Tigers pounce on Bulldawgs early in 62-40 win
By TJ MAXWELL
The Copperas Cove Bulldawgs must have been feeling some déjà vu from last year’s loss to the Tigers in the district opener when they again found themselves in a three-score hole early in the District 12-6A opener at home against Belton.
The Tigers exploded for 28 first-quarter points as they jumped on the Bulldawgs 49-21 through the first 24 minutes of play on their way to a 62-40 win Friday night at Bulldawg Stadium.
“That reminded me of last year a lot,” said Copperas Cove head football coach and athletic director Jack Alvarez. “Maybe I made the game a little too big for them. I did put a big emphasis of don’t get behind the eight ball. Even though we have some good senior leadership, we are young minded in a lot of ways.
“I’m proud of how the kids fought, but hats off to Belton, they came out ready to play. You can tell their quarterback (Ruben Jimenez) is very seasoned and their offensive line is pretty dang good. We just got in a hole too fast. I’m proud of the kids and the way they fought the whole game.”
The two teams combined for 102 points and nearly 1,000 yards of total offense in the contest full of big plays, but it would be the three big plays for Belton in the first four minutes that would prove to be the difference.
Trailing 49-21 at the half, the Bulldawgs showed some resilience by outscoring the Tigers 19-7 to open the second half but a pair of second half touchdown runs by junior quarterback Ruben Jimenez would be all the Tigers would need to secure the win.
“This happened last year, but that’s one thing about Cove culture, we don’t give up,” said Air Force-committed senior cornerback Jerome Gaillard. “We kept fighting. Even though we didn’t come away with the win, we kept fighting. It’s all about pride.”
Senior center Aaron Shanahan is also proud of the fight his team showed after getting behind 21 points in less than four minutes and 28 at the half.
“It’s all about teamwork – having to pick each other up and not giving up,” he said. I feel like if we can be positive with one another, we can strive to be the best.”
Two third-quarter scores and another quickly in the fourth quarter by the Bulldawgs brought them back within two scores, 56-40 with 10:14 left in the fourth quarter.
“The offense in the second half, I really think they played hard,” said Alvarez. “It was very gutsy. They got a couple stops and got us back within two scores. If the defense hadn’t gotten us a couple stops right there, we don’t get a chance to make it a two-score game.”
The third touchdown run of the game by Delacruz started the second-half scoring for the Bulldawgs to pull the Dawgs within three scores, 49-28, with 6:42 left in the third.
The Tigers regained their four-score advantage on three-play scoring finished by a 38-yard scoring run by Jimenez for the 56-28 score with 5:36 left in the third.
A 29-yard kickoff return by Delacruz set up the Dawgs at midfield. Six plays later Cox scores on a 10-yard run to make it a 22-point Belton lead, 56-34, with 2:52 left in the third.
After the defense forced just the second Belton punt of the night, the Bulldawgs pulled within two scores for the first time since early in the first quarter with a five-play scoring drive culminating in a 20-yard touchdown pass from Richey to Rice for a 56-40 score with 10:14 left in the game after the missed two-point conversion attempt.
“We had to do something to come back and we just played to the buzzer,” said Rice.
He liked the effort and fight from his blockers and sophomore quarterback Richey.
“It all depends on the line,” he said. “If they don’t block, we can’t do much. They fought hard tonight, and Shane (Richey) took risks.”
The Tigers struck first with a 30-yard, four-play scoring drive capped by a 30-yard touchdown run by junior running back Mike Davis with 10:49 left in the first quarter.
It took just 16 seconds for the Tigers to add two more scores for a 21-0 lead with less than four minutes elapsed off the game clock.
An interception returned for a touchdown by sophomore defensive back Trent West gave the Tigers a 14-0 lead after the extra point by senior kicker Logan Smith with 8:22 left in the quarter.
The Tigers then converted a successful onside kick that was recovered at the Bulldawgs’ 44-yard line by senior Kabyl Utley before senior quarterback Ruben Jimenez found senior receiver D’emante Smith for a 44-yard touchdown pass for the 21-0 Belton lead with 8:06 left in the first quarter.
The Bulldawgs finally broke the drought with a six-play, 67-yard scoring drive finished by a nine-yard touchdown run by senior Elijah Delacruz with 5:41 left in the quarter.
The Tigers answered with an eight-play, 74-yard scoring drive culminating in a one-yard scoring run by Jimenez on 4th and 1 for a 28-7 Belton lead with 2:21 left in the first quarter. Smith was on his way to another touchdown score after taking a Jimenez pass 46 yards but a leg injury in open field downed Smith and briefly delayed a Belton score.
The Bulldawgs managed to put together a six-play drive on their next possession but a turnover on downs on 4th and 11 from the Tigers’ 24 ended the threat.
The Tigers pushed their lead to four scores with a seven-play, 76-yard scoring drive that ended in a 39-yard touchdown pass from Jimenez to senior receiver Jason Stephens with 7:51 left in the half.
A tough, 72-yard run by Cove senior running back Micah Cox pushed the Bulldawgs inside the Tigers two-yard line before he finished the drive with a two-yard score for the 35-13 score with 6:48 left after the missed extra-point try.
A 43-yard kickoff return by Belton’s Davis then set up the Tigers’ seventh scoring drive of the first half. A 14-yard run by Jimenez and a holding call on the Tigers put them at the Bulldawgs’ 22-yard line and a pass from Jimenez to junior receiver Luke Bramlett gave the Tigers a 49-13 lead with 3:06 left in the half.
The Bulldawgs answered with a six-play, 60-yard scoring drive capped by a two-yard touchdown run by Delacruz with 44 seconds left. Two unsportsmanlike conduct calls on Belton aided in the drive.
The Bulldawgs’ rushing attack was led by Cox with 162 yards and two touchdowns on 15 carries. Delacruz added 72 yards and three touchdowns on 10 carries while Richey added 10 carries for 33 yards.
Richey was also 11 for 23 passing for 158 yards and a touchdown for the Bulldawgs. He also had an interception returned for a touchdown.
His favorite target was Rice who caught four passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Senior Jaylin Smith added two grabs for 24 yards and Cox had two grabs for 16 yards.
Senior linebacker Kendal Parker led the Bulldawgs’ defense with 7.5 tackles, including one tackle for a loss. Senior cornerback Jerome Gaillard (7 tackles, 1 TFL) and senior Nate David (6 tackles, 1 TFL) followed Parker’s efforts.
The Tigers’ offense was led by Jimenez with six total touchdowns. He had 16 carries for 192 yards and three touchdowns and added three more scores through the air on 8 for 11 passing for 180 yards.
Davis added 15 carries for 176 yards and two more touchdowns.
Smith led the Tiger receivers with two catches for 90 yards and a touchdown while Stephens had two catches for 46 yards and a score and Bramlett had two catches for 30 yards and a score.
The Tigers’ defense was led by senior Tanner Holman with 11 tackles followed by junior Charles Williams III (7 tackles, 3 TFL) and senior Coby Trovinger (6.5 tackles, 1.5 sacks and 1.5 TFL).
The Bulldawgs travel to Killeen this Friday for a District 12-6A with the Kangaroos.
With about eight players missing from the regular rotation with injuries, Alvarez knows they have their work cut out against the Roos and he’s going to need some guys to fill the gaps.
“This is the deal; you can’t help if a kid gets injured,” he said. “It’s like them getting sick or anything else, you just have to play through it.
“We’re going to try everything we can to put the best 22 on the field and all the special teams. That’s our job, not the kids. They just try to do exactly what we ask them to do.”