MAKE YOUR MOVE: Academy junior point guard Darion Franklin (left) tries to drive past Rogers defender Zach Davis as teammates Chris Preddie (23), Tanner Rambeau (25) and Trae Rambeau look on during the 18th-ranked Bumblebees' 69-42 victory over the rival Eagles in Tuesday night's District 19-3A first-place battle at The Hive. Senior wing Jaylin McWilliams scored a game-best 26 points and Franklin had 14 as defending champion Academy (11-7) finished 6-0 in the first half of league play. Rogers junior guard Kade Sebek scored 17 points as the Eagles (10-9, 5-1) absorbed their first district defeat. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)



By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


LITTLE RIVER-ACADEMY – Winning the rebounding battle. Running the floor, finding open shooters and sharing the basketball. Pressuring the opponent into turnovers and turning defense into offense. All the things that Academy head coach James Holt wants his Bumblebees aim to do, they did in the second quarter of Tuesday night's District 19-3A first-place showdown against rival Rogers.

Senior wing Jaylin McWilliams scored 11 of his game-leading 26 points in the pivotal second quarter and senior guard Jerry Cephus made three layups in a 35-second span as Academy outscored Rogers 22-4 in that period, propelling the No. 18-ranked Bees to a 69-42 victory over the turnover-plagued Eagles at The Hive.

Junior point guard Darion Franklin scored 14 points and Cephus recorded 11 for two-time defending 19-3A champion Academy (11-7), which completed the first half of league competition at 6-0.

Junior guard Kade Sebek led Rogers with 17 points but was the only scorer in double figures for head coach Austen Stolte's Eagles (10-9, 5-1), who suffered their first district defeat and now have a one-game lead over third-place Cameron Yoe (12-4, 4-2). Senior forward Ben Hutka and senior center Ty Sebek had eight points apiece for Rogers, which was hindered by its 24 turnovers, 13 in the first half.

The clash of 19-3A co-leaders was close through the first quarter as Academy led 19-14, but the Bees then quickly broke the game open during a torrid second period in which McWilliams, Cephus and Franklin scored all 22 of their team's points while Rogers mustered only four points against aggressive defense en route to a 41-18 halftime advantage for Academy's opportunistic squad.

“That second quarter was probably the best we've done in terms of turning people over. We talk about offensively not giving up 1-on-0, catastrophic turnovers, but we want to force those defensively. There was a stretch there where it was steal, layup, steal, layup,” Holt said after Academy's 22nd consecutive district win dating to the 2018-19 season. “If (senior guard) Kollin (Mraz) gets a rebound, he's got a great arm and he'll just fling it down the floor. Jerry did the same thing. We've got guys who are unselfish enough that if somebody's open, they'll throw it up to them. That's tough to find at this level.”

Meanwhile, Rogers made three 3-point baskets in the first quarter – two by Kade Sebek and one by junior guard Jaxon Craig – but only one 3-pointer in the final three periods. The Bees limited the Eagles to a combined 10 points in the second and fourth quarters.

“I thought we really pressured the ball well and did a good job on the boards. Every game I've seen (Rogers) they've just killed teams on offensive rebounds, so that was one of our keys – keeping them to either one shot or, if we could turn them over, no shots,” Holt said. “That's one of the best ways they score, is getting offensive rebounds. They've got (Ty Sebek) inside who's big and (Hutka) is tough to block out, so we really stressed that guys may not be able to get the rebound, but they've got to block those guys out and our guards have to get rebounds. I thought we did a good job of fighting.”

After Rogers scored 14 first-quarter points despite its seven turnovers, the fact that Academy turned up its defensive intensity and allowed only 28 points in the final three quarters was exactly what Holt wanted to see.

“We did a good job of contesting shooters. Rogers has shot well this year in the games we've scouted, so we wanted to put a hand up on shooters and not give them any clean looks. We did a pretty good job of that,” said Holt, whose Bees have permitted 44.3 points per game in district action. “For us to be as good as we can be, we need to be a great defensive team. We pride ourselves on putting pressure on people and holding them to one shot and all the things that good defensive teams do.

“I think we're getting better. We're not where we need to be, but we're trying to get to the point where we're one of the best defensive teams in the state.”

The 6-foot-2 McWilliams was 19-3A's Most Valuable Player last season for Academy's 30-7 team that reached the Class 3A Region III quarterfinals before losing to Crockett in that round for the second straight year. Also a big-play wide receiver and defensive back in football, he missed the final two games of the Bumblebees' playoff season because of a suspension that also forced him to sit out the first 11 games of this basketball season.

McWilliams rejoined the team in late December and Academy is 6-1 since his return after the Bees absorbed six defeats by mid-December as they played a slew of higher-classification and/or state-ranked opponents. His stellar performance against Rogers – highlighted by athletic, slashing moves for close-range baskets – indicates that McWilliams is recapturing the form that helped him become a dominant player last season. That bodes well for the Bees as they strive to win their third straight district title and build momentum for another playoff run.

“Obviously we're a better team with him on the floor. I mean, that's obvious. But even more than that, the chemistry is there,” Holt said. “We had great chemistry last year. The guys all get along. Him being back . . . he's getting in better shape, he's getting back in basketball form. He hadn't played since last February basically, because we couldn't get in the gym very much (due to COVID-19 factors). He's getting back into it and the guys are developing that chemistry that I think is going to help us.”

Academy jumped out to a 8-2 lead against Rogers on baskets by McWilliams, Tanner Rambeau, Franklin and Cephus, but two 3-pointers by wiry guard Kade Sebek and one by Craig helped keep the Eagles afloat before Franklin nailed a 3 from the right corner for a 19-14 Bees lead after the opening quarter.

In the second quarter, it didn't take long for Academy turn a competitive duel into a runaway.

Franklin made a 3 from the right corner, then passed to McWilliams for a point-blank hoop. McWilliams followed with a left-corner 3 for a 29-16 lead. Rogers attempted to halt Academy's charge with a timeout, but it was to no avail. Franklin turned a steal into a layup, then Mraz fired a long pass that McWilliams leaped to catch before laying it in with his left hand.

Another steal-and-score sequence by McWilliams made it a 19-2 run for a 35-16 Bees lead 3:15 before halftime. Kade Sebek finally broke the Rogers drought with a left-elbow jumper, but Cephus provided the final burst of the first half. The senior shooting guard converted a turnover into a left-handed scoop layup, scored easily off a steal and then spun across the lane for a nifty, lefty shot off the glass – three buckets in a 35-second span in the final minute – to give Academy a commanding 41-18 halftime advantage.

The Bees sputtered a bit in the third and rugged post player Ty Sebek scored all eight of his points in that quarter as Rogers outscored Academy 18-12, but five points by senior post Rambeau and a right-corner 3-pointer by sophomore Scout Brazeal allowed the Bees to remain comfortably ahead at 53-36 after three periods.

McWilliams then sealed the outcome with a rapid-fire flurry of four close-range baskets in the first 1:38 of the fourth, punctuated by a high-rising hoop off Franklin's lob pass.

Mraz and junior guards Chris Preddie and Trae Rambeau scored only two points each, but Holt commended their defensive work that helped to limit Rogers to 25 points less than its previous district average of almost 67 per game.

“Those guys had to take the job of guarding their best players, so they spent the whole time guarding Hutka, who's their leading scorer,” Holt said. “They did a good job of that, and that's what they needed to do in this game. We've got a balanced team, so if you take one person away I think we can still be able to put up points, which is what good teams usually have. You have more than just one player.”

Academy begins the second half of its district schedule at Lexington on Friday and will host Caldwell next Tuesday. Rogers seeks to bounce back at home against Florence on Friday before the Eagles host Yoe in a key game next Tuesday.

BOYS BASKETBALL

DISTRICT 19-3A

No. 18 Academy 69, Rogers 42

Rogers 14 4 18 6 – 42

Academy 19 22 12 16 – 69

Rogers (10-9, 5-1) – Kade Sebek 17, Ben Hutka 8, Ty Sebek 8, Zach Davis 4, Jaxon Craig 3, Riley Dolgener 2.

Academy (11-7, 6-0) – Jaylin McWilliams 26, Darion Franklin 14, Jerry Cephus 11, Tanner Rambeau 7, Scout Brazeal 5, Kollin Mraz 2, Chris Preddie 2, Trae Rambeau 2.

3-point field goals – Rogers 4 (K. Sebek 3, Craig 1); Academy 5 (Franklin 2, Brazeal 1, Cephus 1, McWilliams 1).

Free throws – Rogers 4-8; Academy 6-10.

Junior varsity A: Academy 38, Rogers 24.

Junior varsity B: Academy def. Rogers.

#Academy #AcademyBumblebees #AcademyBasketball #AcademyHighSchool #Rogers #RogersEagles #RogersBasketball #RogersHighSchool #TXHShoops #TempleBeltonSports

Updated: Jan 10


ALL-AROUND PERFORMER: After sharing District 12-6A's Most Valuable Player award in 2020, versatile Temple running back Samari Howard – shown blocking a punt in the area-round playoff loss to Rockwall-Heath – will return for his senior season with the Wildcats in 2021. Howard rushed for 1,261 yards and 16 touchdowns, made 24 receptions for 347 yards and six TDs and ran in five 2-point conversions to score 142 total points. Howard and Temple went 7-0 in 12-6A and 10-2 overall, including the Wildcats' first playoff victory as a Class 6A program. (File photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


The Temple Wildcats probably will always carry a feeling that their 2020 football season should have – or at least could have – lasted longer. As a general rule, teams who go undefeated in district and win 10 games believe they should advance beyond the second round of the playoffs.

However, District 12-6A champion Temple drew an extremely difficult matchup in the Class 6A Division II area round against high-scoring Rockwall-Heath, whose relentless offensive attack was too much for the Wildcats to contain or match in their 56-28 loss Dec. 18 at Baylor's McLane Stadium in Waco.

After taking some time away during the holiday break and assessing how Temple's stellar 10-2 season ended, fifth-year head coach Scott Stewart concluded that the Wildcats didn't play to their full potential against Rockwall-Heath and probably needed to do that to have a realistic shot to beat the Hawks, whose outstanding junior quarterback Josh Hoover passed for 446 yards and five touchdowns to highlight a 661-yard, eight-TD overall outburst.

“I don't think it ever comes down to one game. Obviously I think the 'no-duh' statement of the day is we picked a bad night to have a bad night,” Stewart said Tuesday morning before welcoming his players back to campus. “I thought we had opportunities (vs. Rockwall-Heath). I think they're real good. They proved that by beating the No. 7 -ranked team (previously undefeated Cypress Bridgeland by a 48-24 score) the next week.

“They've got the right guys in the right places, and it's just a matchup nightmare – especially when your triggerman is the caliber that guy (Hoover) is mentally. Obviously he's physically gifted, but when a kid understands the offense like a coach does and when a kid understands what the defense is doing like a coach does, if he can spin it, you're going to have problems.”

It's not easy for the fiery Stewart to handle any loss, and he's had three times as many victories (48) as defeats (16) in five playoff seasons of leading Temple's program. He and his staff certainly will take an in-depth look at what the Wildcats could have done better. That would figure to include a thorough examination of what they will need to do better if they get another opportunity against Rockwall-Heath in the playoffs next season, when Hoover and several of his talented weapons will be seniors for head coach Mike Spradlin, Temple's successful head coach from 2011-15.

But Stewart said he witnessed a situation in his pre-Temple past when a team was so hell-bent on avenging a loss from the previous year that it “set the program back five years” when that squad lost again to the same opponent the following season. As such, Stewart said he and the Wildcats won't waste any time or energy talking about a potential playoff rematch with Rockwall-Heath, which reached the Region II final last week before losing 27-24 in overtime to perennial power Cedar Hill.

“What's going to give us a better chance to win that game is what we do today in offseason. I'm never going to circle a date. I couldn't care less if we ever play Rockwall-Heath again,” said Stewart, who was Spradlin's defensive coordinator from 2014-15. “I would love the opportunity to play them again and I will think about that the day that that's confirmed. I'm not going to think about Rockwall-Heath one time between now and next (postseason).”

From Stewart's arrival in Temple in 2014 through the 2017 season, the Wildcats played six opponents in 5A Division I playoff games in consecutive seasons: Corsicana, Houston Stratford, Manvel, Port Arthur Memorial, Richmond Foster and Richmond George Ranch. Temple went 10-2 in those games, including 6-0 in the first meetings. The only rematches the Wildcats lost were against eventual state champion George Ranch in the 2015 Region III final and against eventual state runner-up Manvel in the 2017 Region III final.

Although Temple could dwell on its playoff defeat against Rockwall-Heath, Stewart has tried to break away from that tendency and instead savor the many things the Wildcats achieved in 2020.

Along with its eighth consecutive playoff berth and a fifth district championship in those eight seasons, Temple won its first outright district title since 2015, its first outright league crown in the state's largest classification since 2007 and its first district championship as a 6A program. The Wildcats' 38-0 home victory over bi-district foe Waxahachie on Dec. 11 was their first playoff win as a 6A program, their first postseason victory in the state's largest classification since 2003 and their first playoff shutout since 1993.

In addition, Temple junior running back Samari Howard was voted Co-Most Valuable Player of 12-6A and sophomore middle linebacker Taurean York was selected as Defensive MVP of the district.

The fact that Temple accomplished so many noteworthy things while experiencing the unique challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic – including no spring practice, the start of the season being delayed four weeks and its rivalry clash with Belton being canceled (the Tigers forfeited) – added another layer to Stewart's pride in the Wildcats' season.


STEADY SUCCESS: Scott Stewart has guided Temple to the playoffs in all five seasons as the Wildcats' head coach, and their District 12-6A championship this season was Temple's first outright league title in the state's largest classification since 2007. The Wildcats won 10 games before their season ended with a 56-28 defeat against Rockwall-Heath in the Class 6A Division II area round. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



“To me, it's about reflection of what you accomplished. I've always by nature been a half-empty guy and I'm trying to get away from that. I'm very proud of these seniors for just the legacy of how to deal with adversity,” Stewart said. “And that's statewide; that's not a Temple thing. These young men and women have had to deal with stuff that you or I never had to worry about, that never was a blip on the radar. To do that and to find a way to stay focused and come away with a couple of gold balls, it's a special group.

“You talk about a murderers' row of who's on the other sideline; it's a murderers' row just to make sure you're out there week in and week out. The way these kids handled those situations . . . to my knowledge, we didn't put ourselves in precarious situations where we'd have to be shut down. I'm just real proud of this group for dealing with those external distractions. Being a teenager in 2020 would be tough enough, but then you throw in a pandemic.”

Senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi was emblematic of Temple's team making the most of its opportunity amidst the uncertainly that 2020 brought. The junior varsity quarterback as a junior, Arizmendi won a close preseason competition with sophomore standout Mikal Harrison-Pilot to become the starting QB.

Arizmendi helped the Wildcats set the tone for their year by throwing four touchdown passes in a statement-making, season-opening 40-13 win over Longview at Arlington's AT&T Stadium, giving Temple some revenge for its 41-10 loss to the host Lobos in the 2019 bi-district playoffs. Blending sharp passing and effective running, Arizmendi threw for 2,102 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushed for 707 yards on his way to earning first-team all-district recognition.

Harrison-Pilot joined him on the first-team all-league squad after moving to receiver and making 38 catches for 502 yards and seven touchdowns, along with rushing for the go-ahead TD late in the Wildcats' 27-24 win at Killeen Shoemaker that clinched Temple's outright district championship.

After the playoff defeat, Arizmendi discussed what it meant to him to be a part of a tight-knit Wildcats team that overcame numerous obstacles to produce a superb season that long will be remembered.

“I'd say the relationships we built and the family that grew (are most important). It was one of the most outstanding things you could ever witness,” Arizmendi said. “Coach Stewart said it was never about winning or losing. It was all about us being a family. Like he said, four months ago we didn't even think we were going to play football, and now look at where we are.”

The Wildcats' balanced, explosive offense of coordinator Josh Sadler compiled 503 yards against Rockwall-Heath and averaged 418.5 yards for the season despite having a first-year varsity player at quarterback and four first-year starters on a line whose two coaches were in their first year at Temple.

Looking ahead to the 2021 season, the strong-armed, elusive Harrison-Pilot is expected to take over as the Wildcats' quarterback, which would be his third starting position in three years; he was a second-team all-district pick at free safety as a freshman in 2019. A prototypical dual-threat QB, the 6-foot, 185-pound Harrison-Pilot already has scholarship offers from Baylor, Houston (where his father, Temple defensive assistant coach Chris Pilot, played football) and Oregon State.

The Wildcats have had five senior starting quarterbacks in Stewart's five seasons as head coach, and the first four – Reid Hesse, TJ Rumfield, Jared Wiley (Texas) and Vance Willis – were district offensive players of the year before Arizmendi contended for that award in 2020.


SAME FACE, NEW PLACE? Temple sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot, shown scoring the go-ahead touchdown run in the Wildcats' 27-24 win at Killeen Shoemaker that clinched the outright District 12-6A championship, was a first-team all-district receiver in 2020 after making 38 catches for 502 yards and seven TDs. The strong-armed, mobile Harrison-Pilot is projected to become Temple's starting quarterback next season, succeeding first-team all-district senior QB Humberto Arizmendi. (File photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Harrison-Pilot gives Temple the prospect of having its first multiple-season starting QB since Hesse started the final 10 games for the 12-2 Wildcats in 2015 and helped lead them a 12-4 record and a berth in the 5A Division I state championship game in 2016. The last time Temple began a season with a non-senior as its starting quarterback was 2013, when then-junior Chad President (now Rockwall-Heath's QBs coach) suffered a season-ending knee injury in the third game before he returned to help fuel Temple's 2014 team to a 13-2 record and a trip to the 5A D-I state title game.

Stewart said he believes Harrison-Pilot will develop and flourish after getting to go through a full offseason in Temple's quarterback training program. However, Harrison-Pilot's all-out playing style and willingness to absorb hard hits means that the Wildcats also will need to prepare a viable backup QB. Senior-to-be Kaleb Hill and incoming sophomore Damarion Willis are among the options.

With productive wide receivers AJ McDuffy (Texas Southern) and Luke Allen graduating and Harrison-Pilot switching to quarterback, small-but-speedy incoming senior Tr'Darius Taylor (18 receptions, 345 yards, four touchdowns) and senior-to-be Michael Heckstall will be counted on to lead the receiving corps next season. Expect incoming senior tight end Ke'Andre Smith to play a larger role in the passing game.

Temple cobbled together a surprisingly effective offensive line this season, with excellent chemistry making up for its relative lack of size and standouts. Senior-to-be tackle Colby Rice will be the only returning starter, but Stewart thinks the Wildcats have several younger linemen who will make an impact.

The most dangerous weapon Temple's offense will have in its arsenal in 2021 is Howard, who shared 12-6A's MVP award with versatile Shoemaker senior and Baylor signee Monaray Baldwin. Simultaneously a long-distance threat and a durable workhorse, the do-it-all Howard dominated in his second varsity season. He rushed for 1,261 yards and 16 touchdowns, caught 24 passes for 347 yards and six TDs and scored five 2-point conversions for 142 total points, along with aptly handling various other duties as assigned.

“He returns punts, he returns kicks, he blocks punts, he holds (on kicks), he plays plays receiver, he plays quarterback and he plays running back,” Stewart said of Howard, 12-6A's Offensive Newcomer of the Year in 2019 after rushing for 966 yards and 13 touchdowns as a running back and fill-in QB.

Stewart said he hopes incoming senior Jalen Robinson (209 rushing yards, three TDs) will form a potent 1-2 punch with Howard next season to lighten Howard's workload by at least a small amount. The coach added that sophomore-to-be running back Jer'vonnie Williams is an intriguing prospect.

As for defense of coordinator Dexter Knox, Temple entered its second-round clash with Rockwall-Heath allowing only 263 yards per game and had permitted a combined six points in its previous two games, including the first-round shutout of Waxahachie, which produced just 152 yards. Temple's defenders shut out several teams for entire halves, including Longview, Magnolia West, Copperas Cove, Bryan and Killeen.

So, what happened to the Wildcats' previously stingy defense against Rockwall-Heath? Well, Rockwall-Heath happened. The same prolific, fast-paced offense that Spradlin used to rack up incredible amounts of yards and points in his five seasons at Temple proved to be the ultimate downfall for this season's Wildcats, who allowed 11 more points against the Hawks than they did in their preceding four games combined (45).

Rockwall-Heath rushed for 215 yards despite losing star junior running back Zach Evans to a first-half knee injury (rugged senior Preston Landis rushed for 169 yards and three touchdowns), and Hoover's 25 completed passes – with no interceptions in 33 attempts – averaged 17.8 yards as Temple's usually active couldn't disrupt Hoover's well-timed intermediate throws or his long-range bombs to fleet-footed juniors Jay Fair and Jordan Nabors.

“I don't think we 'busted' any coverages. Obviously you want to put a premium on technique, which we always talk about. I don't how to do anything different. The plan works,” Stewart explained about the defensive strategy against Rockwall-Heath. “I think the big deal – and probably what Mike Spradlin would tell you, too – is when you don't match up well (defensively) on the edges, that's the first thing they look at: 'What does that matchup look like?' Because then that quarterback post-snap can tell you where the help's coming from, who has help, who doesn't.

“We even tried to roll (coverage) the other way, and he was just going to where we weren't rolling. That's a 1-on-1 matchup, and if you can't consistently cover guys who are probably better than you are at a specific position (it's difficult to contain the offense). Because if you want to max-load it, they're also good enough to run the football. They're huge up front and they're well-coached. I mean, that's what that offense does. That's why we run it. You have to match up well. We knew that going in.”

Stewart also lamented the fact that Temple defenders were unable to intercept a couple of early Hoover passes, preventing turnovers that could have given the Wildcats much-needed momentum.

“First drive, we put our hands on two passes. When a kid of that caliber makes a mistake, you've got to come way with it, and we just didn't catch the ball. And I don't think we touched another ball for the rest of the night,” he said. “You're not going to beat somebody that good if you don't make them pay for their mistakes.”

Since Temple rose from 5A to 6A in 2018, its defense hasn't been able to withstand the explosive, well-rounded attacks of the teams who have eliminated the Wildcats. In its 6A playoff losses (45-38 vs. Mesquite Horn in 2018, 41-10 at Longview in 2019 and then Rockwall-Heath), Temple has allowed 20 touchdowns and per-game averages of 47.3 points and 602.7 yards (322.7 passing, 280 rushing).

While Temple's offense will graduate seven starters, its defense projects to have seven starters coming back along with versatile senior-to-be Johnny Donoso, who can play any safety or linebacker position as needed.

It's rare for the Wildcats to graduate both starting cornerbacks at once, but they'll need to replace first-team all-district performer Keon Williams and Carlton Mack. Stewart said seniors-to-be Tristan Cohorn and Jalen Wardale are the leading contenders to start at cornerback next season.

Temple also must replace two playmaking senior linemen in first-team all-district nose tackle Jayven Taylor (66 tackles, 15 for loss) and second-team all-league tackle Cody Little (35 tackles, 4½ sacks). Jaylon Jackson likely will rise into a starting role after playing well as a sophomore, and coaches think sophomore-to-be Ayden Brown has the ability to contend for a starting job at the other tackle spot.


HUNGRY FOR MORE: Sophomore linebacker Taurean York (left) and junior ends Eric Shorter (13) and Tommy Torres will return for Temple's defense next season. York was voted District 12-6A's Defensive Most Valuable Player after making a team-high 94 tackles as a 15-year-old. Shorter (65 tackles, 14 for loss, 5.5 sacks) was a first-team all-district pick, and Torres (37 tackles, 4.5 sacks) was a second-team all-league pick. Temple's defense shut out Waxahachie in a bi-district playoff game but allowed 56 points and 661 yards a week later against area-round opponent Rockwall-Heath. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Otherwise, the Wildcats' defense should return intact. The precocious York (94 tackles) led Temple in stops for the second straight year and earned 12-6A's Defensive MVP honor as a 15-year-old. Stewart said York made a huge jump this season in terms of understanding how the entire defense operates.

The Wildcats are in excellent shape at defensive end as feisty first-team all-district performer Eric Shorter (65 tackles, 14 for loss, 5½ sacks) and second-team all-league pick Tommy Torres (37 tackles, 4½ sacks) – an emerging, imposing force at 6-5, 255 pounds – will be back for more as seniors.

Temple also expects big things next season from four other incoming seniors: first-team all-district free safety O'Tarian Peoples, second-team all-league safety Jaden Jackson (48 tackles), second-team all-district outside linebacker/strong safety Marshall Grays (37 tackles, team-high three interceptions) and linebacker Faylin Lee (42 tackles, two interceptions).

On special teams, Temple's top kicker in 2021 will be someone other than four-year starter Aaron Wagaman for the first time since 2016. The left-footed Wagaman, a two-time first-team all-district pick, scored 67 points as a senior and fell 10 points short of breaking Lache Seastrunk's Temple career record of 312. Wagaman also handled punts and kickoffs in 2020. Incoming senior Danis Bajric likely will take over Wagaman's duties, while Tr'Darius Taylor and Howard again will be dangerous on kick returns.

Temple's program clearly is in a good place and on the upswing, with a slew of talented and productive players primed to add to its success next season. Improving whatever weak spots the Wildcats have identified will be vital, because Stewart has penciled in a state-powerhouse opponent for the 2021 season opener at Wildcat Stadium: Austin Westlake.

The Chaparrals of veteran head coach Todd Dodge won the 6A Division II state championship in 2019, and on Saturday third-ranked Westlake (13-0) defeated No. 1-ranked and two-time defending 6A Division I state champion Galena Park North Shore 24-21 in a state semifinal.

And one more thing: Temple very well might have to get past Rockwall-Heath and Spradlin's relentless offense in an area-round rematch to advance farther in the playoffs than the Wildcats did in their special 2020 season. It certainly won't be easy, but then again, nothing in 6A Region II football is.

“The message they're fixing to hear is, 'Congratulations on a good season.' We're going to wrap that up and recap it,” Stewart said before he addressed his team Tuesday. “We have to find an inch. Nobody's going to turn their nose up at 10 wins, but I didn't come to Temple for 10 wins. You come to a place like this to hopefully at some point be a perennial four, five, six rounds (deep in the playoffs as a program). So we've got to find that inch. We're not far off.

“And this is the hard part. I've said it from the day I got the job: Going from bad to good is easy. Going from good to great is a little bit harder. Going from great to elite . . . that's one of the toughest things. It's about inches. Why are we willing to play Westlake? Because that's a representation of what the best in the country looks like. So I want to know what it feels like, what it smells like and what it tastes like. And I want these kids to know that."

#Temple #TempleWildcats #TempleFootball #TempleHighSchool #RockwallHeath #TXHSFB #Football2020 #Football2021 #TempleBeltonSports


RISE AND FIRE: Belton junior forward TJ Johnson (44) takes a jump shot over Killeen Ellison defender Kesean Garland as teammates Trap Johnson (23), Luke Bramlett (4) and Ruben Jimenez look on during the Tigers' 70-51 loss to the ninth-ranked Eagles in Friday night's District 12-6A game at Tiger Gym. Trap Johnson, a freshman, scored 18 points and his brother TJ Johnson had 15, but Belton (12-3, 3-1) posted its lowest point total this season and suffered its first home defeat. Javon Walker made seven 3-point shots and scored 25 points for defending 12-6A champion Ellison (16-1), which moved to 3-1 in league play. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)



By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


BELTON – The Belton Tigers entered Friday night in a position that was both rare and ideal: alone at the top of the District 12-6A boys basketball standings at 3-0. But by the time the evening ended, they found themselves in a five-way logjam for the league lead.

For Belton, there were several culprits in its 70-51 loss to ninth-ranked and defending district champion Killeen Ellison at Tiger Gym.

A huge problem was the lethal outside marksmanship of Javon Walker, Ellison's slender senior shooting guard who torched the Tigers' defense and the nets for seven 3-point baskets – five in the second quarter alone – on his way to a game-high 25 points, 18 before halftime.

Another big factor was a season-low point total for Belton. High-scoring junior forward TJ Johnson didn't make a 3-point shot and was limited to 15 points, well below his previous average of 27.9. Freshman guard Trap Johnson, TJ Johnson's brother, made four 3-pointers and scored a team-high 18 points, but senior guards Kayden Downs and Ben Jones produced only six and one points, respectively.

By comparison, those four players scored a combined 77 points in Belton's 82-67 win at Copperas Cove on Tuesday. Considering that head coach Jason Fossett's Tigers (12-3, 3-1) committed 20 turnovers – many of them against the Eagles' pressure defense – and made only three free throws, it clearly wasn't their night against perennial power Ellison (16-1, 3-1), which last season won 34 games and reached the Class 6A Region II final.

“We were definitely off, for sure – probably the worst game we've played all year,” TJ Johnson said after Belton's first home loss this season. “They did have tough man-to-man defense, but I don't think that was the main problem. I think the main problem was that we couldn't seem to get anything to go in the hoop. If we can have two or three guys hitting shots, we're going to win games. But whenever all five can't get it in, it's going to tough to win.”

Trendon Stewart scored 14 points, Dante Tutein had 10 and Jamyron Keller added nine as the Eagles of veteran head coach Alberto Jones Jr. bounced back in a big way after a 41-35 loss at Harker Heights on Tuesday that snapped their 35-game regular-season winning streak and their run of 23 consecutive district victories.

“We didn't shoot it good period for the whole night, but I give a lot of credit to Ellison for that. They are really, really good defensively and Coach Jones does a great job on the defensive end over there,” said Fossett, whose Tigers now share the 12-6A lead with Ellison, Harker Heights, Killeen Shoemaker and Bryan at 3-1 and will host Bryan next Tuesday and Shoemaker next Friday. “But I was more disappointed with what we did defensively.”

To be more specific, Fossett said Belton's strategy on defense was to limit the 3-point shooting opportunities of dynamic 6-1 sophomore point guard Keller and Walker, the long-distance gunner.

Keller made only 3-pointer and Belton held him far below his normal scoring output, though the muscular two-year starter boost Ellison's cause in many other ways. But it was Walker's quick-trigger release and potent accuracy that repeatedly made the Tigers pay.

After making one 3-pointer in the first quarter, Walker exploded for five 3s in his second-period barrage – punctuated by one with 3 seconds remaining – to give Ellison a commanding 39-24 lead. Belton never got closer than 12 points during the second half.

“We had talked about the couple of guys that we had to focus in on, and we go in at half and (Walker's) hit six 3-pointers. I mean, mentally that wasn't very good,” said Fossett, who sounded both annoyed and amused when he mentioned that Ellison nailed eight 3-pointers against his Tigers after the Eagles made zero 3s in their loss at Harker Heights. “(Walker's) an excellent shooter, a great shooter. It's a quick release. They're all good players over there. But with them, you've got to pick your poison, and those were the two guys we kind of picked, and we didn't do a very good job on either one of them.

“It was a group effort. We talked about it as a team: 'Hey, let's guard these two guys and try to make some of those other guys beat us.' But we didn't do a very good job.”

TJ Johnson and Trap Johnson scored a combined 10 points in the second quarter, but that wasn't nearly enough to keep pace with Walker's 15-point outburst in the period as Ellison built a comfortable 15-point halftime lead.

“It was really frustrating,” TJ Johnson said. “We knew before the game that he and Keller were the two guys we needed to focus on. We did a good job on (Keller), but (Walker) . . . I felt like our defense wasn't terrible on him. I mean, we had a hand in his face. He was just hitting shots.”

In Belton's previous home game, TJ Johnson made five of the Tigers' 17 3-pointers and scored 28 points – right on his season average – in a 78-58 romp over Killeen on Dec. 29. The 6-foot-6 third-year starter poured in 26 points in the Tigers' 15-point victory at Cove, where Jones and Trap Johnson produced 20 points each.

However, TJ Johnson and most of his fellow Belton shooters struggled to consistently find their stroke against the length and athleticism of Ellison's deep squad. Trap Johnson made four of the Tigers' eight 3-pointers, but Downs was scoreless until he made two 3s in the final 2:16, long after the Eagles had sealed the outcome.

“You're not going to shoot good every night. We were due to have a rough shooting night, and we did tonight,” Fossett said. “But again, Ellison had a lot to do with it. They put more pressure and are up in you more. We've got to put it behind us and not let it beat us twice. We've got a big week next week with Bryan and Shoemaker, both at home.”

Added TJ Johnson: “We're looking to win them both, obviously. Those are two games that I feel like we should win. They're really big games if we want to make the playoffs.”

Trap Johnson scored inside off a pass from Jones 31 seconds into the game. What Belton didn't know at that point was that it would be its last advantage of the night. Keller made a 15-foot jumper and grabbed an offensive rebound and scored a putback basket before Jayce Wright's fast-break layup off Keller's pass for a 6-2 Ellison lead. The first of Walker's seven 3-pointers helped the Eagles surge to a 17-6 advantage before a 3 by senior Ruben Jimenez cut Belton's deficit to 17-10 after the first quarter.

After Stewart's banked-in shot off a lob pass, Walker's outside shooting began to decimate the Tigers' defense. He made two 3s from the right corner in a span of 1:12, though a pair of Trap Johnson 3-pointers from the right side and TJ Johnson's back-to-back inside buckets kept Belton within striking distance at 30-20 with 3:36 remaining before halftime.

However, Walker seemingly released the ball as soon as he caught it as he drilled 3-pointers from the right corner, the right wing and – following a 3 by Belton senior guard Luke Bramlett – finally the left wing 3 seconds before the buzzer to flummox the Tigers' defense and propel Ellison to a 39-24 halftime lead.

“We did a lot better job on defense in the second half, but in the first half he got us,” TJ Johnson said of Walker's long-range prowess.

The Johnson brothers attempted to keep the Tigers afloat in the third quarter, with Trap making a left-wing 3 and getting the roll on a 10-foot jumper and TJ driving for a basket and scoring off a pass from junior Seth Morgan. But even while holding Walker without a 3-pointer in the third (he did score two 2-point buckets), Belton couldn't cut into Ellison's lead, which thanks to Stewart's eight-point period grew to 56-38 entering the fourth.

Trap Johnson scored a tough bucket inside to begin the final quarter, but Walker responded with his seventh 3 – he made eight 3s in a game earlier this season – and the Eagles led by as many as 22 in the fourth.

Trap Johnson provided a bright spot on an otherwise rough night for the Tigers, scoring a team-high 18 points even as the 6-2 freshman endured some ball-handling hardships against Ellison's intense pressure defense.

“No fear. He's not a freshman anymore,” Fossett said. “The experience he's getting playing against Ellison is invaluable."

Added TJ Johnson about his brother's mixed-bag performance: “I remember when I was a freshman (starting on varsity), games like this were really tough. You've never seen speed like that before. I think this was his first real experience with the quickness and athleticism of those guys, so I think he'll be better prepared next time. I thought he did good. It's a big difference between middle school basketball and coming to play No. 9 Ellison.”

DISTRICT 12-6A BOYS BASKETBALL

No. 9 KILLEEN ELLISON 70,

BELTON 51

Ellison 17 22 17 14 – 70

Belton 10 14 14 13 – 51

Ellison (16-1, 3-1) – Javon Walker 25, Trendon Stewart 14, Dante Tutein 10, Jamyron Keller 9, Kesean Garland 7, Jayce Wright 5.

Belton (12-3, 3-1) – Trap Johnson 18, TJ Johnson 15, Kayden Downs 6, Luke Bramlett 5, Ruben Jimenez 3, Seth Morgan 3, Ben Jones 1.

3-point field goals – Ellison: 8 (Walker 7, Keller 1); Belton: 8 (Tr. Johnson 4, Downs 2, Bramlett 1, Jimenez 1).

Free throws – Ellison 6-10; Belton 3-8.

Junior varsity – Ellison 71, Belton 50.

Freshman – Ellison 80, Belton Red 53; Ellison 41, Belton White 15.

#Belton #BeltonTigers #BeltonBasketball #BeltonHighSchool #KilleenEllison #EllisonEagles #TXHShoops #TempleBeltonSports

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