READY FOR ANOTHER TEST: Senior wide receiver AJ McDuffy (left) and junior running back Samari Howard each caught a third-quarter touchdown from senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi (four TD passes) in Temple's season-opening 40-13 win over state-ranked Longview last Friday night at Arlington's AT&T Stadium. They challenge another strong opponent when coach Scott Stewart's Wildcats travel to play Magnolia West (1-0) – coached by former Temple assistant Blake Joseph – at 7 p.m. Friday at Mustang Stadium. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
MAGNOLIA – The Temple Wildcats received plenty of credit and statewide acclaim after their season-opening 40-13 win over Longview last Friday night at Arlington's AT&T Stadium, and deservedly so.
Only 10½ months after Temple trudged off the field at Lobo Stadium following a 41-10 loss to then-unbeaten Longview in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game, the Wildcats began their 2020 campaign by outscoring the Lobos – who came in ranked No. 3 in 5A Division I – 30-0 in the second half to produce a statement-making 27-point victory.
In fact, Temple was selected by Texas Football magazine as the state's 6A team of the week.
However, Wildcats fifth-year head coach Scott Stewart has been in the game and business of football long enough to know that regardless of how Temple had fared against Longview, its players would have to report back to practice Monday with a focused, forward-looking approach entering this Friday's 7 p.m. road test against Magnolia West at Mustang Stadium.
By the way, it was Magnolia West (1-0) – coached by former Temple assistant Blake Joseph – that Texas Football picked as the state's 5A team of the week after the Mustangs won 48-28 at Brenham.
“What you have to manage and what you have to thwart, especially with a young team, is (to say), 'Look what happened. We've got this figured out,'” Stewart said Tuesday afternoon. “So we are taking measures to make sure their mind-set is in the right spot.”
Without going into much detail, Stewart made it clear that he didn't like the way his players – perhaps still riding the high of their televised triumph over Longview and the weekend full of congratulations that came after it – approached practice when they came back Monday.
“Monday was not as intense as last Monday, and that's not OK. The mental intensity wasn't there, and the physical intensity wasn't there,” said Stewart, who put the Wildcats through rigorous full-pads workouts early last week to prepare them for a Longview program whose hallmarks include excellent size and speed. “I told them, 'We can go full pads all week long. We can come in Friday morning and do full pads if that's what it's going to take.' Some of it is they just played a heck of a physical football game, and you get into that recovery mode. Obviously we back off of them of them on Saturday and then Sunday they do nothing.
“What we've got to teach a young group is that Monday flips the switch back on. You don't flip the switch on Thursday. You dang sure don't flip the switch on Friday. That's something you just have to learn and something we have to get their attention with. That's kind of what we did (Tuesday). On a Tuesday we usually watch film. We went out and did some extracurricular activity with a couple of the groups, just to make them understand that, 'You didn't turn on your switch on Monday, so I am going to turn it on on Tuesday.' It's just that those kind of things can snowball one way or the other.”
Another factor to consider is that although Temple took full advantage of numerous turnovers and penalties by mistake-plagued Longview to eventually pull away from the Lobos during the second half, the Wildcats trailed 13-10 at halftime after making plenty of miscues of their own. So while the 27-point victory over a perennial state power certainly looks good on paper and smartphone screens, Stewart realizes that Temple has plenty of areas it needs to shore up as its three-game non-district schedule progresses.
“If you go watch any 10 plays (from the Temple-Longview game) at random that were not scoring drives or turnovers, and you just watched those 10 plays for what they were, what you're watching is not a 40-13 game,” Stewart said. “Longview flat running got after our offensive line and at times they kind of pushed us around on the defensive line.
“One of the cliché statements of my life and that I've used forever, for two decades, is, 'The biggest room in the house is the room for improvement.' We have plenty to improve upon, especially on the O-line. They kind of got after us. They were huge, and they're not as big as Magnolia West.”
With a new-look starting offensive line of senior left tackle Alex Rodriguez, senior left guard Kai Lynn, senior center Matthew Frye, senior right guard Allen Camacho and junior right tackle Colby Rice, Temple rushed for only 37 yards on 24 carries against Longview's stout defensive front.
Of course, the Wildcats made up for that struggle by carving up the Lobos' defense with an efficient passing game spearheaded by senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi. Making not only his first career start but also his varsity debut, Arizmendi completed 21 of 28 passes (his only big mistake was a first-quarter interception) for 213 yards and four touchdowns – a 38-yard connection with speedy junior Tr'Darius Taylor in the second quarter and a trio of scoring strikes in the game-changing third quarter: 10 yards to senior AJ McDuffy, 4 yards to senior Luke Allen and 19 yards to versatile junior running back Samari Howard to build a commanding 31-13 lead.
With Arizmendi performing at a high level after emerging from a preseason competition with sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot for the starting quarterback position, Stewart said Arizmendi will continue to start but that Temple's coaching staff will continue to look for opportunities to get talented runner Harrison-Pilot some snaps at QB. The sophomore played one short series at QB against Longview but made his mark by starting at receiver and catching five Arizmendi passes for 26 yards.
“I think it's a matchup-type deal. Not that Humberto can't run it, but I think would all agree that his strong suit is spinning the ball, so we're probably not going to put him in any undue situations,” said Stewart, who's had a different senior starting quarterback in each of his five seasons as Temple's head coach. “But if (opposing defenses') schemes look susceptible to the quarterback run game, I wouldn't (hesitate) to have Mikal in there.”
Stewart had special praise for his defense, which against Longview got a team-leading 13 tackles from sophomore linebacker Taurean York and an interception from junior strong safety/outside linebacker Marshall Grays. Senior nose guard Jayven Taylor created a safety and the Wildcats recovered three Lobos fumbles, highlighted by junior free safety O'Tarian Peoples' 28-yard touchdown return late in the game. And Temple limited Longview star senior running back Kaden Meredith to 91 rushing yards and no TDs after he charged for 248 yards and a long score in last year's postseason clash.
Also impressing Stewart last week was the manner in which his team handled the road trip to Arlington, the distractions that come with playing in the Dallas Cowboys' palatial home stadium and the unusual 8:10 p.m. kickoff in front of a regional television audience.
“I think it's good potentially if you can figure out a way to make the playoffs,” Stewart said of the long road trip. “I don't know how there could be any more distractions imposed on anyone than what happened last week. We sat in traffic for an hour (in Waco). I was very impressed, because that takes a mental focus that a lot of younger groups don't have. I was proud of that.”
After its game at Magnolia West, Temple will play its home opener against Arlington Martin (0-1) at 7 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium before the Wildcats begin their seven-game District 12-6A schedule Oct. 16 at Copperas Cove. Temple shared last year's 12-6A championship with Waco Midway. The Wildcats will be home for four of their final six games.
Eight Wildcats selected as team captains
Eight Wildcats were chosen as team captains in voting among Temple's players, Stewart said. They are senior wide receiver Luke Allen, senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi, senior offensive guard Allen Camacho, senior wide receiver AJ McDuffy, senior offensive tackle Alex Rodriguez, senior nose guard Jayven Taylor, junior running back Samari Howard and sophomore linebacker Taurean York.
Magnolia West picking up steam in Year 2
with former Temple assistant coach Joseph
If there's one head coach who won't ever underestimate Temple, it's Magnolia West second-year head coach Blake Joseph. From 2013-15, he coached receivers for head coach Mike Spradlin's high-scoring Wildcats squads that captured three consecutive district championships and competed in 11 playoff games, highlighted by reaching the 2014 5A Division I state title game, won 49-45 by Aledo.
“Temple's a dang good football team and that's the way it always has been. It was fun. We had a dang good (coaching) staff there,” said the 34-year-old Joseph, who became Magnolia West's offensive coordinator in 2016 after Temple assistant J.D. Berna was hired as the Mustangs' head coach before Joseph was promoted to head coach in 2019 after Berna succeeded Spradlin as Magnolia ISD's athletic director.
One of those coaches was Temple graduate and former Wildcats offensive coordinator (and head baseball coach) Craig Martin, who's now in his second season as head coach at Magnolia and will face Joseph and rival Magnolia West on Nov. 13. Magnolia won 39-15 in last year's clash of playoff teams.
Stewart was Temple's defensive coordinator during Joseph's final two seasons with the Wildcats and isn't surprised by the success Joseph is having as an up-and-coming head coach.
“The up-and-coming part is just a matter of experience. I'll tell you this, he is one hell of a ball coach,” Stewart said of Joseph, who competed against Temple as a strong-armed quarterback at Bryan and later played for Houston and Sam Houston State. “I understand he was a heck of a player and I know for a fact he's a heck of a coach. He understands how to attack defenses and is very good at what he does. The other stuff that comes with (being a head coach) is just stuff you have to learn.”
After watching Magnolia West explode for three first-quarter touchdowns at Brenham en route to a 20-point win in its opener, Stewart knows the challenge Temple must be ready for against the Mustangs.
“This isn't a team that can sneak up on you. Magnolia West is a team that can embarrass you,” Stewart said of the Mustangs, who went 25-9 in Berna's three seasons as head coach and have made 10 straight playoff appearances. “Brenham has team speed and size, and Magnolia West jumped on them early. They established the line of scrimmage and kind of ran the ball down their throat, and they air it out as good as anybody we'll see.”
Said Joseph: “Our offense did well on the first couple drives but had some hiccups in the second quarter. We played OK but have to get some things fixed. It's early in the season and we're not firing on all cylinders.”
Mustangs junior quarterback Brock Dalton gained valuable experience as a sophomore and got off to a fast start this year, going 14-of-25 passing for 228 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. He connected with junior receiver Trey Leggett eight times for 73 yards and threw to 6-foot-3, 230-pound senior tight end Marcus Collins – who has numerous major college scholarship offers – four times for 108 yards and a TD. Senior Jeff Krop caught a 42-yard scoring pass from the strong-armed Dalton.
“He's an explosive player. He's got a lot of talent and he's only a junior,” Joseph said of Dalton, who started the 5-6 Mustangs' regular-season finale at College Station – Magnolia West led 27-8 at halftime before losing 37-30 – and their 70-36 playoff setback against McKinney North.
Magnolia West hard-running junior back Hunter Bilbo, the District 8-5A Division I newcomer of the year as a sophomore, rushed 29 times for 149 yards and four touchdowns against Brenham.
“He's a workaholic in the weight room. He's a grinder and loves football,” Joseph said about Bilbo, who runs behind a beefy line that's led by senior tackles Grant Engelke (6-3, 280) and three-year starter Miguel Ortiz (6-1, 275).
Senior free safety and captain J.T. Phillips leads a Mustangs defense that also relies on senior linebacker Brady Dygert, junior linebacker Kade Dunlap and 230-pound junior end Hayden Jansky.
“I've enjoyed it. I've seen a lot of these kids come up through our program and that's really enjoyable,” Joseph, whose uncle is legendary Katy coach Gary Joseph, said of being a head coach. “This has been a unique year (because of the COVID-19 pandemic), to say the least. You never know what's going to happen, so just to get to play football games is a blessing.”
This is the second meeting of Temple and Magnolia West. The first one was a 5A Division I area-round duel in 2017 at Baylor's McLane Stadium, won 41-13 by the Wildcats on their way to a 10-win season and the Region III final.
“I don't know that we are what we were then,” Stewart said of matching up with the Mustangs. “We had a really impressive defensive line (in 2017) and probably were better in the back end than we were at D-line.”