RECOVERY MODE: Pummeled by Martin to end non-district, Temple begins 12-6A defense at improved Bryan
WILDCATS AT A CROSSROADS: Temple seventh-year head coach Scott Stewart is looking for his team to respond from last Friday's 53-18 home loss to ranked Arlington Martin when the defending champion Wildcats (2-2) begin District 12-6A play at Bryan (3-1) at 7:30 Friday night at the Vikings' Merrill Green Stadium. One year ago Temple dominated host Bryan 49-7 in a 12-6A opener, but the Vikings have a much-improved squad with first-year head coach Ricky Tullos and senior dual-threat quarterback Malcom Gooden, who missed nearly all of last season with an injury. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BRYAN – Temple’s football team was dealt a sobering 53-18 defeat by state-ranked Arlington Martin in last Friday night’s non-district finale at Wildcat Stadium, and the reasons for that stunningly one-sided outcome were numerous.
The Wildcats allowed the Warriors – known for their outstanding, creative play on special teams – to recover two onside kicks, including the game’s opening kickoff.
Temple’s disjointed offense couldn’t run the ball effectively or make enough catches to turn its limited possessions into extended drives.
The Wildcats’ defense missed several key tackles and couldn’t prevent Martin’s talented, physical, versatile attack – which rushed for 287 yards and passed for 220 – from making explosive plays and repeatedly reaching the end zone.
An interception return for a touchdown and a recovered onside kick helped the Warriors score 21 points in a 22-second span late in the first quarter to build a 24-0 lead – an insurmountable deficit even for a Temple program that’s made nine consecutive playoff trips and lost one district game since 2018.
As disappointing as the 35-point loss was for a strangely discombobulated Temple squad, seventh-year head coach Scott Stewart knew it would be a challenging matchup for the Wildcats against veteran head coach Bob Wager and perennial playoff program Martin, whose school enrollment is approximately 1,400 students larger than Temple’s. In his opinion, the Wildcats’ pregame mentality didn’t help.
“It’s about execution. Are they a better football team than us? I’m probably going to suggest they are. I mean, could we have beaten them on the perfect night? I think anyone can beat anyone on any given night. But it’s a confidence issue,” Stewart said Tuesday afternoon as defending champion Temple (2-2) prepared for its District 12-6A opener against much-improved Bryan (3-1) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at the Vikings’ Merrill Green Stadium.
“We talked about false bravado. Let’s stop trying to pretend we’re something we’re not. Before that game we started (chanting loudly). I’m like, ‘What is that?’ I’m not a big cheerleader. We talk all the time about, ‘Hype is temporary.’ If you have to listen to a certain song to get your butt ready to play . . . it’s not our identity. Get excited about what you did, not because of what you think you’re going to do. There’s not a whole lot of substance to that.”
In addition, the Wildcats already had shown some cracks in their foundation in a mistake-plagued 45-35 loss the previous week at Class 5A Division I state-ranked College Station. Stewart then disciplined four players who chose to attend college football games the next day, missing Temple’s Saturday morning routine of film study, weights and conditioning.
“So I said, ‘If you want to go be a college football fan, go be a college football fan. God gave you free will,’” said Stewart, whose team has allowed 98 points in the last two games after permitting a combined 30 in its two wins. “If that’s where your head’s at, then that explains it. It’s not like we didn’t have a plan for it (against Martin), because we knew it for a week.”
Something that happened when Temple’s players gathered in their weight room last Saturday morning after getting mashed by Martin helped to tell the tale as to why the Wildcats were overwhelmed on their field the previous night.
“When you don’t have a good week of prep and you’re going against someone that you know is uber-talented, it’s almost a validation. That was the first eight words I said to them on Saturday morning: ‘What did you think was going to happen?’” Stewart said. “We came up here and lifted. I usually don’t babysit these guys, but I was spot-checking. We got done lifting, circled up and I said, ‘OK, everybody take a knee. Stand up if you skipped a rep today.’ And probably two-thirds of the football team stood up.
“I said, ‘You just got your (rear ends) embarrassed, so my question is, what do you think is going to happen?’ So I told them, ‘We’re going to try it my way. We’ve tried it your way. You’ve tried it your way. If we try it my way and it doesn’t work, we’ll all go back to the drawing board. If I’ve got to treat you like a seventh-grader and come in here and count your reps, that’s exactly what we’ll do.’”
Only time will tell whether Stewart’s tough-love message has the intended effect, but he at least was encouraged by how the Wildcats conducted themselves during Monday’s long, grueling practice.
“We were out there a while, and they responded well. We had a great practice, and it was hotter than fish grease,” Stewart said. “Instead of squawking and yelling at them, I said, ‘If that horns blows and we’re not snapping the ball within 2 seconds, just know (we’re going to run).’ And that didn’t happen one time. We went good-on-good and did blitz pickup with first O vs. first D. There were some absolute heads cracking.
"I try to reset things regardless. I know that’s an easy feel-good statement, but I’ve been 4-0, 3-1, 2-2 and 1-3 or whatever the combination is based on how many district games you’ve got," he added. "I want (to use) predistrict to find out who we are. So some of the frustration is I don’t know who we are right now. Their heads are spinning a little bit."
As Temple begins the quest for its fourth consecutive 12-6A championship and third straight outright league title, Stewart was asked if this week is something of a crossroads moment for his program.
“It absolutely is. It absolutely is,” said Stewart, who’s guided the Wildcats to a 59-21 record. “Everybody wants by butt fired, which is fair. That comes with the territory. I get that and I don’t mind that. I’ve coached somewhere where no one cared. You take the good with the bad.
“My old man (baseball and football coach Larry Stewart) used to say, ‘You’re either coaching them to do it or allowing it to happen.’ I told them this yesterday: ‘If I can’t coach it out of you, I’m going to run it out of you, because I know one of those two will work. If we’re going to sit around here and go 2-8, then we will be the most in-shape 2-8 team this state has ever seen.’ And they responded really, really well.”
TAKING OFF: Temple junior quarterback Reese Rumfield runs for yardage against Arlington Martin's defense during the Wildcats' 53-18 home loss to the state-ranked Warriors last Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Rumfield threw touchdown passes of 56 and 46 yards to sophomore Christian Tutson and has passed for 831 yards and nine TDs in four games. In Friday night's District 12-6A opener, Rumfield returns to Bryan's Merrill Green Stadium, where he passed for four TDs a year ago to help the Wildcats clobber the Vikings 49-7 and ignite their run to a perfect league record. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple likely will need to regain the form it showed in its 34-20 home win over Willis as the Wildcats travel to old rival Bryan for Friday’s district opener. The Vikings have recorded two straight wins and are averaging 41.8 points per game in their first season with successful head coach Ricky Tullos, whom Stewart played college football with in the mid-1990s at Sam Houston State in Huntsville.
“Ricky’s a college teammate and I have the utmost respect for him. He’s just a salt-of-the-earth, great guy,” Stewart said. “He played his tail off. He was one of those kids who was probably just like me – wasn’t big enough or talented enough to just walk out there and (dominate). What else can you ask of a kid? He was always going to give everything he’s got with everything he did.”
After beginning his head coaching career with three playoff seasons at Cleveland, his alma mater, from 2007-09, Tullos became the first coach at Richmond George Ranch in 2011. In 2014, the Longhorns were in only their third varsity season when they clashed with Temple in the 5A Division I Region III final. Stewart was in his first of two seasons as defensive coordinator for head coach Mike Spradlin’s Wildcats, who defeated George Ranch 28-14 in far north Austin on their way to finishing as the 13-2 state runner-up to Aledo.
Temple and George Ranch made it back to the Region III final for a rematch in 2015, and this time the undefeated Longhorns had more firepower than the Wildcats could handle. Riding a relentless rushing attack, George Ranch prevailed 59-46 in Cypress and two weeks later the Tullos’ Longhorns were 16-0 state champions.
“They were really salty. They had lots of experience as a team,” Stewart said about George Ranch’s 2015 squad. “They were all juniors when we beat them. They haven’t been the same since (rising to) 6A. They haven’t been the same since Tullos left.”
Shortly after Temple’s 2015 season concluded, Spradlin departed to become Magnolia ISD’s athletic director and Stewart was promoted to Wildcats head coach and AD. Meanwhile, Tullos coached George Ranch – which went 41-3 from 2013-15 – to two more playoff seasons after it rose to 6A and then moved to Pearland and guided the Oilers to a 33-11 record with four playoff berths from 2018-21.
After Hall of Fame coach Ross Rogers retired last offseason following 10 seasons as Bryan’s head coach, including playoff trips his final two years, Tullos – now 117-39 in 14 seasons as a head coach – was hired in January to try to push the Vikings’ program to the next level.
The buildup to this Temple-Bryan showdown feels different than it did a year ago, when the Wildcats traveled to the Brazos Valley and hammered the then-winless Vikings 49-7. Reese Rumfield’s four touchdown passes were highlighted by strikes of 95 and 42 yards to Mikal Harrison-Pilot, and running back Samari Howard rushed for 169 yards and three TDs. Temple’s defense collected four turnovers and permitted only 216 yards.
Although that Bryan team rebounded to reach the playoffs one last time with Rogers, the Vikings have the look of a much better all-around team this season. After outscoring Brenham for a 55-42 road win two weeks ago, Bryan – which lost 21-14 at Huntsville – rolled past Richmond Randle for a 31-10 victory last week.
“Now they have a (better) scheme. I know they believed in what they were doing (last year), but it fit us better. This group does a good job,” Stewart said.
Bryan’s 2021 season was hindered by the Game 1 loss of then-junior quarterback and returning starter Malcom Gooden to a fractured leg. Back healthy this year, the 6-foot, 190-pound dual-threat senior has predictably provided a huge spark for the Vikings. Gooden is 45-of-80 passing for 827 yards and 11 touchdowns against three interceptions, and he’s rushed for 178 yards and four TDs on 27 carries.
Stewart compared Gooden’s versatile, efficient style to that of Martin QB Tristan Bittle.
“He throws the ball well and is great on his feet – very quick,” Stewart said about Gooden. “This is his third year starting, so it’s not like you’re going to throw a whole lot at him and he’s going to get rattled. I thought that was a little bit of the case when he was a sophomore and was a little bit rattled (in Bryan’s 44-7 district loss at Temple).”
Bryan has a tandem of skilled, dangerous running backs in fast, hard-charging senior Tate Schneringer (45 carries, 327 yards, two TDs) and quick, shifty freshman Jevalen Wade (32 carries, 200 yards, one TD). The Vikings’ offensive line is paced by three hulking seniors: Isac Gonzales, Isaac Ibarra and Chris Maxey.
“Wade is the shiftier kid and has a little more juice, and Schneringer runs really hard and is fast. They’ve got three huge offensive linemen and run the ball well,” Temple defensive coordinator Dexter Knox said.
Gooden has three productive targets in the passing game with senior Tyson Turner (12 receptions, 318 yards, six touchdowns), junior Derek Ramsey (nine catches, 175 yards, two TDs) and sophomore Terrence Lewis (11 catches, 202 yards, three TDs). The 6-2, 190-pound Turner placed fifth in the high jump at the 6A state track and field meet last spring.
“It’s counter-read and zone-read, and Gooden will also scramble if nothing’s there. They do some play-action pass off their outside-zone stuff,” Knox said. “Their offense is better than what they were last year, so we’re going to have to play some good defense. They’ve got a really good receiver in (Turner). He’ll go up and pluck it out of the air.”
Temple’s defense is determined to respond with a stronger performance after Martin – employing a wide variety of looks – produced touchdown runs of 38 and 45 yards and TD passes of 23 and 85 yards among several other long gains.
“Martin was a good football team and we gave up some stuff we shouldn’t have, and they did a ton of stuff. We were always on our heels, trying to figure out what they were going to do,” Knox said. “I kicked myself in the butt a little bit. We kind of stayed base and weren’t very aggressive. I think our kids play better when we can be aggressive.”
Rumfield fired touchdown passes of 56 and 46 yards to emerging sophomore wide receiver Christian Tutson against Martin, giving them five TD connections in the last three games and Tutson seven TDs total during that stretch. But Tutson and senior standout Harrison-Pilot were the only Wildcats to catch passes against Martin even though several other receivers were targeted. Dropped passes
“I thought Reese played well. I thought he made good decisions. He overthrew a couple balls,” Stewart said about second-year starter Rumfield, who’s passed for 831 yards and nine touchdowns against three interceptions. “I mean, we were 2-of-13 on third downs, and I think six of those were drops. We move the sticks (if we make the catch). It’s focus, concentration and the moment being too big. There’s a bunch of reasons it could be, but the result is exactly the same.”
After the graduation of record-setting three-year standout Howard (Army West Point), Temple’s offense has been limited thus far by the lack of a reliable running game. The Wildcats have rushed for only 357 yards in four games – 296 by durable senior Deshaun Brundage, who’s yet to score a touchdown.
Temple offensive coordinator Robby Case said defensive starters such as senior linebacker and two-time 12-6A Defensive MVP Taurean York, senior cornerback Steve Jackson and sophomore safety O’Ryan Peoples might get increased opportunities to run the ball along with junior reserves Rymond Johnson and Jervonnie Williams as the Wildcats strive to develop a rushing game that can prevent opposing defenses from taking advantage of them.
“We’ve struggled running the ball some. Some of that’s due to the fact that people are going to challenge us to throw the ball,” Stewart said. “We’ve made a living off of running the ball around here for a long time. I mean, that’s my (defensive) philosophy at least – make them do something else. So until we can pitch and catch the ball . . .
“Obviously nobody likes the way (Temple’s running game is) set up, because we’re rushing for 90 yards a game – and that’s with a 176-yard outing, so that tells you what the other ones were. We’re taking a look at everything. We’ll throw some people over there to get some spot play. Rymond has the most explosion, so we’re taking a look at how to get him in space. And we’ve got to be more consistent blocking and stay on our blocks.”
Case explained that Temple’s four opponents – McKinney, Willis, College Station and Martin – loaded the box to try to shut down the Wildcats’ rushing lanes and put pressure on Rumfield. Only against Willis did Temple manage to produce an effective rushing output, with Brundage getting loose for 168 yards.
“Bryan’s defense is a standard 3-4, like we’ve seen all season long, but they don’t load the box like we’ve seen,” Case said. “They stay very simple. It’s a bend-but-don’t break defense.”
The Vikings’ leading defenders include experienced 6-3 senior safety and three-year starter Matthew Cooks, sure-tackling junior linebacker Tate Allen – who played quarterback against Temple last year – and quick sophomore nose guard Malachi Smith.
One of the tell-tale plays for Temple in its painful loss to Martin occurred late in the first quarter, right after dynamic running back Michael Barrow rushed for a 38-yard touchdown and a 2-point conversion to put the Warriors up 11-0.
From Temple’s 17-yard line, three receivers lined up in a bunch on the right side. The plan was to pass the ball to Harrison-Pilot and have the other two receivers block for him. But when the closest receiver to Martin senior cornerback Javien Toviano – a blue-chip recruit – ran past him without making any contact, Toviano read the play, stepped forward to easily intercept Rumfield’s horizontal pass at the 14 and turned it into a backbreaking 14-yard touchdown return that left the Wildcats shell-shocked.
“If we get our blocks it should be a 1-on-1 out here in a freaking acre and a half of land. We didn’t even touch him. It boggles the imagination,” Stewart said. “Tell him a story, tickle him, I don’t care. Just don’t run by him. The play call wasn’t the problem. Don’t make it easy on a good football player. Make him earn it. Don’t give him a free pass. I’m not taking anything away from (Toviano), because he’s special, but he didn’t do anything extraordinary on that one.”
Temple hasn’t lost a district game since late in the 2019 season at fellow co-champion Waco Midway, capturing the last two 12-6A crowns in undefeated fashion. For the Wildcats to start their fresh pursuit of a league title with a victory, they must learn difficult lessons from the Martin defeat and regroup quickly to get prepared for their road test against Bryan’s improved, capable crew.
“I saw a bunch of different reactions. I mean, I had kids look like they weren’t really sure if they wanted to be there. I had kids who slowed way down to keep bad stuff from happening, which is a horrible cocktail, a horrible recipe for success,” Stewart said about the Martin game. “When you get into a chaotic situation and things aren’t going the way you want them to and the you-know-what’s hitting the wall, people are going to show you who they are, and that’s who they are at the core of their being. And we’ve got a young group. At the very least we’ve got an inexperienced group.”
So, what’s the most vital ingredient for Temple to stop its skid and generate positive momentum now that district competition has arrived?
“Hard work,” said Stewart, whose team’s district home opener is against new opponent Pflugerville Weiss next Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. “Show me someone who hasn’t had their butt kicked and I’ll show you somebody who’s lying to you."
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