KILLEEN — It was a historic night for Belton’s football program Thursday night, both in a broad sense and in more immediate terms.
The Tigers got yet another hard-nosed defensive showing and held off Killeen Shoemaker in the fourth to post a 24-15 playoff-clinching win in District 12-6A action at Leo Buckley Stadium.
Not only did it seal Belton’s (5-4, 4-2) first post-season bid since 2018, but it also marked the 600th win in program history.
Not bad for a night’s work.
“I think it’s pretty cool,” said Belton head coach Brett Sniffin, whose team never trailed against the Grey Wolves (3-5, 2-4). “Win number 600 and clinching a playoff spot at the same time. That’s pretty dang neat to be a part of. I’m tickled to death.”
The Tigers used another swarming defensive effort and just enough offensive juice to put away their second straight win.
A week after notching season highs in sacks and tackles for loss against Killeen Ellison, Belton’s defense was at it again against Shoemaker, holding an offense that came in averaging 449.7 yards and 38 points per game to 148 total yards and 15 points, stopping the Wolves for a loss or no gain on 19 plays.
Meanwhile, the Tigers picked up 21 first downs on their end and got a game-high 137 yards rushing and a touchdown from Elijah Warner, as well as a game-best 214 yards passing and a score from Ty Brown, as Belton was able to put together a few lengthy drives that not only led to points but also kept the ball in their hands for long durations.
“We’re starting to be able to grind the ball with our offensive line and that’s good,” Sniffin said. “They’re starting to get on people and move people and create some seams for our tailbacks and they’re doing a good job of seeing it.”
The win still didn’t come without some late fireworks, though.
Leading by 10, Belton’s Seth Morgan finished off an 8-play, 66-yard drive with a 24-yard scoring run on a sweep around the left side to give Belton a 24-7 lead with 3:32 left.
“Great blocking,” said Morgan, who added a team-high 83 yards receiving on five catches. “There was a big hole for me, so I just sprinted through it and made the touchdown.”
The Tigers then stopped Shoemaker on downs on the following possession, but the Wolves’ Isiah Bland returned a Tigers’ fumble 24 yards for a score three plays later, cutting the gap to nine with 1:19 left.
It appeared as though Bland was down when he recovered the fumble, but after discussing it, officials ruled it a touchdown.
“The guy can’t be on the ground and then get up and run, but, you know, we like to make it interesting here at Belton,” said Sniffin with a grin.
The score was just window dressing in the end, however, as Belton’s Aaron Bain recovered the ensuing onside kick, and the Tigers kneeled out the clock to finish off the win.
“I’m so proud of the players,” said Sniffin, in his second year at the helm for Belton. “They had to do this and stick with it and trust us when we came in here. To go through Covid and then to fight through all that, all those close losses last year. I can’t say enough about the grit and determination of these Tigers.”
Belton had three losses by six points or less last year, finishing 3-7 for a second straight season.
But all of that now seems so far away at this point.
“It’s crazy,” the senior Morgan said. “I’ve been on varsity for three years and this is the first time making playoffs, so it’s a big deal for us. We’re really happy.”
In the first half, the Tigers put together scoring drives on two of their four first-half possessions — each in the second quarter — but it was their defense that fueled the fire on their way to building a 10-0 halftime lead.
Belton forced four punts on five Shoemaker possessions in the first 24 minutes, stopping the Grey Wolves for a loss or no yards on 10 of their 24 plays from scrimmage.
Shoemaker, which managed only 31 first-half yards, was turned over on downs on its other drive.
Belton scored the game’s first points midway through the second frame after the teams combined for three punts in a scoreless opening quarter when Warner punched in a 6-yard score with 8:24 showing.
The run capped a 13-play, 80-yard drive during which the Tigers picked up fourth-down conversions on a Brown 3-yard sneak from their own 40-yard line and a 21-yard strike from Brown to Morgan on a fourth-and-7 that set up Warner’s run.
Belton struck again on its next possession, which began with a 56-yard connection from Brown to Mason Ramm that got the Tigers to Shoemaker’s 24-yard line.
Belton would get to the Wolves’ 12 following an offsides call and a pair of short gains, but ultimately had to settle for a 31-yard Zach White field goal to push the lead to 10-0 with 4:22 left before the break.
After picking up four first downs in the first quarter, Shoemaker had none in a second quarter that saw it held to negative-19 yards.
The Wolves pulled to within 10 late in the third when Jamarius Stewart reeled off a 38-yard touchdown run after making a defender miss in the backfield and then darting down the right side to the house.
Stewart was the lone bright spot for Shoemaker’s offense, finishing with 119 yards on 14 carries.
Javier Luna accounted for Belton’s other score when he hauled in a 29-yard pass from Brown on Belton’s first drive of the second half, upping the Tigers’ lead to 17-0 with 9:38 left in the third.
Although the Wolves forced three turnovers, they were only able to convert one — the fumble return — into any points.
Belton will now shift its focus to closing out its home schedule when it hosts Killeen next week in the regular-season finale.
“We have to win the next one and then we’ll see where we end up,” Morgan said. “We’ll probably play a hard team, but we’re going to fight.”
BELTON 24, KILLEEN SHOEMAKER 15
Belton 0 10 7 7 — 24
Killeen Shoemaker 0 0 7 8 — 15
Bel — Elijah Warner 6 run (Zach White kick)
Bel — White 31 field goal
Bel — Javier Luna 29 pass from Ty Brown (White kick)
Sho — Jamarius Stewart 38 run (Antonio Butler kick)
Bel — Seth Morgan 24 run (White kick)
Sho — Isiah Bland 24 fumble return (Stewart pass from Kmare’ Balfour)
First downs 21 10
Rushes-yards 41-168 34-123
Passing yards 214 25
Comp.-Att.-Int. 13-30-2 7-15-0
Punts-average 2-36.0 5-40.8
Fumbles-lost 3-1 4-1
Penalties-yards 7-60 5-35
RUSHING — Belton: Warner 30-137, Brown 3-17, Luna 4-8, Morgan 1-24, team 3-(-18); Shoemaker: Stewart 14-119, Omari Evans 16-24, Peydon Horace 1-(-2), Khamari Terrell 1-(-1), Balfour 1-(-12), team 1-(-5).
PASSING — Belton: Brown 13-30-2-214; Shoemaker: Evans 4-9-0-3, Balfour 3-6-0-22.
RECEIVING — Belton: Morgan 5-83, Warner 3-7, Luna 2-35, Ramm 2-63, Garrett Oliveira 1-26; Shoemaker: Johnathan Lahmann 1-2, Terrell 4-12, Balfour 1-9, Javante Carson 1-11.