By Tony Adams
The Belton Tigers and Harker Heights Knights met up at Tiger Field Friday night for the first game of 2013 District 8-5A.
In the first half, it certainly looked like the Knights would pull off a runaway win on enemy turf, leading 31-14 at the half.
But the second half was the story book ending and the end saw Belton earn a 42-38 win.
Belton (1-0 District 8-5A, 1-3 overall) started the game off with an onside kick, which has been Belton head coach Rodney Southern’s bread-and-butter on special teams through the first three weeks of the season. The kick went out of bounds at the Heights’ 47-yard line and the Knights were awarded the ball on the Belton 48-yard line.
The Knights (0-1 District 8-5A, 0-4 overall) fed the Tigers a steady dose of Marcus Anderson II. Following a Troy Smith 43-yard run being wiped out by a holding call, the senior running back’s number was called three times in a row for 20 yards. Anderson set up a 13-yard touchdown run by Smith. The point after was converted by Austin Roden and Heights led 7-0 with 8:44 remaining in the first quarter.
Belton’s Brandon Rhoads returned the ensuing kickoff 90-yards down the home sidelines for a Tigers’ touchdown. Kavan Johnson took the pitch from Shane Stafford and converted the two-point conversion to put the Tigers on top 8-7.
Heights started their next drive on their own 24-yard line. Once again, Anderson was the workhorse, as he carried the ball six times and gained 44 yards. His work bought Smith another trip to the end zone, carrying the ball in from four yards. With the drive covering 11 plays, 76 yards and 5:11, Heights led 14-6 with 3:04 remaining in the quarter.
The Tigers started their next drive on the Belton 33-yard line. Rhoads barreled 16 yards for Tigers’ first down to their own 49-yard line. On third down and 11 on the Belton 49, Stafford’s pass intended for Andre Ewing was intercepted Heights and returned to the Knights’ 30.
On first down, Anderson broke into the open field with a 58-yard run to the Belton 12. The Tigers defense held Heights at bay, forcing the Knights to settle for a 31-yard field from Roden to make the score 17-8 with 11:51 remaining in the first half.
Belton’s next drive started on their 34-yard line. They were unable to get going and had to settle for a punt. However, the snap was bobbled and recovered by Belton. The ball was turned over on downs at Belton’s 23-yard line.
Heights needed just one play to complete the scoring drive: a 23-yard run from Gilbert Miller. The point after was good, giving the Knights a 24-8 lead with 10:04 remaining in the second quarter.
Rhoads’ number was called with frequency in the next drive, carrying the ball eight times for 57 yards. Stafford also hit Ewing with a 39-yard pass to set up a Rhoads 2-yard touchdown run. Nick Amato’s point after kick was good and made the score 24-14 with 3:58 to go in the first half. The drive was a sustained one, taking 12 plays, 96 yards and 6:05 off of the second quarter clock.
Heights took the next kickoff and nearly drained the clock, scoring with two seconds left. Anderson picked up 45 yards on the next drive and Damaria Moon picked up 18 yards. Miller scored his second touchdown of the night, this time from 2-yards out and gave the Knights a 31-14 lead to round out the half.
The first play from scrimmage for Belton in the second half ended up in a turnover. Stafford rolled around to the left side and was hit by Darius Mitchell, forcing a fumble. Jordan Weller recovered it and gave Heights the ball on the Belton 31-yard line.
The Tigers’ defense stood their ground on the next Heights drive, forcing two incomplete Smith passes and Brandon Julian sacked Smith on third down for a loss of 12 yards. Smith punted the ball to Belton on their own 10-yard line.
Belton took the next drive seven plays and 90 yards, taking only 2:14 off the clock. Rhoads’ 40-yard gain was the big play of the drive and Johnson’s 13-yard scamper capped the drive, putting Belton back to within 10 points at 31-21 with 8:27 left in the third quarter.
Heights got a 64-yard kickoff return from Moon down to the Belton 16-yard line. Just two plays later, Smith found Troy Lockhart for a 17-yard touchdown pass to extend Heights’ lead back to 17 points at 38-21 with 7:29 left in the third quarter.
Belton took the next kickoff at their own 37-yard line. Rhoads gained 20 yards on the drive, but Tigers were unable to move the ball past the Heights’ 30. The Knights’ defense stood their ground and forced Belton to turn the ball over on downs with 4:30 remaining in the third quarter.
Heights spun their wheels on the ensuing drive, losing five yards on the first two plays. On third down, Malik Green intercepted the ball for Belton and ran the ball to the Heights’ 44-yard line.
Belton needed nine plays and 56 yards to bust into the scoring column again, as Johnson’s 3-yard run at the end of the third quarter made the score 38-28 in favor of Harker Heights.
In two of their first three games during the season, the Knights faded in the fourth quarter. It was a theme that appeared once again.
On the first drive of the fourth quarter, Smith was sacked on the Heights’ 22-yard line by Quay Harvey and Matt Chapman. The Knights went to Anderson for the next two plays, gaining 24 yards, earning a first down. On second down, Miller was stripped of the football by Tevin Jones and Brandon Sullivan recovered it and returned it to the Heights’ 39-yard line.
Stafford found Johnson on the first play of the drive for a 21-yard completion, of which Johnson dragged four tacklers six yards. Stafford ran the next play nine yards to inside the Knights’ 9-yard line. Rhoads capped the drive with a 4-yard run and 5-yard touchdown run. The extra point pulled Belton to within three points at 38-35 with 8:31 remaining in the game.
Anderson gained 11 yards on the first two plays of the next Heights drive. A fumbled snap by Smith and a personal foul on the Knights dropped them into a third and long situation which they could not convert. Smith’s punt on fourth down went 38 yards to the Belton 42-yard line with 6:02 remaining.
Following a Stafford run that went for a loss of one, he escaped a sack and connected with Rhoads for a 31-yard pass down to the Knights’ 28-yard line. Rhoads number was called three consecutive times on the ground for a total of 16 yards. Stafford found Ewing for the go-ahead, 12-yard touchdown pass to give the Tigers a 42-38 lead with 4:42 remaining in the game.
Heights tried to go to the air to put themselves in scoring position. However, on second down and 12 on their own 23-yard line, Smith looked for Chris Henderson, but the pass was tipped by Jones and Green picked off his second ball of the night on the Heights’ 47-yard line with 3:58 to go.
Belton bled out three minutes of the clock time. With :58 remaining, the Tigers set up for an Amato 42-yard field goal attempt. The snap was fumbled and Heights took over on their own 36-yard line with :55 to play.
Smith threw an incomplete pass on first down and fumbled the ball on second down. The clock bled out and the Tigers earned a tough fought 42-38 victory.
Rhoads rushed 24 times for 170 yards and two touchdowns. Stafford was 14-of-18 for 164 yards, one touchdown, one interception and 79 yards rushing on 13 carries. Johnson had two touchdowns for Belton.