Tigers take lead late, hold on for 33-32 win at Killeen
By Tony Adams
The Belton Tigers went into Thursday night’s District 12-6A tilt with the Killeen Kangaroos needing a win to keep their hopes alive for a playoff spot.
The Killeen Kangaroos had the same aspirations, as both squads were off the 0-2 starts in district and 2-4 overall.
The Tigers did not lead until Blake Odell’s extra-point following Kavan Johnson’s 39-yard touchdown run with 2:34 to go. Killeen nearly pulled another last-second heartbreak, as Dante Ellis-Thomas caught a 37-yard pass and broke away from four Tigers. But the relentless Belton defense ran the speedy receiver down at the horn, as the Tigers won 33-32 at Leo Buckley Stadium.
Belton’s offense started with Johnson picking up a first down on a third down and one conversion, but the drive stalled on a pair of runs for lost yardage. Haygen Tibbetts punted the ball away to the Killeen 26.
The Kangaroos marched the ball down the field, eating up 7:34 of clock time in covering 74 yards in 14 plays. Tevin Jones and Matt Chapman made great plays on defense during the drive. The speedy Roo quarterback Kenny Arnold ate up chunks of yardage, along with running back Julian Footman. Arnold hit receiver Ellis-Thomas with a 14-yard touchdown pass to put the Roos on the board first. Alex Gilland’s extra-point made the score 7-0 with 3:05 left in the first quarter.
Johnson was the preferred weapon of the Tigers’ offense on the next drive. His 31-yard kickoff return set the Tigers up on the Belton 31. He picked up 20 yards on the drive, as Stafford found Brandon Rhoads for a 16-yard completion to get the Tigers into the red zone. The drive stalled at the Killeen 24 and the Tigers trotted out Odell for a 41-yard field goal try. Odell put everything he had into it and it made it over the crossbar by a yard, putting the Tigers back to within four points of the Roos at 7-3 with 10:48 left in the first half.
The teams traded possessions before Belton forced a three-and-out possession. A fumbled snap on the punt attempt gave the Tigers a first down at the Killeen 11. Belton could only muster a 4-yard Johnson run down to the Killeen 7 before settling for an Odell 24-yard field goal to make the score 7-6 with 5:16 to play in the half.
The Roos responded with a 7-play, 76-yard drive, using Keleen Yates on five carries for 49 yards. His final carry of the drive was a 10-yard touchdown run. Gilland appeared to push the extra-point a yard to the right of the uprights, but the officials below the goal posts called the extra-point good. The call made the score 14-6 with 2:05 remaining in the half.
Belton could not move the sticks on the next drive and the Roos did nothing with the Belton punt. It set up a fourth down and 10 punt on the Killeen 44 by Yates. He punted the ball to Coby Potvin, who caught the ball on the Belton 16. However, offsetting penalties forced Yates to punt again. Potvin fielded the ball on the Belton 27 and got crushing blocks from Ryan Johnson and Garret Trout, springing the speedy three-sport star for 61 yards down to the Killeen 12 with 41 seconds left in the half. Shane Stafford immediately capitalized on the field position, hitting Bubba Marshall with a 12-yard touchdown pass. The two-point conversion was swatted away, keeping the score 14-12.
Killeen wrapped up the half with a 29-yard run from Yates and went to the locker room with a two-point lead.
A Belton late hit penalty on the second half kickoff gave the Roos the ball on the Tigers’ 45-yard line. Arnold hit Dante Price on the first play for the 45-yard touchdown pass. The extra-point failed and kept the score 20-12 just 11 seconds into the second half.
The Tigers wasted no time getting back into the scoring mood. Johnson’s 35-yard scamper set the ball up on the Killeen 28. Davion Peoples worked the ball down to the 10-yard line. Stafford hit Rhoads for a 10-yard touchdown. The two-point conversion pass was barely over the outstretched hands of Marshall to keep the score 20-18 with 8:58 left in the third quarter.
Killeen answered with another score, as Footman had a key fourth down and one conversion from the Belton 44. He busted around left end for a 15-yard gain down to the Belton 29. Following an Ozbourne Seuteni tackle for loss, Arnold hit Ellis-Thomas for the 30-yard touchdown strike just over Carlton Shanks III who covered brilliantly. Gilland missed the extra-point, keeping the score 26-18 with 6:49 left in the third quarter.
Belton went three-and-out on the next drive, but got a booming kick from Tibbetts that went 55 yards to the Killeen 20.
Arnold picked up a key first down on the next drive, but the Tigers got a big sack from Garret Trout off of great pressure from Chris Jones to give Killeen a third down and 12 situation on their own 29. Yates got nine of the yards back, forcing a fourth down and three at their own 38. Yates was stopped in his tracks by Tevin Jones giving the Tigers the ball back on downs and in prime real estate, taking over at the Killeen 39.
Following two unfruitful plays, Stafford hit Bryce Thomas on a 12-yard gain for a first down to the Killeen 27. Peoples’ 17-yard run gave the Tigers a first and goal-to-go on the Killeen 10. Stafford found Thomas for an 8-yard touchdown and hit Potvin in the back of the end zone for a two-point conversion to tie the game at 26-26 with 11:56 remaining in regulation.
Killeen continued the slugfest with another score, as Yates and Arnold combined for a 69-yard drive, which Yates capped off with a 3-yard touchdown run. The Roos faked the extra-point and went for the two-point try running around the right side. Killeen’s holder stepped out of bounds on the 2-yard line and stretched the ball to hit the pylon. The linesman called the conversion successful, although he was in position. The officials conferred and reversed the call, keeping the game at 32-26 in favor of the Roos with 8:59 to play.
The Tigers worked the ball back down to the Killeen 35, getting good runs from Peoples and Olajuwon Taylor. On second down and seven from the Killeen 35, a forced fumble gave the Roos the ball back with 6:04 to play. Killeen could not move the ball and punted the ball back to the Tigers at the Belton 24.
Peoples’ 20-yard blast got the drive rolling for the Tigers and Stafford hit Rhoads with an 11-yard sideline pass that Rhoads made a beautiful toe-drag inbounds at the Killeen 41. Two plays later, Johnson broke free for a 39-yard touchdown run. Odell’s extra-point gave the Tigers a 33-32 lead with 2:34 to play.
A great placement kick by Odell and a great hit by Richard Kimble forced a fumble and gave Belton the ball back at the Killeen 32.
“It was a great hit by Richard Kimble and a great kick by Blake (Odell),” said Belton head coach Bob Shipley. “That was a game-changer for us. It hasn’t always been the case this season. But it was tonight. I told them it was a good chance to redeem themselves.”
The Tigers appeared to have a first down on a Stafford 7-yard run that would have just about closed out the game, a holding call canceled the play and Belton was forced to punt. Tibbetts punted the ball expertly to the Killeen 7, putting the pressure back on the Killeen offense with 1:26 remaining.
Arnold forced the ball down the field, despite two consecutive, blatant holding call misses. Trout was held as he forced Arnold out of the pocket on first down and Seuteni was held on second down as he went to pursue Arnold. He hit Keondre Parker with 9-yard pass and Ellis-Thomas with 13 and 11-yard passes to the Killeen 46. The Roos were assessed a holding penalty with five seconds remaining, putting the final play of the game in a first down and 20 situation at the Killeen 37. Arnold found Ellis-Thomas on the sidelines near the Belton 30. The shifty receiver had four Tigers on him and he broke free. He was swallowed up by Trout and Cody Garrett from behind at the Belton 26 as time expired. The bedlam ensued, as the Tigers rushed the field to celebrate, picking up their first District 12-6A win and third win of the season.
Johnson had 17 carries for 121 yards and a TD. Peoples added 75 yards on 13 carries. Stafford was 12-of-22 for 73 yards, but had three touchdown passes. Rhoads led the Tigers with 36 yards on five receptions.
“Our game plan was to run the ball,” said Shipley. “Davion (Peoples) got a little dinged up out there and Olajuwon Taylor is a very versatile back.”
The fighting spirit of the Tigers showed in many of the plays during the game, especially when Belton was trailing.
“This was a must-win game tonight,” said Shipley. “Every game is a must-win from here on out and Ellison in two weeks is another must-win game. Our goal has always been to make the playoffs and we keep fighting for that.”
One of the district’s most potent punt returners, Potvin’s big punt return was a key component in Belton staying with arms distance of Killeen.
“Everybody was blocking well,” said Potvin. “Ryan Johnson and Garret Trout gave me huge blocks. We’ve been waiting for that huge return all year and it happened.”
The defense held the Tigers in the ballgame, despite a few plays that could have been costly.
“We played solid defense,” said Tevin Jones. “We gave up the big play here and there, but for the most part we played solid and I’m proud of the defense.”
Jones was very proud of the special teams’ play, especially with Tibbetts pinning the Kangaroos in some pretty tight spots field possession-wise.
“I got to hand it to Haygen, he’s done a phenomenal job all season with his punting,” said Jones. “He’s been averaging over 40 yards a punt all season. That’s good for us because that gave us real confidence.”
The Tigers have the District 12-6A off-week and will return to action on Oct. 24 for Homecoming 2014 against Killeen Ellison.