ONE DEGREE MORE: Bartz's touchdown-saving tackle boosts Lake Belton in 28-14 victory vs. Cameron Yoe
RIGHT PLACE, RIGHT TIME: Along with catching three passes for 51 yards, Lake Belton junior Connor Bartz made a touchdown-saving tackle during the Broncos' 28-14 home win over Cameron Yoe on Friday night at Belton High School's Tiger Field. Yoemen linebacker Fabian Salomon had a long fumble return as time expired in the first half, but a sprinting Bartz tracked down Salomon and tackled him at Lake Belton's 6-yard line to prevent a touchdown that likely would have cut the Broncos' halftime lead to 14-7. Coach Brian Cope's Lake Belton team improved to 4-0 in its first varsity season, while Yoe dropped to 0-4 in the first season of Rick Rhoades' second stint as head coach of the Yoemen. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BELTON – Spend any time around Lake Belton’s second-year football program and you will hear head coach Brian Cope mention the phrase “212 effort.” The meaning is that water is hot at 211 degrees but boils at 212 degrees and creates steam, which can power a train – or in the case of the unbeaten Broncos, a team.
In a crucial situation against winless Cameron Yoe on Friday night at Belton High School’s Tiger Field, Lake Belton junior wide receiver Connor Bartz demonstrated what Cope’s concept of 212 effort looks like on the gridiron.
The Broncos led 14-0 with 5 seconds remaining before halftime when their offense ran one more play from the Yoemen’s 33-yard line. Junior backup quarterback Easton Hammond fumbled the ball, and Yoe senior linebacker Fabian Salomon scooped it up as time expired and sprinted into Lake Belton territory.
Salomon raced down the left sideline, striving to score the touchdown that likely would slice the Yoemen’s deficit to a manageable 14-7 and give them much-needed momentum entering the second half.
However, Bartz went all-out to catch up with the Yoe defender, and just as Salomon moved inside the Lake Belton 10, a diving Bartz tripped him up from behind and caused Salomon to crash to the artificial turf at the 6 – preventing a key touchdown and preserving the Broncos’ 14-0 advantage.
Yoe’s resilient squad twice cut Lake Belton’s lead to seven points in the second half, but Jaydon Leza’s 64-yard touchdown reception from Connor Crews provided fourth-quarter breathing room as the Broncos earned a 28-14 victory over the Yoemen.
“One of the big things that Coach Cope coaches is effort – being player-driven as a team and just giving effort in anything you do, and I think that’s what that play shows,” Bartz, who also made three catches for 51 yards, said of his touchdown-saving tackle to end the first half.
“I saw (Salomon) pick up the ball and then I saw him running. I thought he was going to get tackled, but I was still running. I saw him break free, and so I turned it on and ran him down. It was last-second and we were inside the 10. I just reached out and did whatever I could do.”
After Lake Belton improved to 4-0 in its first varsity season, Cope commended Bartz and junior running back Daniel Hardin for their roles on that vital play.
“We talk all the time about doing things one degree more, and that’s what 212 effort is all about. Connor and Daniel both sold out to try to make a play,” Cope said. “They did, and that was huge because (Yoe) got the ball to start the second half. That could have been a game-changing deal. One degree more.”
Junior D’Arius Wilkerson scored touchdown runs of 1 and 2 yards for Lake Belton, which got a 15-yard TD rush from sophomore Micah Hudson and a diving first-quarter interception from sophomore linebacker Ty Legg.
It was another difficult defeat to absorb for Yoe (0-4) and head coach Rick Rhoades, who’s in the first season of his second stint with the Yoemen. He guided them to three consecutive state championships from 2012-14 before departing for Gregory-Portland after Yoe’s state runner-up finish in 2015.
Class 3A Division I Yoe began this season with a 64-62, triple-overtime loss to Lago Vista, fell 41-26 at 4A Division II stalwart Bellville and challenged 3A Division II No. 1-ranked Franklin into the fourth quarter of a 41-21 loss last week.
“(Lake Belton) made the plays they needed to make to win, and we didn’t. We turned the ball over at crucial times, things like that,” said Rhoades, whose Yoemen begin District 11-3A D-I competition next Friday at Caldwell. “We’ve got to start making the plays to win. Staying close to somebody, I mean, that’s not what we’re here for. We’ve got to make the plays to win.”
Overall, Yoe has lost seven straight games since its 37-19 win over Academy last Oct. 9.
Lake Belton had the game’s first possession and didn’t need much time to seize its first lead. Crews passed to Bartz for 30 yards on the first play and Hardin (13 carries for 81 yards) had a 14-yard run as the Broncos reached the 1-yard line before Wilkerson bowled over a defender at the goal line for his first touchdown. Junior Cole Jackson kicked the first of his four extra points for a 7-0 lead with 3 minutes gone.
Yoe responded with a promising first drive, using the hard running of senior Phaibian Bynaum and a 23-yard pass from senior Ryan Muniz to junior Pharrell Hemphill to advance to Lake Belton’s 22. But when Muniz tried to fire a pass to junior receiver Trayjen Wilcox just inside the 5, Legg seemingly came out of nowhere and stretched out in front of Wilcox to make a diving interception at the 3.
The Broncos’ ensuing drive appeared to stall at Yoe’s 48, but on fourth-and-4 Crews kept the ball after catching the snap in punt formation and charged ahead for a 20-yard gain to the 28. Crews barreled for a 13-yard gain on fourth-and-1 on the second quarter’s first play, then Hudson ran off left tackle and dashed to the outside for a 15-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead.
“That’s a testament to our offensive line. We can run the ball on whoever we want, whenever we want,” Bartz said about Lake Belton’s rushing game, whichj compiled 242 yards. “Those guys do a great job up front and our running backs do a great job of vision, seeing the holes. All four games we’ve been able to pretty much run the ball whenever we want.”
Hudson’s 21-yard punt return set up Lake Belton at Yoe’s 36 with 9 minutes left before halftime, but and Braylan Drake and Armando Reyes broke up a long fourth-down pass to Hudson in the end zone to give the Yoemen a key turnover on downs.
Crews kept for an 8-yard gain 2 minutes before halftime, but he suffered a leg cramp on the play, had to be helped off the field and didn't come back in until early in the fourth quarter. Filling in for Crews, Hammond completed a 24-yard pass to Hudson and added a 10-yard run to help the Broncos reach Yoe’s 33 in the first half’s final minute.
On fourth down with 5 seconds remaining, the Yoemen dislodged the ball from Hammond and Salomon grabbed it before running the other way with no time left. He appeared to have a good chance to score as he got inside the 20, but Bartz used his receiver’s speed to eventually catch up to the standout linebacker and take him down at the 6 for a touchdown-saving tackle.
Said Rhoades: “Absolutely it would have been a huge play, but we didn’t (get in).”
Afterward, Bartz said he was aware of how important that play was.
“I think definitely it was, because going into half they were getting the ball (first) coming out of halftime,” he said. “If they score that touchdown and come out and score another touchdown, it’s a tie game right there without us even having the ball again.”
The what-might-have-been ending to the first half didn’t slow Yoe down to begin the second half. Muniz cut through Lake Belton’s defense for a 34-yard run, then Bynaum patiently ran off right tackle and cut back for a 16-yard touchdown before Jesse Martinez’s extra point trimmed the Broncos’ lead to 14-7.
Needing a strong response, Lake Belton got it. Hudson blasted through the middle for a 28-yard run, then Hardin and Wilkerson ripped off a series of strong runs. Hammond surged ahead for 3 yards on fourth-and-2 from the 11, and Wilkerson followed strong blocking on a 2-yard touchdown for a 21-7 lead midway through the third period.
“Micah Hudson’s pretty good, and D’Arius Wilkerson and Daniel Hardin did a great job of running the football. I’m proud of all those guys,” Cope said, adding that he liked the Broncos’ “physicality up front on the offensive line” that paved the way for 408 total yards.
Yoe needed a spark to begin the fourth quarter, and Muniz provided it by passing to senior Jaidyn Sanchez for gains of 18 and 21 yards. That moved the Yoemen to Lake Belton’s 21 before Bynaum jetted off right tackle and sprinted in for a 16-yard touchdown that sliced the Yoemen’s deficit to 21-14 with 10:11 remaining.
Crews re-entered the game at quarterback on Lake Belton’s ensuing possession, and from his 36 he threw a long pass that hit Leza – who had gotten behind Yoe’s secondary – in stride en route to a 64-yard TD and a 28-14 lead with 9:21 left.
“(Crews) got dehydrated a little bit. He came back in for the fourth quarter and we got ready to go. What a great job by Easton Hammond stepping in right there and not missing a beat offensively. Next man up,” Cope said. “I’m so proud of that young man, because he gives us everything he’s got. He and Connor are friends and it was awesome to watch.”
Yoe answered as Muniz passed to sophomore Kason Goolsby (nine receptions, 81 yards) for a 45-yard gain, and the Yoemen eventually reached the Broncos’ 23. However, Bynaum fumbled on a running play and sophomore linebacker Brandon Bell recovered for Lake Belton.
Cope praised the work of his defense, which allowed 332 total yards (175 rushing) but matched its season-best performance by permitting only 14 points.
“I liked Ty Legg on that interception. (Junior safety) Javeon Wilcox is from Cameron and he’s related to their entire receiving corps. He did a heck of a job,” Cope said. “(Junior cornerback) Bruce Onchweri made some great plays and so did (defensive backs) Selman Bridges, Keshawn Baptiste and Peanut Brazzle. They all played awesome and it was great to watch. Our secondary made adjustments to stop the Hemphill kid and they did really well.”
With no senior players and no University Interscholastic League district to compete in until the 2022 season, Lake Belton’s emerging team is focused currently on winning as many games as possible on its 10-game independent schedule. For the Broncos, who last season went 9-1 against junior varsity opposition, their march continues next Friday with a 7 p.m. home game against Katy Jordan.
“I think we can always get better and always improve,” Bartz said. “But going against tough opponents in our first four varsity games as a program, I think we’re right on track with where we want to be.”
“We’ve got to keep getting better. We can’t be satisfied where we are,” Cope said, mentioning that his program’s five teams have a combined 19-1 record. “We’ve got a chance for down the road, and that’s what we’re working for ultimately."
LAKE BELTON 28,
CAMERON YOE 14
Yoe 0 0 7 7 – 14
Lake Belton 7 7 7 7 – 28
Lake Belton – D’Arius Wilkerson 1 run (Cole Jackson kick), 9:02.
Lake Belton – Micah Hudson 15 run (Jackson kick), 11:12.
Yoe – Phaibian Bynaum 16 run (Jesse Martinez kick), 10:01.
Lake Belton – Wilkerson 2 run (Jackson kick), 5:20.
Yoe – Bynaum 21 run (Martinez kick), 10:11.
Lake Belton – Jaydon Leza 64 pass from Connor Crews (Jackson kick), 9:21.
First downs: Yoe 14; Lake Belton 19.
Rushes-yards: Yoe 27-175; Lake Belton 43-242.
Passing yards: Yoe 157; Lake Belton 166.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Yoe 16-23-1; Lake Belton 11-19-0.
Offensive plays-total yards: Yoe 50-332; Lake Belton 62-408.
Punts-average: Yoe 3-36; Lake Belton 2-36.5.
Fumbles-lost: Yoe 1-1; Lake Belton 2-1.
Penalties-yards: Yoe 4-33; Lake Belton 1-10.
Rushing – Yoe: Ryan Muniz 8-83, Bynaum 14-69, Jaidyn Sanchez 2-13, Fabian Salomon 3-10; Lake Belton: Daniel Hardin 13-81, Hudson 7-60, Wilkerson 13-52, Crews 6-46, Easton Hammond 4-15, team 2-(-12).
Passing – Yoe: Muniz 16-23-1-157; Lake Belton: Crews 7-11-0-125, Hammond 4-8-0-41.
Receiving – Yoe: Kason Goolsby 9-81, Sanchez 6-53, Pharrell Hemphill 1-23; Lake Belton: Leza 3-73, Connor Bartz 3-51, Hudson 3-30, Javeon Wilcox 2-12.