By Tony Adams
It’s night of sleep that Belton Tigers’ defenders won’t forget: the disturbing visions of Grey Wolves’ jersey number 13 making return visits to the end zone.
That jersey number belongs to Derrick Thomas.
Thomas found the end zone six times in Shoemaker’s 39-31 victory over Belton at Leo Buckley Stadium on Thursday night.
Calvin Johnson III’s 25-yard kickoff return to start the game set Belton up on their initial drive on the Belton 43. Kavan Johnson’s first three carries totaled 14 yards and set up a 14-yard pass from Shane Stafford to Deandra Marshall on the Shoemaker 24. Following a three-yard loss, Stafford next pass was tipped, but caught one-handed by Coby Potvin for an 18-yard gain. The Tigers couldn’t get the ball into the end zone and settled for a 22-yard field goal from Blake Odell. The 10-play, 57-yard drive took 2:11 and gave Belton a 3-0 lead.
Shoemaker’s first drive started on their own 33. Thomas started the drive with a 6-yard carry and the Grey Wolves chipped their way down to the Belton 35. On second down, Thomas broke up the middle on a read-option play and sprinted 35 yards for the touchdown. Clarence Cobb’s point-after kick capped a 9-play, 67-yard drive and Shoemaker took a 7-3 lead with 5:24 remaining in the first quarter.
The Tigers and Grey Wolves traded punts before Belton started a scoring drive on the Shoemaker 47. Stafford hit Johnson for a 27-yard pass completion. Following a Johnson 3-yard carry, Stafford hit Rhoads for a 17-yard TD pass. Odell’s point-after kick capped a 6-play, 42-yard drive, as Belton reclaimed the lead at 10-7.
The Grey Wolves started the next play on their own 31. Tevin Jones, Calvin Johnson III and Ricky Martin made their presence felt on the first play, stonewalling Isaiah Everett. Four plays later, Thomas broke away from the pack for a 48-yard TD run to end a 6-play, 69-yard drive. Cobb’s point-after gave Shoemaker the lead back 14-10 with 9:21 remaining in the first half.
Marshall’s 20-yard kick return set up the Tigers on their own 37 to start the next drive. Rhoads gained 15 yards on the first play and Johnson picked up five yards on the next play. The drive came down for a fourth down and four yards to go situation on the Shoemaker 42. Stafford attempted to hit Rhoads on the sideline, but threw behind him and the ball was turned over to the Grey Wolves.
On the first play of Shoemaker’s next drive, Carlton Shanks III intercepted Thomas, returned the pick 50 yards to the Shoemaker 19 and was met with a rousing reception on the sideline. The Tigers made sure that Shanks’ effort wasn’t wasted, as Stafford connected with Bryce Thomas with a 6-yard TD pass. Belton took a 17-14 lead with 6:21 remaining in the first half.
Shoemaker answered the Tigers’ score with a 13-play, 68-yard, 5:57 drive with a 2-yard jaunt from Thomas to give the Grey Wolves a 20-17 lead with 19 seconds left. The Tigers were able to move the ball 33 yards, but the half ended with Belton at midfield.
The Grey Wolves started the third quarter on their own 8. Jones caught Thomas from behind on the first play, Collin Mask and Kofi McDonald threw Jonathon Benjamin for a one-yard loss on second down and Matt Chapman rushed Thomas into an errant throw to get the ball back for the Tigers.
Belton collected only three yards on the next drive, forcing a Haygen Tibbetts 36-yard punt to the Shoemaker 26. The Grey Wolves scored two plays later, as Thomas blazed up the middle 68 yards for a score. Cobb’s conversion made the score 27-17 with 8:34 remaining in the third quarter.
The teams traded punts before Belton started a scoring drive on their own 28. On third down and 14, Stafford connected with Potvin for a 17-yard, tip-toe-along-the-sideline catch down to the Belton 41. A Johnson 4-yard run and a Shoemaker offsides penalty gave the Tigers the ball at midfield. On third down and 1 at midfield, Stafford made a push into the middle of his line and broke through the defense for a 50-yard TD run. Odell’s extra point made the score 27-24 with 1:48 left in the third quarter.
Shanks, Tevin Jones and Chris Jones made key stops to get the Tigers the ball back at the Belton 33. Stafford hit Potvin with a 22-yard pass as the quarter turned. The first play of the fourth quarter was promising for the Tigers, as Stafford hit Tibbetts on an 18-yard sideline pattern, but it was washed out on an ineligible man downfield penalty. The fourth down conversion failed on a missed pass.
The Tigers defense got pressure on Everett and Ryan Johnson recovered the ball on the Shoemaker 47. The offense wasn’t able to move the ball and punted back to Shoemaker. The Grey Wolves started on their own 7, as the Tiger fans got behind the defense.
Chapman, Tevin Jones and Chris Jones stopped Thomas on first down. Thomas gets by the defense for 62 yards to the Belton 29. Five plays later, Thomas scored from three yards out. Cobb’s point-after hit off the right upright, keeping the score 33-24 with 5:07 remaining in the game.
Rhoads’ 28-yard kickoff return gave the Tigers a chance to get back even, starting Belton’s next drive at their own 42. Johnson ran for 16 yards in the drive and the Tigers advanced the ball to the Shoemaker 35, but the drive stalled there and they turned the ball back over on downs.
Shoemaker earned an insurance score on their next drive. Thomas had 18 yards in four carries, setting up a 45-yard TD scamper to end the drive. Cobb missed the point-after, keeping the score 39-24 with 1:11 left in the contest.
The Tigers went down fighting on offense. Stafford hit Johnson for 15 yards, Marshall for 12 yards, Johnson again for 31 yards and took three shots at the end zone, picking up a pass interference penalty on Shoemaker and an illegal procedure penalty on Belton to set up the final play of the game. Stafford connected with Tibbetts in the back corner of the end zone for a 7-yard TD pass. Odell’s extra-point ended the ball game in favor of Shoemaker by eight.
“We didn’t play well and we didn’t tackle well tonight,” said Belton head coach Bob Shipley. “We didn’t get off the blocks well defensively. We just made too many mental mistakes. We just didn’t play well and made them look like a state-ranked team tonight. I’m not taking anything away from Shoemaker. They have some great athletes and they’re 4-1 for a reason.”
Thomas’ big night was a product of defense that didn’t tackle or didn’t get off the blocks well. He escaped the Tigers most of the evening, running for 372 on 30 carries, including 201 yards on touchdowns.
“He’s like tackling greased-lightning. He’s a heck of player who goes out there and plays street ball,” Shipley said. “When you’re in position to make tackles and don’t make them, then this happens. We’ve got to get a whole lot better. It’s not the first night it’s happened, so we’re going back to work Monday and work on tackling. We’re standing around, we’re arm-tackling and not getting off of blocks.”
The offense was not excluded from the coach’s range of frustration, though they collected 385 in total offense. Stafford was 21-of-33 for 249 yards, 3 TDs and ran for 72 yards on nine carries. Johnson (6-90) and Potvin (6-78) as lead the Tigers’ receivers. Johnson also ran for 50 yards on 16 carries.
“We’re busting too many plays on offense,” Shipley said. “We’re not getting our blocks and not running routes at the right depth. These are things that are very frustrating and we’ve got to get taken care of if we want to make the playoffs. We scored some points on offense, but we didn’t score when we needed to. We needed to come out in the third quarter and score every drive, but didn’t do that. We would convert, but had a lineman downfield. We didn’t complete throws when they needed to be completed, there were catches that needed to be made that weren’t made and there were blocks that needed to be made that weren’t.”
Cove is next on the docket next Friday night at Tiger Field. Shipley knows that his team has some work to do before the Dawgs come calling.
“We’ve got to go back and figure out where we’re at,” Shipley said. “I told the guys that every one of them needs to have a fire in their belly and come back with resilience on Monday when we start to prepare for Cove. We need to pull ourselves together, as we have some guys gimped up right now and go back to basics. It’s not rocket science: football is about blocking and tackling. We’re not doing either one very well right now.”