The Belton Tigers went into Friday night’s battle with the Killeen Kangaroos in hopes to take a win into the bye week and rest up.
The Kangaroos were worthy challengers and gave the Tigers everything they could handle.
Connor Carothers was a field general, controlling the flow of the game on offense, while making the right moves and getting great support. It was Carothers’ 8-yard touchdown run with 31 seconds to play, along with two pass breakups in the waning moments, that gave the Tigers a 28-21 win at Tiger Field.
The win increased their winning streak to four games, moved Belton’s record to 4-2 overall and 2-0 in District 8-6A playing going into the bye week.
Killeen dropped to 1-4 overall and 0-1 in District 8-6A. They will face Midway next Friday. The Panthers pummeled Harker Heights 42-9 on Friday night.
Killeen’s DJ Dormeus nearly broke the opening kickoff from Logan Smith. Dormeus found a seam and ran 76 yards down to the Belton 24, where Jarrett Karnowski made a touchdown-saving stop.
Marcellus Johnson kept the Tigers’ defense on their toes all night. The senior quarterback picked up 14 yards on the ground on the first drive and capped it with a 14-yard pass to Dormeus. Jesus Gomez’s extra-point helped put Killeen on the board, 7-0, with 9:51 to play in the opening quarter.
Garrison Vaughn took the ensuing kick off on the right side, broke back to the left side of the field, faked a lateral to Anthony Fairbanks, and bolted 49 yards down to the Killeen 43.
The return set up Carothers and the Tigers’ offense on a short field. Carothers hit Anthony Brown for a 9-yard gain and then Chandler Vela for a first down. Carothers found Denver Holman for a 24-yard pass and set up Darren Rector’s 8-yard blast into the end zone. Nyle Tabat’s extra-point tied the game at 7-7 with 8:47 to go in the first quarter.
Johnson and the Roos’ offense chipped their way down the field, with four consecutive plays on second down that they converted to first downs. After a big stop on third down and 13 on the Belton 31 by Karnowski, Devin Martinez and Arturo Jaimes, Killeen tried a reverse on fourth down. As Dormeus broke back to the right side, Logan Hill dropped him for an 11-yard loss and gave the Tigers the ball back with 4:21 to play in the opening quarter.
Carothers’ only blemish on his night was a goal-line interception by Willie McGee 55 seconds into the second quarter.
The Roos converted the turnover into seven points. Johnson capped a 70-yard drive with a 24-yard touchdown run to the right side. Gomez’s extra-point gave the Roos a 14-7 lead with 8:03 left in the first half.
Rector opened the next drive with a 22-yard run and picked up another five yards on the next two runs. Carothers picked up a first down on a 10-yard run down to the Killeen 38. On third down and 11 on the Killeen 39, Carothers got loose off an onslaught of Roo defenders and fired a pass to Holman. The play was nullified due to Carothers passing the down marker to throw. Smith dropped a punt to the Killeen 13, where it was downed by Tyler Cook.
After a six-yard pick up on first down by Blaze Albino, Karnowski had a pass break up that he nearly intercepted. Hall and Clayton Blank rushed Johnson into an incompletion on third down and forced a Killeen punt.
Gomez’s punt was fielded by Holman on the Belton 47 and he returned it 39 yards to the Killeen 18. After a one-yard gain by Rector, Carothers found Vaughn on a corner route for a 13-yard touchdown. Tabat’s extra-point tied the game at 14-14 with 3:38 left in the half.
After a Killeen three-and-out, Belton took over the ball at their own 26. Carothers hit Marshall Fish on a 22-yard completion to the Killeen 40. However, the drive stalled out there and the teams went into the locker room tied at 14-14.
The Tigers ended up with a three-and-out to start the second half and Killeen started their second-half opening drive at their own 46.
Johnson hit Montego Muckelvaney with an 11-yard pass, and then on third down connected with Dormeus to set up a fourth down and one at the Belton 31. Devyn Raper busted through the line and stopped Johnson cold for no gain. The stop gave the ball back to the Tigers with 8:18 to play in the third quarter.
Carothers and the Tigers offense put together their longest scoring drive of the year, play-wise. Belton ran 12 straight running plays, using Fairbanks, Rector, Carothers, Vela, Holman and Vaughn to cover 47 yards of ground. Carothers hit Holman on a slant back to the middle of the field for 13 yards and Rector finished the drive with a 6-yard touchdown run to give Belton its first lead of the night. Tabat’s extra-point made the score 21-14 with 4:13 left in the third quarter.
Killeen answered the Tigers’ drive with a 12-play drive covering 60 yards and bridged the drive into the fourth quarter. On a critical fourth down and one play at the Belton 2, the defensive line stood Johnson up at the line and forced a measurement by the officials. The measurement showed that Killeen was a foot short, giving the Tigers the ball back in the shadows of their own goal posts.
Belton was very careful and conservative, keeping the ball on the ground. Rector’s 27-yard run put the Tigers around midfield. The drive stalled out, forcing Smith to punt. He dropped a beauty that checked up at the Killeen 20 and rolled to the seven-yard line, where the ball was downed by Christian Castillo.
Johnson controlled the Killeen offense and his own 45-yard run down the left side set up the tying score from two yards out. Gomez’s extra-point with 4:45 to play knotted the score at 21-21.
Holman, who hurt the Roos in the return game all night, returned the ensuing kickoff 27 yards to midfield.
Rector began his personal demolition of the Killeen defense, as he smashed into the front line four straight runs for 17 yards. Carothers hit Fish on a sideline pattern for 14 yards down to the Killeen 21. Vela had two straight carries for 10 yards and another first down to the Killeen 11. Rector’s three-yard gain down to the Killeen 8 took Belton inside the final minute. On second down and seven, Carothers picked up a blocker while he was rolling out to the right side and stretched the ball across the goal line for the go-ahead 8-yard touchdown with 31 seconds to play. Tabat’s extra-point made it a seven-point game, 28-21.
Killeen took over on their own 30 and Johnson went to work. He hit Zion Love for six yards, Muckelvaney for 17 yards and again for 10 yards down to the Belton 40 with five seconds left. Johnson’s first and 10 pass fell short with 0.4 second to play. On the final play of the game, Johnson’s Hail Mary attempt was knocked down and nearly intercepted by Justin Buuck to end the game.
Nail-biting finishes are becoming a signature of this team so far through six ball games. Five of the six games have been decided in the final moments.
“I guess our kids are starting to enjoy this,” Belton head coach Sam Skidmore joked. “I wasn’t really pleased with our first half. The sign of a championship football team is resiliency. They were very resilient and came out and executed in the second half. They came up with a big drive in the third quarter and we scored off of that. We were just pounding the ball. It is huge to be 2-0 going into the bye week.”
Killeen did a lot offensively to challenge the defense of Belton.
“They had talented receivers and their quarterback was fantastic. He was running the ball and mixed it up.”
The fourth down stops where momentum changers for the Tigers’ defense.
“Those stops were huge,” Skidmore said. “I can’t tell you just how proud I am of these kids being so resilient and they just kept battling.”
Carothers stepped in a huge way in the second half, following some locker room adjustments.
“They came out with a different defense than that we watched on film,” Carothers said. “They didn’t run that defense much unless they were in the red zone. We made that adjustment and it worked out well for us.”
Carothers was 11-of-17 passing for 110 yards and a touchdown, to go with 10 carries, 55 yards and a score. Rector toted the rock 29 times for 128 yards and two touchdowns. Holman had 132 all-purpose yards (67 in punt returns, 38 receiving yards, 29 kick return yards). Fish had two catches for 36 yards.
The offensive line helped Belton to gain 332 yards in total offense. The return game was huge for the Tigers, as they racked up 143 return yards.