KILLEEN — The Killeen Kangaroos had all the momentum in the second half, but the Belton Tigers put together the key drive of the game Thursday night at Leo Buckley Stadium to earn their first win of the season and start the District 12-6A campaign on the right foot.
Senior quarterback Ruben Jimenez led a nine-play, 51-yard drive with 3:36 left in the game and scored on a 17-yard TD run to give Belton a 33-26 lead with less than a minute left to play, and Tigers junior defensive back Trent West intercepted the Kangaroos’ final pass of the game to preserve Belton’s first win under new head coach Brett Sniffin.
“I feel a huge weight lifted, especially for those kids,” Sniffin said. “It’s great to get them some payoff and positive results for believing in what we’re trying to do here.”
Belton (1-3, 1-0) led 19-9 at halftime and 26-9 after Jimenez’s 4-yard TD run with 4:31 left in the third quarter, before Killeen (1-2, 0-1) responded with a 93-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.
The Tigers fumbled away the ball for the third time on their next drive, and the Kangaroos capitalized by scoring on a 13-yard pass from Ahmad Bailey to John Scott to make it 26-23 entering the fourth quarter.
Belton punted on its next possession, and Killeen tied the game on a 46-yard field goal with less than 7 minutes remaining. After Jimenez threw an interception, the Kangaroos failed to convert on fourth down, setting up the Tigers’ game-winning drive.
“We tried to give it away, but we made big plays and did what we needed to at the end,” Sniffin said. “For Ruben especially, to come back after throwing an interception on the drive before, it shows his character and ability to trust himself and his teammates.”
Jimenez finished 11-of-19 passing for 124 yards and a touchdown to go along with 83 yards and two scores rushing. Senior running back Maurice Reed ran for 193 yards, including a 2-yard TD run. Junior tight end Bryan Henry had six catches for 92 yards and a touchdown for Belton, which won its fourth straight district opener.
Belton held Killen to 93 yards in the first half and 116 total — including 52 yards rushing — but committed five turnovers that helped the Kangaroos’ stay in the game.
Kadarius Marshall ran for just 18 yards on 13 carries for Killeen after rushing for 139 and two touchdowns last year against Belton. The Kangaroos had five first downs in the first half and 12 for the game, compared to Belton's 23.
Belton senior linebacker Joe Sniffin opened the scoring with an 18-yard interception return, but Killeen blocked the extra-point kick and returned it all the way to make it 6-2 midway through the first quarter. Reed’s TD run made it 12-2, but Killeen answered with Bailey’s 19-yard touchdown throw that made it 12-9.
Jimenez’s 40-yard pass to Henry made it 19-9 with 5:43 left in the first half.
“It was a lot of how we played in the first half that allowed them to stay in the game,” Sniffin said. “We should have been up by three or four scores, but we kept making mistakes and giving them life. You can’t give extra chances to a team like that.”
Follies and miscues plagued Belton in the first and second quarters, despite a 10-point lead at intermission. A 14-play, 68-play drive to start the game for the Tigers was ended on a fumble during the exchange from Jimenez to Reed in the backfield. Another fumble on Belton’s first possession of the second quarter halted a 10-play, 40-yard drive, but an interception by junior defensive back Aaron Bain gave Belton the ball back and set up Jimenez’s scoring toss to Henry.
Belton finished with three lost fumbles and two interceptions, compared to Killeen’s two interceptions.
The closing minutes played out similarly to Belton’s game at Round Rock earlier this season, in which the Tigers drove 95 yards to set up the game-winning 22-yard field goal with 2 seconds left, only to have it blocked by the Dragons.
This time, Belton got the job done and walked off the field as the victors for the first time this year.
“When we come together and play like we know we can, I believe we can play with anyone,” Sniffin said. “But again, it’s all about doing it for a full, 48-minute game.”