By Tony Adams, Sports Editor, The Belton Journal
Photo credit: BHS Tiger Media
The Belton Tigers Football team will start their playoff drive on Friday night on the road at No. 22 Rockwall at 7:30 p.m.
Coverage of the game from Wilkerson-Sanders Memorial Stadium will start at 7 p.m. with the Schoepf’s Bar-B-Que Tigers Pregame show on K-Rock 101.7 FM, KRock1017FM.com, K Rock 1017 app and Alexa Skill “Play K Rock.” Belton Journal Sports Editor Tony Adams, longtime Belton coach Chuck Douglas, and former UMHB offensive/defensive lineman Oliver Stone will have the call from Rockwall.
Belton goes into the Class 6A Division I playoffs with a 7-3 overall record, 6-2 in District 12-6A in 2018.
The Tigers are coming off of a 53-21 loss in Hewitt to Midway. All three losses for Belton this season have come against Class 6A Top 30 opponents.
The offense played well at times against the Panthers. They struggled at times to get momentum going after some uncharacteristic errors, some preventable and some forced by the aggressive Midway defense.
“Thought our offense came out and played well at the start of the game,” Belton head coach Sam Skidmore said. “But in big games you can’t turn the ball over and have to be able to take advantage of your opportunities.
“We had a decent first half and struggled in the second half,” Belton offensive coordinator Brian Cope said. “We couldn’t get into a rhythm and that hurt us.  We had our chances but had some missed opportunities.”
The defense played well in patches, especially with holding the powerful Panther offense in check in the third quarter. But James Fullbright was able to get churning averaging nine yards a carry and their running game averaged six yards a carry. Nick Jimenez was able to use Will Nixon and D’Ante Thomas to get big gains. Trey Berry was able to get the lone takeaway for the Tigers with an interception.
“We didn’t execute our best in the first half, but I was really proud of the defense in the third quarter,” Skidmore said. “I thought they did a better job tackling and executing the game plan.”
“We played well the third quarter, but we didn’t play well the rest of the game,” Belton defensive coordinator Bryce Monsen said. “Our tackling wasn’t good and we had way too many busts.”
Knowing that Belton-Midway was going to be a tune-up for bi-district playoffs, deficiencies were picked up and worked on throughout the week.
“Every chance you get to play in a real game makes you better,” Cope said. “We will fix our mistakes and find a way to be ready to go on Friday night in Rockwall.”
Rockwall is coming off of a bye week out of District 11-6A’s final week. They are 7-2 overall (outscored opponents 438-230) and finished 5-1 in the district (outscored opponents 274-115), with their lone district loss to No. 4 Longview at home 42-35. They lost at Highland Park 49-42.
Since the Longview loss, the Yellowjackets have won five straight games by a total of 239-73.
The Yellowjackets play in a competitive district, in which they played a ranked Longview Lobos team close at home (L 42-35) and a very good Highland Park team on Scots Field (L 49-42). They average 48.7 points per ballgame. Jacob Clark is a very skilled quarterback, with solid receivers in Jaxon Smith, JJ Williams, Logan Claborn, and Kade Klinkovsky. Zach Henry provides good change of pace at the running back position, and they have a big offensive line (Mathew Joyce, Landon Gibson, Luis Escobedo, Carson Haynes, Keyton Lueb).
Belton’s starting 3-4 defense is comprised of Devin Martinez and Octavius Davis at the defensive ends, JJ Bowers and Isidro Martinez at defensive tackles, Patrick Frazho, Sam Ramirez, and Jarrett Karnowski at the linebacker spots, Trey Berry and Devyn Raper at the corners, and Tanner Holman and Jason Stephens are the safety positions.
“They do a great job getting the ball in space and getting it out quick,” Skidmore said. “They have a lot of talent outside and their QB does a great job with his reads and is very accurate.”
“They have a very good offense,” Monsen said. “Their offensive lineman are big and they run block and pass block extremely well. They tempo fast and they has caused a lot of problems for teams. Also, their QB is very skilled. He has a lot of good receivers to throw to and they use them well. They are very good in the screen game and their receivers can go the distance at any time.”
The Tigers’ offense averages 286.3 yards per game through the air and 150.2 yards per game on the ground.
Ruben Jimenez (44-of-74, 717 yards, 10 TDs, three INTs, 23 carries, 75 yards) will start at quarterback. Marques Aguilar (107-553, nine TDs) will start at running back, with D’emante Smith (47-262, three TDs) entering in certain situations. Anthony Brown (66-1,038, 14 TDs), Denver Holman (44-636, five TDs), Anthony Fairbanks (33-580, five TDs), and Jose Perez (27-357, seven TDs) will get the start at the four wide receiver positions. The H-back/tight end is Anthony Peters. The starting offensive line is Josh Maxwell, Chris Brown, Jawaun Howard, Jacob Sinkwich, and Thomas Bowman.
Rockwall has a skilled defensive unit that averages 25.6 points per game defensively. Anfernee Orji and Tyler Ashworth are their leading tacklers in the secondary, and Anthony Fernandez and Riley Pevler are two of their solid linebackers.
Their 33 stack is comprised of Rocky Hill, Derek Harris, and Gabe Howard at the front of the set, Fernandez, Pevler, and Cole McMahan at the back of it. The members of the secondary are Elijah Coleman and Logan Carlon at the corners, PJ Barber is the nickelback, and Anfernee Orji and Tyler Ashworth are the safeties.
“They run a 33 stack and bring a lot of pressure,” Skidmore said. “They try and force you into mistakes with very aggressive play.”
“Rockwall runs a 3-3 stack defense and they blitz so much I think I saw a play where they came out of the press box to blitz,” Cope said. “We must do our job on the o line and handle our gap along with executing our plays on the perimeter. They are very sound and attacking defense so you can’t wait back to have something happen.  You have to take it to them with our tempo and our speed to be successful on Friday night.”
Special teams have been game-changers this season for the Tigers, with Logan Smith (53-57 PAT, 6-10 FGs, 51-yard long, 36.7 punt average) and Denver Holman (487 kick return yards, 284 punt return yards, four TDs) being huge contributors. For the Yellowjackets, it’s no different with Jaxon Smith handling their punt returns (6-174, 44-yard long this season), Logan Claborn handling punting (40.2 yards per punt), and Landry Poppen (48-51 PAT, 7-11 FG, long 42) handling kicking.
“They pose a lot of problems on special teams, they use two kickers at the same time on kickoff so you can’t ever set up a return and they will onside kick quite often,” Skidmore said.
Longest road trip of the year coming up and 1-0 is certainly the goal for every round coming up. It all starts with good preparation, good mental attitude, and good focus.
“We need to execute better, fly around, and play physical football,” Skidmore said.
“Offensively, we must limit our turnovers and win the big play battle,” Cope said. “It will start for us on the perimeter.”
Heading to the Metroplex to play football is a tough task at any time. But when you are doing it in November and December, the potential for magic is always there.
“They have to realize that nothing is guaranteed from this point forward,” Skidmore said. “Every day you have to come out and practice like that with that mentality.”
“Nothing better than playoff time in Texas,” Cope said. “This is the hardest playoff system in the nation.  We are looking forward to a great opportunity on Friday night.”

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Tony Adams
Sports Editor - The Belton Journal
Member of the Texas Sports Writers Association
(254) 939-5754