Copperas Cove punt returner Orlando Thomas is grabbed by Belton’s Nate Mitchell on Friday night as Tiger defenders Michael Gall (62) and Kyle Battle close in at Bulldawg Stadium.

By Angel Verdejo
Killeen Daily Herald

COPPERAS COVE — One quarter Friday night may have just determined the top of District 12-5A.

Belton and Copperas Cove went into their meeting as two favorites to contend for the district title.

But in 12 minutes, the Bulldawgs made a statement — first place will likely go through Cove.

The Dawgs took advantage of three Belton turnovers in the third quarter, turning a close game into a runaway 37-15 win at Bulldawg Stadium.

“We can’t turn it over — that’s the game. That’s the difference in the game,” said Belton head coach Rodney Southern. “You can’t blame one person but we can’t turn the ball over four or five times against anybody, and you dang sure can’t turn it over four or five times against Copperas Cove.”

The Tigers (3-1, 0-1) fumbled four times, losing three of them. Each time, the Dawgs (3-1, 1-0) answered with points — 17 in all. Cove’s defense also stopped Belton in the shadow of its own end zone. The Tigers were at the Cove 19 when Chris Rhodes intercepted a Peter Shelburne pass in the third quarter, returning it to midfield and stopping Belton from cutting into the Dawgs’ 31-7 lead.

“Our defense was able to play and sustain. I imagine they got a lot of yards,” Cove head coach Jack Welch said of a Belton offense that finished with 417 yards of offense. “I saw a lot of first downs, but they didn’t get behind us.

“They didn’t get behind us.”

Up 10-7 going into the third quarter, Cove went right down the field and scored. Brandon Hamilton, who ran for 100 yards in the quarter, scored from 2 yards out — the first of two scores in a seven-minute stretch. Hamilton finished with 141 yards and three touchdowns.

On Belton’s ensuing drive, the Tigers lost the football on first down to give it right back to Cove. The Dawgs took advantage of the gift as Orlando Thomas ran in the short 8-yard score, pushing Cove’s lead to 24-7 less than three minutes into the quarter.

Belton fumbled again on its next drive, and Cove turned it around for a 13-play, 76-yard drive capped by a Hamilton 9-yard score. Rhodes, Sean Harris and Darian Childers recovered the three Belton fumbles.

“I thought our defense played well and our coaches coached well,” Welch said. “It’s all together.”

Belton scored midway through the fourth quarter to cut the deficit to 31-15. Donavan Williams went in from 8 yards out to cap an 84-yard drive. He had 59 yards to lead Belton while Shelburne completed 26 of 35 passes for 342 yards and a second-quarter touchdown to Durham Smythe.

“They made some plays — they’re a good football team,” Southern said. “I knew they were a good football team and so did our kids. We made some plays but we shot ourselves in the foot four times.”