Belton running back Donavan Williams (11) breaks loose for a big gain after teammate Levi Jordan (21) makes a block on Harker Heights Samson Gray in the first quarter Friday at Belton.

By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald

BELTON — Not wanting to go down 0-2 in District 12-5A, the pass-friendly Belton offense switched gears a bit.

Bruising senior tailback Donavan Williams ran for a career-high 188 yards on 30 carries and caught a pivotal fourth-quarter touchdown to lead the host Tigers back into the district race with a 35-25 win over Harker Heights on Friday night at Tiger Stadium.

“I told him yesterday when we did our walk through, ‘You’re probably going to carry it 30 times and I need 200 yards,'” Belton coach Rodney Southern said. “Because I knew at that point … that we had to run the ball.

“And the good thing was he never put the ball on the ground either.”

Williams even admitted after the game even he never expected to see that many carries in a game.

“Not really, but if the team counts on me, then I have to do my job,” Williams said.

Under Southern, the Tigers (4-1, 1-1 12-5A) have traditionally been a pass-first team, with Texas Longhorns freshman David Ash setting records during his three years with the program.

Even this year, junior quarterback Peter Shelburne led the district with 64 completions for 961 yards entering Friday’s game.

But against Harker Heights’ top-ranked run defense in 12-5A, the Tigers went to the ground from their second possession as Williams bounced off a pile at the line of scrimmage and broke a 35-yard run that set up a 24-yard Shelburne-to-Durham Smythe touchdown pass. The score gave Belton a 7-3 lead after Heights kicker Jake Harler nailed a 40-yard field goal on its opening possession.

The Knights (3-2, 1-1) had no problem running the ball either, with quarterback C.J. Rodriguez rushing for three touchdowns and diminutive senior tailback Marvin Jackson carrying 17 times for 142 yards — including 100 in the first half. Their issue was holding onto the football.

With the ball on Belton’s 2-yard line midway through the third quarter and a chance to take the lead, Heights tailback Jonte Burton fumbled trying to get extra yardage at the goal line as Tigers linebacker Davis Butler jumped on it for a touchback.

Eleven plays later, Shelburne — who’s second interception of the game helped set up Heights inside the Tigers’ 15-yard line — did what the Knights could not and crossed the goal line from 4 yards out to put Belton ahead 28-17 with 48 seconds left in the third.

“It’s a red-zone momentum changer that deflates you, when you have a chance to actually go ahead of us, and then we get the ball back and of course end up driving down and scoring,” Southern said.

Emotions boiled over for both teams early in the fourth quarter after a 1-yard touchdown run by Rodriguez cut Belton’s lead to 28-24.

Trying for the two-point conversion, Rodriguez found receiver Jonathan Nava in the end zone but he was quickly dogpiled by a host of Tigers.

As the referees began pulling players off, Nava and Butler emerged from the pile throwing punches. When flags were thrown, the officials removed Nava from the game. The conversion made it 28-25 with under 10 minutes to go.

“I still love this team, I’m going to always, but we have to understand that bad things are going to happen and how we react to it,” Heights coach Mike Mullins said. “If we want to be in the top four we’ve got to be ready to go and be ready for next Thursday.”

On the ensuing Belton drive, Shelburne and Williams combined on 50 of the Tigers’ 52 yards, including connecting on a 7-yard touchdown pass for the final score.

The Knights put up one final scoring attempt, but a Rodriguez interception — his first of the season — let the Tigers simply run out the clock.