By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
It was a crazy opening night to the 2015 Texas UIL Class 6A-Region I Bi-District Playoffs at Homer B. Johnson Stadium in Garland Friday night, as the Belton Tigers traveled to take on the Rowlett Eagles.
From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, the game was track meet of epic proportions. In the end, the Tigers were unable to stop the Eagles late and were stopped on a last-ditch effort inside the final minute. Rowlett advanced to the area round against Dallas Skyline with a 65-64 win over Belton.
The Tigers ended their season 5-6.
Belton took the opening kickoff and performed some trickeration, as Davion Peoples pitched the ball to Olajuwon Taylor after receiving the ball. Taylor went 40 yards to start the Tigers on their own 40-yard line. Peoples ran the first play from scrimmage for 15 yards and the third play for 17 yards. The plays set up a field goal of 37 yards from Roberto Barrios to give the Tigers a 3-0 lead with 10:06 to play in the first quarter.
Rowlett answered the score with a touchdown of 26 yards from Logan Bonner to LaDarius Pickens. Alvin Kenworthy’s extra-point gave Rowlett a 7-3 lead with 7:22 to play in the opening stanza.
Carlton Shanks III took a pooch kick by the Eagles 57 yards to the Rowlett 8 to set up Peoples’ eight-yard run on the next play. A bad snap caused holder Anthony Mirabel to pull in the ball and break for the right pylon. Mirabel appeared to have made it to the inside of the pylon by the replay, but the referee claimed he went out of bounds and called the conversion attempt no good. Belton led 9-7 lead with 7:02 to go in the first quarter.
One of the Rowlett returners was rocked by a hit and fumbled, but one of the Eagles recovered the ball on the Rowlett 33. Bonner connected with Quinton Stinson for a 63-yard pass completion down to the Belton 2. Bonner snuck the ball into the end zone on the next play. Chris Luplow’s extra-point gave Rowlett a 14-9 lead with 6:41 to go in the quarter.
Belton took the next possession down to the Rowlett 45, but turned the ball over on downs when Peoples was stopped at the Rowlett 44 on fourth down and three. The Eagles took the ball and drove it down to the Belton 7. Great defensive plays by Garrison Vaughn, Bryan Thomas and John Harvey kept the ball out of the end zone, forcing the Eagles to settle for a Kenworthy 23-yard field goal. Rowlett led 17-9 with 2:27 left in the first period.
Payton Mansell found Weston Lucas for a nice 27-yard completion into Rowlett territory to highlight the next scoring drive. The duo hooked up for a 25-yard touchdown strike and Barrios hit the point-after to draw the Tigers to within a point, 17-16, with 37 seconds remaining in the quarter.
Rowlett hit pay turf the first play into the second quarter, following a Bonner to Josh Lewis 37-yard completion. Dickens’ 7-yard touchdown run gave to the Eagles a 23-16 lead. Kenworthy’s point-after kick glanced off the right upright.
The Tigers answered the bell again with a score. Mansell had a 10-yard run, complete passes to Lucas and Taylor for a combined 29 yards and found Remington Lutz for a 23-yard touchdown. Barrios’ extra-point tied the score 23-23 with 9:11 to play in the half.
The Eagles held on the ball for the next 3:23, mounting an 11-play, 65-yard drive, culminating in another Bonner-to-Lewis strike, this time for 12 yards. Luplow’s extra-point gave the Eagles a 7-point advantage, 30-23.
Belton took the ball at their own 36-yard line and tried to answer the score. On third down and five on the Belton 46, Mansell threw an incompletion to Taylor. However, five yards in front of Taylor, Logan Collins was grabbed by Jakel Davis and was held trying to come back for the ball. The officials did not deem it a penalty and Belton was forced to punt.
Kobe Morrow’s 51-yard run set up Rowlett’s next score. Bonner had 13 yards of completions and Morrow’s plunge in from a yard out put six more points up for the Eagles. Luplow’s extra-point made the score 37-23 with 42 seconds to go in the half.
Belton, unfazed from the drive, got a brilliant pass completion from Mansell to Collins that was tipped for a 46-yard completion to the Rowlett 16. After a Belton timeout, the Tigers continued to drive the ball down to the goal line. With one second remaining in the half, Mansell found Taylor for a 3-yard touchdown pass. Barrios’ extra-point made the score 37-30 at halftime.
Belton got a defensive stand to start the third quarter, as Shanks, Vaughn and Chris Jones made three stops in a row on Bonner and forced Rowlett to punt.
The Tigers got the ball at midfield to start their first second-half possession. Mansell’s 30-yard run set the table for his own 1-yard touchdown run to cap off the 8-play, 50-yard drive. Barrios’ extra-point tied the score at 37-37.
On the next play from scrimmage, Morrow took a delayed hand off, waited for a hole to open, burst through it and dashed 74 yards for a Rowlett score. Luplow’s extra-point gave Rowlett a 44-37 lead with 8:13 to go in the third quarter.
Another good return by Shanks gave the Tigers good starting field position, this time on the Belton 40. Mansell dissected the Rowlett secondary, with passes to Mirabel and Taylor for 27 combined yards. Mansell’s strike to Taylor from six yards away and Barrios’ extra-point tied the score at 44-44 with 5:10 to go in the third quarter. On the point-after, Rowlett was flagged for an unsportsmanlike conduct foul, moving the Tigers up to midfield to kick off. Belton recovered the onside kick at the Rowlett 33 and started back to work.Following a three-yard pass from Mansell to Bubba Marshall, Peoples burst around end and raced 30 yards to give the Tigers the lead 50-44. Barrios’ extra-point try sailed wide left, keeping the Tigers in the lead by six.
Bonner’s pass to Lewis for 10 yards set up a 53-yard option pitch run by Morrow down to the Belton 3. Kofi McDonald and Brandon Gangloff made huge stops to force third down, Morrow pounded the ball into the end zone and Kenworthy’s extra-point gave the Eagles a one-point lead with 1:29 to play in the third quarter, 51-50.
After a short kickoff by Rowlett, Demeatric Brandon busted off a 49-yard run down the sidelines to the Rowlett 15. Peoples’ ran the ball in for a touchdown on the next play to give Belton to lead once again. The Tigers lined up for a two-point conversion and Rowlett called timeout right before the play. Belton trotted the point-after team back on and tried for an extra point, which sailed wide right. The Tigers led 56-51 with 56 seconds left in the third quarter.
After a great special teams play by Harvey, the Eagles started their next drive at their own 28-yard line. Rowlett drove the ball down to the Belton 41 and were forced into a fourth and two situation. Bonner dropped back to pass and Vaughn stepped in front of the receiver at the Belton 2 and intercepted the ball with 9:50 left on the fourth quarter clock.
Peoples, always up for big-game plays, busted off one of the biggest runs in recent Tiger history. He took the hand off Mansell, made three jukes, broke into the open and raced 98 yards for an electrifying Tiger score. The two-point conversion was good and the Tiger fans cheered on the effort, as Belton led by 13 points, 64-51, with 9:33 to play.
Rowlett answered the call again, putting together a 64-yard drive, capped by a 24-yard pass from Bonner to Morrow. Luplow’s extra-point made the score 64-58 with 7:14 to go.
Belton got the ball back at their own 18-yard line and ended up in a third and six situation at their own 22-yard line. Mansell scrambled towards the Rowlett sidelines looking for an open man. He ended up out of bounds on a hard hit and was down for a couple of moments. Belton had to send out backup punter Lutz to kick the ball away on fourth down. The ball went off the side of his foot and Rowlett ended up with great field position at the Belton 41.
Shanks and Jones made two good defensive stops on the first two plays of Rowlett’s next drive. Bonner found Dickens for a 11-yard completion for a first down and put the Eagles in striking distance again. On third down and two on the Belton 8, Bonner scrambled around the right side and got the benefit of a hold from Rowlett’s right tackle in front of the referee as he went in for the score. Kenworthy’s extra-point gave Rowlett the lead 65-64 with 2:33 to play in the game.
Belton started to move the ball down the field on their final drive. Peoples had two rushes for eight yards and Brandon busted off a 12-yard run. On second down and 10 at the Rowlett 30, the Tigers drew a critical holding call which set them back 10 yards. On the next play, Mansell threw the ball towards Taylor, who was being held for 10 yards by the jersey by the safety. The pass was incomplete and no call was made. On third down and 20 at the Rowlett 40, Mansell found Taylor open for a split second over the middle and threw a pass high towards him. Taylor was grabbed as he attempted to make the catch and could not make the catch. The back judge deemed the ball uncatchable, though Taylor’s fingertips appeared to touch the ball. On fourth down, Mansell scrambled to find to open man and ran across the field and let a pass go that was short of the target. The Tigers had to turn it over on downs with 43 seconds left. Rowlett knelt the ball twice and ended the Tigers’ season in heartbreaking fashion.
It was a bittersweet pill for the Tigers to take, as they were turnover-free in the game and had a 13-point lead with 9:33 to play.
“I’m proud of the team,” Belton head coach Bob Shipley said. “They just fought and fought the entire game. Either team deserved to win, Both teams deserved to win. Only one could win. You’re up 64-51 in the fourth quarter and we just had a tough time stopped them all night. They had a really good scheme and really good offense. We made some good stops and made the onside kick. We were going to run the onside kick, whether we got that 15-yard penalty or not. There are a lot of situations during the game that could have been the difference in the game. The situation I was most disappointed in was that we couldn’t get a first down after they scored (with Belton leading 64-58). We shanked the punt and they scored. We couldn’t get it done.”
Despite coming up a point short at the end, Shipley was proud of the Tigers’ efforts.
“I really wanted them to hold up the gold football and win for our seniors a championship of some sort,” Shipley said. “But it didn’t happen. I know that they laid the foundation to build on for next year.”