BELTON — Injuries have hovered over Belton for much of the season. Think of the seemingly inescapable swarms of crickets that haunted Tiger Field in mass last Friday — pesky and profuse.
However, against the grain of the Tigers’ recent rash of wounds on offense, it was the defense that took the brunt of the bug’s bite during their 66-34 loss to Temple.
“At some point in the game, four linebackers were out,” Belton head coach Sam Skidmore said Tuesday.
No rest for the weary might actually be proven false, for this week anyway.
Belton (2-4, 2-2 District 12-6A), in the midst of its first district losing streak since 2015 after a pair of losses by a combined 108-57, heads into its open week with plenty of players on the mend and a whole bunch to play for over the final month of the regular season.
“The next three games are very crucial for a playoff spot,” said Skidmore, whose team’s next outing is Oct. 17 at Killeen (1-5, 1-3), followed by contests versus Killeen Ellison and winless Waco. “Then (Hewitt) Midway is always going to be a tough opponent at the end. But, you know, I told the kids, we control our own destiny by winning games.
“(The open date) is a great opportunity to get back to fundamentals,” Skidmore continued. “Our kids have to take the coaching and make the corrections, and that starts in practice. But one thing our kids continue to do is play hard. We came out today and had great energy at practice.”
The Tigers are grouped with two others — Ellison (2-4, 2-2) and Harker Heights (2-4, 2-2) — in a tie for fourth place in congested 12-6A. Those squads trail third-place Killeen Shoemaker (3-2, 2-1) and leaders Temple (4-1, 3-0) and Midway (3-2, 3-0).
Some light is visible at the end of the tunnel. Skidmore said receivers D’emante Smith and Gunner Garrett, both starters when the year began and out for three games, should return next week. All four linebackers who were hurt against the Wildcats didn’t return to action, including leading tackler Coby Trovinger (10½ per game for 63 on the season). But Skidmore added that Trovinger and Ivan Lemus also should be set to go against the Kangaroos. Belton, though, still will be without senior safety Jason Stephens, who was injured two weeks ago against Shoemaker.
Meanwhile, the goal is to get as many players rested and rejuvenated and others tabbed as replacements up to speed before Belton’s second visit to Leo Buckley Stadium this season.
“Just try to get these new guys on the same page so when we play next, we can start rolling,” Belton quarterback Ruben Jimenez said after Friday’s loss to Temple during which he rushed for a game-high 200 yards and three touchdowns to go with 155 yards passing and another score, with two interceptions.
The fourth meeting between Temple and Belton since the matchup was reintroduced in 2016 after a two-year hiatus was shaping up to be another back-and-forth affair similar to the previous three, with the outcome anyone’s guess. That was until the Wildcats scored a blistering 21 straight points over the final 2:09 of the first half for a 52-28 advantage before scoring on their opening drive of the third quarter in their eventual runaway.
“For a quarter and a half, we played how we are capable of playing and then we made some mistakes and they just snowballed, and we had the injuries on top of that,” Skidmore said. “When you go back and watch, I thought offensive line-wise, we played one of our best games. We ran the ball effectively. Ruben had 200 yards rushing. A lot of that was Ruben made pretty good runs but a lot was also he wasn’t touched for the first whatever and he took over from there. We just can’t keep making the same mistakes. There are a lot of things to clean up.”
Belton’s off week began Monday on a lighthearted note as 40 players and cheerleaders hosted 20 special needs children for an hour’s worth of football and fun under the moniker Camp Champion.
“It was a really good deal. Our kids had a lot of fun and it was really great to be a part of,” said Skidmore, who added that similar events are being planned for other sports such as basketball. “We are just trying to incorporate another avenue for our kids to give back.”
Luke Bramlett, who had a career-high 100 yards receiving against Temple as Jimenez’s top target with Smith out, leads Belton with 19 receptions and 283 yards.
Second behind Trovinger on the tackles list is safety Tanner Holman (55). Right behind him is defensive end Malik Jackson (49), who owns a team-high nine tackles for losses.
Jimenez ranks third in 12-6A in yards passing (1,016) and fifth in yards rushing (618).
Shoemaker’s 525.6 yards per game pace the nine-team district. Temple is next at 466.0. Defensively, Ellison has yielded the least per outing at 273.2. The Wildcats are second at 352.2. Belton is sixth in yards for (368.2) and eighth in yards against (439.7).