Chaps score 17 points in a four-minute span, walk away with 38-17 win in season-opener
By Tony Adams, Sports Editor
The Belton Tigers Football got a tough early test from one of the most storied programs in the state of Texas on Friday night, as the Class 6A No. 4 Austin Westlake Chaparrals came calling to start the season.
After the Tigers grabbed a three-point lead in the second quarter, Westlake took advantage of a big kick return, an errant snap for a safety, a big free-kick return and a touchdown pass in a 4:10 span late in the second quarter to pace the Chaps to a 38-17 win on Tiger Field.
The Tigers deferred to the Chaps to start the game. Westlake was able to get a five-yard completion from Taylor Anderson to Jake Lindley as their only significant yardage of the opening drive. Patrick Frazho stopped Anderson for a one-yard gain and Devin Martinez sacked Anderson for a four-yard loss. Gabe Lozano's 35-yard punt set the Tigers up at their own 41 for their first offensive drive.
Marques Aguilar picked up five yards on the first play and the Tigers were faced with a third down and four at their own 47. But a false start penalty disrupted the drive and Logan Smith was forced to punt. Smith hit a 58-yard yard punt was nearly downed at the one-yard line, but the ball was inadvertently kicked into the end zone for a touchback.
Westlake was able to pick up a 17-yard gain from Anderson for a first down at the Chaps' 37. Jarrett Karnowski put two good hits on Chaps receivers to jolt two passes incomplete and Lozano was forced to punt again.
Belton wasn't able to advance the ball past the Westlake 45. This time, Smith's coffin-corner punt was downed by Karnowski at the Westlake 1.
The Chaps answer to the field position was instant, as Tripp Graham rumbled 38 yards down the left side for a first down. Seven plays later, Anderson hit Lindley for a 20-yard touchdown pass for the first score of the game. Lozano's extra-point gave Westlake at 7-0 advantage with 2:58 to play in the opening quarter.
Denver Holman had a big special teams night for the Tigers, as he took the ensuing kickoff 58 yards down to the Westlake 33. Connor Carothers hit Holman for a 13-yard completion to give Belton first and goal to go on the Westlake 9. The Tigers had the ball on the one-yard line on third down, but a false start penalty moved the ball away from the goal line. Carothers next pass fell incomplete and Smith hit a 23-yard field goal to put the Tigers on the board with 52.3 seconds to play in the first quarter, 7-3.
Jason Stephens made a highlight reel interception on a third down and 19 play at the Westlake 11. He hauled the ball in at the 25 and toe-tapped inbounds to give the Tigers the football.
Belton made no mistake on the next drive, as Aguilar's seven-yard carry and Carothers' 14-yard pass to Anthony Fairbanks set up a touchdown pass of six yards from Carothers to Anthony Brown. Smith's extra point gave the Tigers their first lead of the game with 9:19 to play in the first half, 10-7.
Mason Mangum's 38-yard kickoff return set up a 10-play, 55-yard, 3:08 scoring drive. Graham bulldozed his way into the end zone from five yards out to regain the lead for the Chaparrals. Lozano's extra-point made the score 14-10 with 6:02 to play in the second quarter.
The Tigers were unable to answer on the ensuing drive and Smith punted the ball 37 yards to the Westlake 37. The Chaps quick-kicked on fourth down back to the Tigers at the Belton 7.
Bad luck hit the Tigers in the worst way on the very next play. Ruben Jimenez was in shotgun formation in the end zone and the ball was snapped over his right shoulder and out of the end zone for a safety with 1:52 to play in the first half.
Smith's free-kick from the Belton 20 was taken by Mangum at the Westlake 38 and returned all the way down to the Tigers' 24. Three plays later, Anderson scored on a 17-yard touchdown run. Anderson then found Lindley on a pass thrown into the end zone to make the score 24-10 with 54 seconds remaining in the first half.
The Tigers were bitten by the penalty bug on a third and one play, on the third play of the second half. An illegal procedure penalty knocked Belton back five yards, they were unable to convert the third and six play, and Smith punted the ball 37 yards to the Belton 47.
Belton had an opportunity to edge closer on the next drive, as Octavius Davis recovered a fumbled at the Westlake 36. The offense worked the ball down to the 23. On second down and seven, Carothers threw a ball that Leo Lowin picked off at the Westlake 7.
The Chaps turned the opportunity into prosperity, as they drove 93 yards in seven plays and completed a 38-yard touchdown connection from Anderson to Lindley. Lozano's extra-point kick made the score 31-10.
Belton got a 25-yard kickoff return from Holman to the Tigers' 27-yard line. On third down and two at the Tigers' 35, Carothers ran a read-option for 20 yards. The ball was jolted loose and recovered by Jake Ehlinger at the Westlake 44.
Once again, the Chaparrals converted the turnover into seven points. Graham's punishing running style collected 14 yards and Anderson hit Mangum on a beautiful back-shoulder throw that dropped over the excellent coverage by Trey Berry. The 25-yard touchdown and Lozano's extra-point with 1:06 to play in the third quarter put Westlake on top, 38-10.
The Tigers had loads of fight left in them, as they took the ball on the next drive and moved it from the Belton 25 to the Westlake 41. They came up short on an incompletion and had to turn the ball over.
Martinez came up with a big sack on the next Westlake possession and forced Lozano to punt. The ball was a high, drifting kick to Holman at the Belton 18. He broke four tackles between the 22 and 25, cut back to the left and raced for an 82-yard punt return touchdown. Smith's extra-point brought the Tigers back to within 21 points with 9:47 to play in the game, 38-17.
Westlake was able to salt a good deal of time off of the clock, and the Tigers were not able to score over the final moments to fall to the No. 4 team in the state by 21 points.
The Tigers will travel to Round Rock on Thursday night, the only Thursday night game on the Belton schedule this season, as they will take on the Dragons at 7 p.m. at Dragon Field. The game can be heard on KRock 101.7 FM, KRock1017FM.com, the free KRock 1017 App, and on the free KRock Amazon Alexa Skill.