Second half rally leads Dawgs past Knights on road
By TJ MAXWELL
KILLEEN - With their playoff lives on the line, the Copperas Cove Bulldawgs reached deep to outscore the Harker Heights Knights 27-6 in the second half on their way to a 27-15 win Friday night at Leo Buckley Stadium.
The speedy Knights defense held the Bulldawgs to just 36 total yards in the first half, with just nine coming in the second quarter. Meanwhile the Knights offense amassed 142 yards and two scores to take a 9-0 lead into the break.
It was all Cove from there.
The Dawgs’ defense came alive in the second half, holding the Knights to just 123 yards and six points for the final 24 minutes.
“We knew this was going to be one of the fastest teams we’ve faced all season and I think we took them a little bit lightly in the first half and that bit us in the butt really bad,” said senior running back Antonio Lealiiee. “We came back in the second half, executed and got first downs.”
The Cove offense found it’s groove as well after some halftime adjustments by offensive coordinator Tracy Welch.
“Going into halftime, we had a decision to make – are we quit and lay down or our we going to play and I think they made that decision,” said head coach Jack Welch. “We came out in the second half and played much better so I praise our offensive coaches and offense for doing that but our defense is what kept us in it.
Two touchdowns in just under six minutes snatched the momentum back from the Knights.
“We got some things ironed out and came back out with a resolve and a vengeance and I thought they played extremely well,” said Welch. “Coach Tracy Welch changed the game plan and challenged our kids. They rose to the challenge and did a good job.”
A touchdown run by senior Antonio Lealiiee with 3:28 left in the third capped an 11-play, 66-yard drive that consumed four minutes of game clock to get the Dawgs within striking distance and a long touchdown pass from junior quarterback Caine Garner to senior wideout Ra’shaun Henry gave the Dawgs the 14-9 lead with 9:27 left in the game. Henry beat his defender by two strides and made a diving catch in the end zone for the score.
The Knights took back the momentum with a seven-play, 69-yard scoring drive. Junior quarterback Daniel Cole found junior Madu Eneli in the front of the end zone for an easy pitch and catch to regain the lead 15-14 after a missed two point conversion attempt.
The lead was short-lived as senior Sean Bedford returned the ensuing kickoff for a 65-yard touch and the 20-15 Bulldawg lead.
“I was happy,” said Bedford. “That’s all I can say. Everybody stayed on their blocks, I scored and it changed the game Communication is the key. (Shamad Lomax) told me to get the ball if it’s short and if it’s too high he’ll get it.”
Another huge defensive stand by the Dawgs with a stop on 4th-and-2 and 2:18 left on the clock all but secured the win for the Dawgs. Senior defenders Jonathan Fuselier and Tyson Curry stopped Berry for no gain to force the turnover on downs.
“I felt we did pretty good,” said Curry. “We stepped up and got a win.”
A 35-yard touchdown run by Lealiiee on 3rd-and-1 locked it up with 1:06 remaining.
“We knew they were going to try to strip the ball and had to have extra ball security,” said Lealiiee. “We only needed one yard but I knew that would be the toughest yard I had to get. It ended up being a touchdown thanks to the (offensive) linemen and receivers getting on their blocks.”
Curry iced the game with an interception.
“I was thinking if I go get it we can get off the field and the offense can go on and let the time run out,” said Curry.
“Our defense played a full ball game and we’ve been waiting on that all year,” said Welch. “Harker Heights, I thought, played inspired football. I thought they played well-coached football and they played hard. They stuffed our offense the first half and gave us all we could handle.”
The Dawgs’ offense fought for every inch of real estate through three quarters before breaking through in the final eight minutes. Cove had just 96 yards of total offense through three quarters but racked up 133 in the final frame alone.
Knights senior running back Taquan Berry got the scoring going with a seven-yard run to start the second period after a scorless first quarter by both squads. The score capped an eight-play, 69-yard drive. Long runs of 28 and 14 yards by Berry help set up the score with 11:56 left in the half.
After both teams exchanged punts for the next eight-plus minutes of action, the Knights increased their lead to 9-0 on a 32-yard field goal by Joseph Kellam to cap a six play drive that began at the Knights’ 44.
The win puts the Dawgs (3-2 in District 12-6A) alone in third place behind Shoemaker (3-1) and Midway 4-0 with Belton (2-2) and Ellison (2-3) laying chase.
Lealiiee added 105 yards and two scores to his district-leading tally. He now sits at 1,417 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Garner was 3 for 7 for 67 yards and a touchdown through the air and sophomore Jaylen Smith was 3 for 6 for 35 yards in relief.
Senior wideout Ra’shaun Henry had just one catch on the night but it was good for his sixth touchdown of the year.
Defensively, the Dawgs were led by junior Tyson Curry who had 9.5 tackles and an interception. Junior Blair Fraser contributed eight tackles.
Bedford had two kick returns for 85 yards and a touchdown.
Berry led the Knights’ offense with 189 yards and a touchdown on 34 carries.
Senior Darian Burt led the Knights defense with five tackles.
The Bullldawgs have just one game remaining against Shoemaker at Bulldawg Stadium next Friday. A win would secure a playoff berth and a loss will have them watching and waiting for the final week to play out as they have a bye in the final week.
“Shoemaker is playing well,” said Welch. “They’re very big and very athletic.”
“We have to have a better first half – play both halves of that game and execute,” said Lealiiee.