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  • Greg Wille

AREA FOOTBALL PREVIEW: Belton, Salado, Rogers seek momentum before playoffs; Academy eyes 9-1 record

SURGING INTO THE PLAYOFFS: Junior wide receiver Scout Brazeal and coach Chris Lancaster's playoff-bound Academy Bumblebees (8-1, 4-1) can complete a 9-1 regular season by winning their District 11-3A Division I finale at Troy (2-7, 2-3) at 7:30 tonight. With 45 catches for 932 yards and 11 touchdowns, Brazeal has an opportunity to surpass 1,000 receiving yards for the season. (File photo by Greg Wille,


BELTON – With their first playoff berth since 2018 secured and their first-round matchup already solidified, the Belton Tigers can focus on extending their winning streak to three games and clinching a winning record when they host the last-place Killeen Kangaroos in a District 12-6A finale at 7:30 tonight at Tiger Field.

Belton (5-3, 4-2) needs a win over Killeen (2-7, 0-6) to finish alone in third place in district, behind champion Temple (7-2, 6-0) and second-place Harker Heights (9-1, 6-1). Playoff-bound, fourth-place Bryan finished 4-3 in league play with its 28-24 loss at Heights on Thursday night.

The Tigers clinched their postseason position with a 24-15 victory at Killeen Shoemaker last Thursday. In the bi-district round of the Class 6A Division I playoffs, the Tigers of second-year head coach Brett Sniffin will travel to take on 11-6A champion and No. 4-ranked Duncanville (9-1) at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Panther Stadium.

Defense has led the way during Belton’s two-game winning streak that pushed the Tigers into the playoffs. After allowing 57 and 50 points in consecutive losses to Harker Heights and Temple, Belton permitted only 12 and 15 points, respectively, while winning back-to-back Thursday night games at Leo Buckley Stadium against Killeen Ellison and Shoemaker. The Tigers were particularly stingy last week, limiting the Grey Wolves to 25 passing yards and 148 total yards.

Junior linebacker Donovan Thompson leads Belton’s defense with 65 tackles, followed by senior linebacker/safety Wriley Madden with 60 stops and senior safety Aaron Bain with 58. Senior cornerback Kage Carmichael has four interceptions.

Senior receiver Seth Morgan has produced a stellar season for the Tigers, making 45 catches for 578 yards and six touchdowns. He ran for a 24-yard TD against Shoemaker. Senior Elijah Warner rushed for 137 yards and a touchdown and sophomore quarterback Ty Brown threw a 29-yard TD pass to Javier Luna.

Killeen, which lost 44-6 at home to Temple last Friday, carried a 2-1 record into 12-6A competition but has lost six straight games and will miss the playoffs for the fifth consecutive season with head coach Neil Searcy. Senior running back Emory Arthur, sophomore quarterback Roderick Norman and senior receiver Jacobia Thomas lead the Roos' offense.

Playoff-bound Salado seeks to build

momentum, secure seeding

in 9-4A-II finale at Robinson

SALADO – Entering their regular-season finale at Robinson at 7:30 tonight, the playoff-bound Salado Eagles (6-3, 3-1) still have an outside shot to seize a share of the District 9-4A Division II championship.

Of course, that would require not only a win by defending champion Salado but also a loss tonight by first-place, No. 5-ranked China Spring (9-0, 4-0) at Waco Connally (4-4, 3-1), whose Cadets are tied with Salado for second place.

Victories by Salado and Connally would result in a three-way tie for the championship along with China Spring and all of those teams would have gone 1-1 against each other, forcing the use of a points-based tiebreaker system to determine playoff seedings.

If China Spring defeats Connally to clinch the championship, then Salado – which lost 48-7 at China Spring two weeks ago – can secure the runner-up position by winning at Robinson (2-7, 1-3). The Rockets lost 52-21 at China Spring last week.

As the No. 2 seed from 9-4A D-II, head coach Alan Haire’s Salado squad would play the No. 3 seed from 10-4A D-II – likely Rusk (7-2) or Madisonville (4-5) – next week in the bi-district round of the Class 4A Division II playoffs.

The Eagles reached the 4A D-II Region III semifinals in 2020 before they lost to perennial power and eventual state champion Carthage.

Salado finished its home schedule in style last week by hammering Jarrell 77-14.

Senior fullback Aidan Wilson has been a workhorse for the Eagles’ Slot-T offense all season, rushing for 1,061 yards and 18 touchdowns for a unit that produces 361.3 ground yards per game. Versatile junior Seth Reavis has rushed for 674 yards and six TDs and made 13 catches for 262 yards and three scores. Senior strong end Gavyn Keyser has three touchdowns on only five receptions, and senior quarterback Hutton Haire has passed for nine TDs and rushed for six.

Salado’s defense is among the stingiest in the area, allowing 252.3 yards per game. Senior Josh Huckabee and junior Nolan Miller share the team lead with 75 tackles, followed by seniors Nic Bates and Braydon Sumners with 69 and 59, respectively.

Academy aims for 9-1

regular season with win at Troy

as postseason looms

LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY – The playoff-bound Academy Bumblebees have an opportunity to complete a 9-1 regular season tonight when they travel to clash with the Troy Trojans in a District 11-3A Division I finale at Trojan Stadium.

Academy (8-1, 4-1) finally got its open date in Week 10 after the Bumblebees of second-year head coach Chris Lancaster defeated Rockdale 21-14 at John Glover Stadium to secure their district’s No. 2 seed for the Class 3A Division I playoffs, which begins next week.

A year ago, host Academy beat Troy 42-21 in Week 11 to clinch the district’s final playoff berth.

In the bi-district round the Bees likely will battle Yoakum (6-3) or Hitchcock (5-4).

First-year head coach Stephen Hermesmeyer and Troy (2-7, 2-3) had an opportunity to capture the league’s fourth playoff berth a week ago at Rockdale, but the Trojans allowed Blaydn Barcak’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Kobe Mitchell with 2 seconds remaining and lost 33-31 as the Tigers grabbed the final postseason spot.

The only blemish on Academy’s record is a district-opening 34-17 home loss to defending champion Lorena, whose Leopards (7-2, 5-0) can clinch their second straight outright district crown tonight at home against Rockdale.

Academy junior Scout Brazeal has 45 receptions for 932 yards and 11 touchdowns and could surpass the 1,000-yard milestone in the regular-season finale, while senior receiver Darion Franklin has made 41 catches for 489 yards and six TDs. Sophomore quarterback Kasey Mraz has thrown for 1,894 yards and 21 touchdowns while completing 68.3 percent of his passes. Junior Brayden Bartlett and sophomore Zane Clark have rushed for a combined 731 yards and nine TDs.

Clayton Lawson leads Academy with 76 tackles, and fellow junior linebacker Lane Ward ranks second with 71 stops despite missing the last two games with an injury. Senior safety Blake Bundy has 68 tackles and safety Brazeal has 61. Bundy paces the Bees with three interceptions, while Brazeal, linebacker Franklin and junior cornerback Alex Lawton have two picks apiece.

They will contend with a Troy offense that’s powered by junior running back Steve Jackson, who rushed for 107 yards and three touchdowns against Rockdale to push his season totals to 787 yards and 11 TDs. The top tacklers for the Trojans’ defense are senior Kadin Workman with 73 stops, senior Peyton London with 61 and junior Korey Gibson with 59.

Rogers shoots to win finale

at Florence, carry winning

streak into postseason

ROGERS – Gearing up for what they hope will be another extended run in the playoffs, the Rogers Eagles shoot to carry a three-game winning streak into postseason play when they take on the host Florence Buffaloes at 7:30 tonight in a District 13-3A Division II finale.

After absorbing a 56-7 home loss to top-ranked Franklin (10-0), fifth-year head coach Charlie Roten’s Eagles (6-3, 4-1) responded with a 43-41, double-overtime victory at Lexington and then Riesel 47-13 before finally they finally got their open date last week.

Having secured its district’s No. 2 seed for the Class 3A Division II playoffs, Rogers will take on the winner of tonight 14-3A-II finale between Danbury (5-4) and El Maton Tidehaven in a bi-district matchup next week. The Eagles advanced to the regional semifinals in 2019 and 2020.

Meanwhile, Florence (4-5, 1-4) enters tonight tied with Buffalo and Clifton for fifth/last place. Fourth-place Riesel (4-4, 2-3) can clinch the district’s fourth and final playoff berth by winning at Buffalo tonight, but victories by Buffalo and Florence and perhaps by Clifton over third-place Lexington could create a logjam at 2-4 for the last postseason berth.

A productive rushing attack that averages 251.8 yards per game has fueled a Rogers offense that cranks out 347.4 yards per outing. Senior Christian Riley has run for 856 yards and eight touchdowns, senior quarterback Riley Dolgener has 374 yards and nine TDs on the ground and senior Ivan Lopez has contributed seven rushing TDs.

Among the leading performers for the Eagles’ defense are junior Brice Lisenbe with 85 tackles, senior Jordan Werner with 78 stops and junior Jackson Landeros with 49.

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