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  • Greg Wille

'BAD INTENTIONS': Stewart aware of Arlington Martin's strength as 2-0 Temple readies for home opener

BACK HOME AGAIN: After beating Longview 40-13 at Arlington's AT&T Stadium and then prevailing 28-13 at Magnolia West last Friday, senior wide receiver Luke Allen (12) and the 2-0 Temple Wildcats are set for their home opener against 1-1 Arlington Martin at 7 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium. Martin's Warriors rebounded from a 47-24 loss to top-ranked Denton Ryan by blasting The Woodlands College Park 37-0 last week. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to



The figure 37-0 has multiple meanings going into the Temple football team's home opener against Arlington Martin at 7 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium, where the Wildcats will show off their new, state-of-the-art video scoreboard at the west end along with their new, imposing block T scoreboard at the east end.

The Wildcats outscored Longview and Magnolia West by a combined 31-26 in the first half of action, but Temple outscored those perennial playoff teams by a staggering 37-0 count after halftime in its pair of double-digit victories – a testament to the ability of its coaches to make midgame adjustments that the players then properly executed.

The other 37-0? That was the score of Martin's dominant victory over The Woodlands College Park last Friday in Groesbeck in a game that was scheduled only two days earlier after both teams' scheduled opponents couldn't play because of COVID-19 reasons.

That was a strong response by Martin's Warriors after their 47-24 loss to Class 5A Division I No. 1-ranked Denton Ryan on Sept. 25 at Arlington's AT&T Stadium, right before Temple charged back from a 13-10 halftime deficit on the same field to pull away from then-5A D-I No. 3 Longview for a thorough 40-13 victory.

However, it's unlikely that “37-0” will come into play this Friday night when two stellar squads clash. Temple (2-0), which has broken into Texas Football magazine's 6A state rankings at No. 23, understands the challenge it's facing against Martin (1-1), which entered the season ranked No. 11 in 6A.

Wildcats fifth-year head coach Scott Stewart said the Warriors of 15th-year head coach Bob Wager – who's guided them to 14 consecutive playoff berths – certainly will look the part when they get off the bus.

“They're what it looks like. When they step off the bus . . . people usually get bigger in person, but on film they look huge,” Stewart said of Martin, which went 11-2 last season, advancing to the 6A Division I Region I semifinals with blowouts of San Angelo Central and Odessa Permian before losing 45-17 to eventual state runner-up Duncanville. “They're good. Coach Wager's good. This will be the best football team we've played this year.”

Stewart has especially taken notice of Martin senior outside linebacker Morice Blackwell, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound Texas commitment whose aggressive, hard-hitting play can single-handedly wreck the plans of the opposing offense.

“That dude plays with bad intentions. He makes no bones about why he's out there,” Stewart said of Blackwell, who made 128 tackles (13 for loss) last year and was selected as District 8-6A's preseason defensive MVP this year. “He's all over the place. It's fun to see people playing at the level. That's what it's supposed to be.”

Wager backed up that sentiment about Blackwell, who's made 19 tackles (four for loss) this season.

“Morice plays like his hair's on fire, but off the field he's as nice a kid as I've ever been around in my life. He's an elite leader and he's supremely talented,” said Wager, whose program currently has four graduates playing in the NFL, including Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2017 draft.

From Wager's perspective, playing another strong program in Temple presents the ideal test before the Warriors begin 8-6A competition next week against crosstown rival Arlington.

“I think you play the very best opponents you can find and use that as a tool to grow and get better,” said Wager, who has a 116-57 record at Martin – highlighted by seven seasons with 10-plus wins – and is 178-94 overall in 24 seasons as a Texas high school head coach. “The greatest compliment I can give to any coach or team is that they play hard, and Coach Stewart and the Temple Wildcats play hard. It's going to be a really good game between two football teams that are going to give every ounce of effort they have.”

After starting its season with two lengthy road trips, Temple is set for its first home game in 11 months. On Nov. 8, 2019, the Wildcats clinched a share of the District 12-6A championship with a 55-17 home win over Copperas Cove. Temple will begin this year's seven-game 12-6A schedule next Friday night at Copperas Cove.

“I'm looking forward to it. It's going to be a tough challenge going against Arlington Martin,” Temple sophomore linebacker Taurean York (team-high 22 tackles) said after the 28-13 win at Magnolia West last Friday. “I talked to (linebacker) Anthony Hill from Denton Ryan and he gave me some insight on them. We know they're no easy task.”

Speaking of Ryan, its Raiders gave Martin a rude awakening to kick off the 2020 season on the big stage at the Dallas Cowboys' stadium. Powered by the all-around brilliance of Texas commitment Ja'Tavion Sanders – a five-star recruit who makes big plays at defensive end and wide receiver – Ryan compiled 217 yards in the first half and limited Martin to 36 yards and three first downs en route to a 21-0 lead.

The Warriors were much more competitive in the second half as they produced 281 yards and scored 24 points, but they never could slow down the Ryan juggernaut.

“Denton Ryan is an outstanding football program, much like Temple,” Wager said. “It was what it was. We learned about ourselves quite a bit, just about getting guys in the right spots and having 11 guys on the field and communicating. It's about making rapid improvement, and sometimes a game like that can accelerate improvement. You learn every time you play against a team with elite-level talent.”

Stewart chalked up Martin's difficult debut mostly to the overwhelming skill of its opponent.

“Denton Ryan is a freak show,” he said. “That's one of the best put-together teams I've seen. There's no weaknesses – so solid. I do know that (Ryan quarterback Seth) Henigan got off of his back a lot.”

Martin was supposed to play Lewisville Hebron last week, but it was called off because of COVID-19 factors. With College Park also looking for an opponent on short notice, it and Martin scrambled to meet in Groesbeck, a neutral site. The Warriors dictated the action on both sides of the ball. Army-committed senior quarterback Zach Mundell passed for 165 yards and three touchdowns as Martin seized a 27-0 first-quarter lead, and its defense stayed strong throughout in the 37-0 romp.

“Yes, it was a thumping,” Stewart confirmed.

Wager said the hastily scheduled game featured an unusual atmosphere.

“The best thing was that we were able to get on a bus and go play football. It was a new game on two days of notice and we only put together a shell of a game plan,” Wager said. “There were no bands or cheerleaders, and at halftime our guys just sat there on the sideline, criss-cross applesauce. It reminded me of little league football. It was awesome.”

Stewart said Martin's offensive attack is problematic to prepare for because it shows so many looks.

“It's a different scheme. They run a thousand different formations and they do a ton of stuff on offense,” he said. “They formation the crap out of you. They'll line up in pro and then shift out to empty. And then the next play they'll line up in trips and then shift to three-back.

“They're going to try to get your eyes crazy and get you crossed up. Nobody has shifted to the level of these guys, since I've been here anyway. They're just trying to get numbers. It's just smoke and mirrors. They're going to try to get you out of position and get you out-leveraged. It's hard to play fast if you're trying to figure out where they are.”

Stewart said his Wildcats came back to practice this week with much better focus and energy than they did early in the week after beating Longview.

“We had a good day (Monday) and I thought the energy was great,” he said. “It's kind of a fine line. You can go out there and buzz around and have a great attitude and get nothing done, too. We're not going out there as mindless savages.”

Mundell isn't physically imposing at 5-9 and 165 pounds, but he's versatile and makes Martin's offense go. Last year he passed for 1,501 yards and 20 touchdowns and rushed for 742 yards and 16 TDs before suffering a broken thumb on the second offensive series of the Warriors' third-round playoff loss to Duncanville. This season he's thrown for 258 yards and four TDs against zero interceptions and has run for 94 yards and one TD.

“You can tell he's a field general and you're not going to rattle his cage,” Stewart said, comparing Mundell to former Aledo quarterback Luke Bishop, whom Temple faced in the 5A Division I state championship game in 2014. “What he can do what the last two (opponents' QBs) hadn't been able to do a whole lot is he can flat-out roll. He can run. He broke loose a couple times against Ryan and he was running all over the dang field against College Park.”

Said Wager about Mundell: “Zach has that escapability and is very savvy. He does a good job of improvising. He can run around and buy time, and that's important because I've seen enough of those blue and white pants to know that Temple's defensive line is going to be a problem for us.”

Small, shifty sophomore running back Zaire Barrow has rushed for 73 yards and two touchdowns, and Mundell's top targets include senior Cal Robinson (12 receptions, 144 yards) and junior Cydd Ford (seven catches, 122 yards, two TDs). The versatile Ford also occasionally moves to quarterback – last year he had to replace the injured Mundell against Duncanville – while Mundell splits out to receiver.

“For Temple's defense it starts with the front,” Wager said. “They're really talented and disruptive. We'll have our hands full.”

On the flip side, Martin's defense must contend with a Temple attack that's gotten 418 passing yards and six touchdown passes from senior first-year starting quarterback Humberto Arizmendi: two TDs to senior Luke Allen and one each to senior AJ McDuffy, juniors Samari Howard and Tr'Darius Taylor and sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot. Also, Howard got the Wildcats' rushing game going with 111 yards and two TDs at Magnolia West.

Blackwell has plenty of talented help on the Warriors' defense. Vocal safety Placide Djungu-Sungu is committed to Duke, junior defensive end Ernest Cooper IV (6-4, 235) has scholarship offers from powers such as Alabama, Louisiana State, Ohio State and Notre Dame, and Wager thinks 185-pound sophomore cornerback Javien Toviano is becoming Martin's next star defender.

“They're going to be really solid on defense. They're going to have linebackers and safeties flying around. That's their M.O.,” Stewart said. “There's bad intentions. I love watching kids with bad intentions. I just wish they weren't on the other sideline. Quintin Smith (a Temple linebacker from 2014-15) probably had the worst intentions of any kid I coached here. It wasn't about assignments; he wanted to break people in half.”

Wager said a big part of Martin's success is the continuity in its coaching staff. Eight former Warriors players now coach on the staff, and five coaches have been with Wager for all four of his head coaching stops “from 1A through 6A”: Tolar (1997-2000), Groveton (2001-04), Kaufman (2005) and Martin since 2006.

Wager is originally from the small town of Johnstown in upstate New York and played football at Springfield College in Massachusetts, but he said reading the classic book “Friday Night Lights” in the early 1990s ignited his passion to come to Texas to coach high school football. He moved to the Lone Star State in 1992, the same year Temple won its second state championship with legendary coach Bob McQueen, whose name is emblazoned on the field where Wager's Warriors will play the Wildcats under those famed Friday night lights.

Wager said on many occasions he's been driving through Temple on Interstate 35 and decided to pull into Temple High School's parking lot, just to marvel at Wildcat Stadium and what it represents.

“I am in awe of Texas high school football,” said Wager, whose team will host the Wildcats next year at renovated Globe Life Park, former home of the Texas Rangers. “Temple has such a long history of success, so it's exciting to say that we're going to play the Wildcats in their iconic stadium.”

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