Dawgs must win out to ensure 12th-consecutive playoff berth

By TJ MAXWELL
 
Despite a disappointing loss to the Midway Panthers last Friday, the Dawgs still have their playoff future in their own hands heading into tonight’s contest against the Harker Heights Knights at Leo Buckley Stadium. Wins over the Knights tonight and Shoemaker in the regular season finale for the Dawgs next Friday would lock down a spot. However, a loss in either of those two games the Dawgs would likely require help to get in. Midway leads the district with a 3-0 record in District 12-6A and Shoemaker enjoys a bye this week, nursing a secondbest 3-1 record. Copperas Cove and Ellison are tied a 2-2 and currently hold the final two playoff spots. Belton and Killeen sit at 1-2 and the Knights are winless at 0-3. “Don’t let the records fool you,” said Cove head coach Jack Welch. “They are playing really tough football because they are so fast defensively. They’re not real big but they’re fast. The time you don’t respect your opponent is the time you’re about to get it handed to you. Anybody in this district can win on any given night so we have to attack them and physically whip them.” Tonight’s game will pair up the district’s statistical last place offense (Harker Heights) against the last place defense (Copperas Cove). “Offensively they are a little more conventional than some people we’ve seen,” said defensive coordinator Reb Brock. “They usually have two backs in the backfield and their guards are very big. “They’ve had a couple different folks at quarterback so they’re trying to get some consistency. When their quarterbacks get in trouble, as far as getting pressure, they tend to just throw the ball up. The thing I’m impressed with is the receivers go up and get the ball.” That should bode well for the Cove defensive backs, who are playing better since the district slate began. “Defensively, we’ve got to put pressure on them,” said Welch. “We need to stop the run and make them throw the football. Our defensive backs are playing pretty darn good right now. They’re covering well and they’re stripping that ball.” The Dawgs give up 525.5 yards of total offense per contest, nearly 145 more yards per contest than anyone else in the district. That number has dropped nearly 100 yards per outing during the four district games and dropped over 225 per game if you take out the Midway statistics. “Our defense has gotten a lot better,” said Welch. “We’re playing a lot of man coverage and tight zone to try and make it real tough on them.” The Bulldawgs’ offense has doubled the output from their Harker Heights counterparts. Cove boasts one of the top rushing attacks in Class 6A and easily leads the district with 2,565 yards and they are second in total offense behind Midway with a 435.8 per contest average. Senior Antonio Lealiiee leads the way with 1,312 yards in 6 ½ games. He averages just over 200 yards in that time. The Knights have struggled on the ground and through the air this year. They have just 778 rushing yards and 940 pass yards through seven games for an average of 245.4 yards per game. The Knights defense, however, is third best in the district with a 329.9 average and they are second best against the run behind Shoemaker. They’ve given up just 161.1 yards per game on the ground. Senior running back Ezekiel Jordan said the offensive plan of attack is simple. “We just have to stay on blocks with our offensive line and execute,” he said. The Knights and Dawgs matchup pretty evenly with size and speed as both teams featuring sprinters on both sides of the ball. “They have speed and we have speed,” said Welch. “I don’t think they can stop us. We’ve shown we can run the football against anybody in the state and we’re passing the ball much better.” The Bulldawgs lead the district in interceptions thrown, however, with 11 and are in the bottom in turnover ratio with -10. Heights has 11 lost fumbles and six interceptions thrown, but they also have 14 takeaways for a -3 turnover ratio. Cove needs to win that battle tonight. “We’ve go to get pressure and make them throw the ball,” said senior defensive end Dylan Paine. “He likes to just throw it up there and our defensive backs can get some picks.” Welch believes the difference in the game won’t be determined by the offense or defense. “The key of this ball game is special teams because we match across the board,” he said. “Nobody in the state runs the kick off return better than we do. You kick the pooch to us we’ll scald you. Kick it deep and we’ll scald you. Kick a line drive we’ll scald you. We work so hard every week on getting our people on their blocks and understanding what to do.” Ellison faced off with Belton last night in Killeen (results not available at press time) and the Roos have a road game at Midway. A Belton win over Ellison last night, paired with a Cove win over Heights would help that cause – giving Cove sole possession of third place with two weeks left in the regular season.

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