Tigers 32-12 and clinch the second of the automatic qualifications for the state tournament.
Mansell was 19-of-27 for 256 yards and five touchdowns. Lucas led all receivers with 80 yards. Marshall chipped in 66 yards and Taylor contributed 61 yards.