BREAKING THROUGH: Grays, Temple rip Waxahachie 38-0 for first playoff win in 6A; Rockwall-Heath next
Updated: Dec 14, 2020
GRAYS' AREA: Temple junior outside linebacker Marshall Grays (11) grabs Waxahachie senior quarterback Brandon Hawkins Jr. and tackles him for a 3-yard loss on fourth-and-goal late in the first quarter as Wildcats junior safety O'Tarian Peoples (2) looks on. Grays returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown only 68 seconds into the game, helping the host Wildcats blast the Indians 38-0 in a Class 6A Division II bi-district duel Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. It was Temple's first playoff victory since 2017 and the Wildcats' first as a 6A program. Coach Scott Stewart's Wildcats (10-1) will battle Rockwall-Heath (8-2) in an area-round showdown at 7 p.m. next Friday at Baylor's McLane Stadium in Waco. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Because 2020 has been such a strange and unconventional year, perhaps it was fitting that Temple's first three touchdowns in Friday night's playoff opener against Waxahachie were scored by an outside linebacker (Marshall Grays), a tight end (Ke'Andre Smith) who came in with two receptions all season, and a backup running back (Jalen Robinson).
Contributions from those three juniors plus plenty of others from the customary cast of characters helped to propel the Wildcats to their first postseason victory as a Class 6A program – and in dominant fashion at that.
Grays' 26-yard interception return 1:08 into the game set the tone for an overwhelming Temple defense that allowed only 152 yards, and senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi rushed for a game-best 119 yards and threw touchdown passes of 42 yards to Smith and 37 yards to Tr'Darius Taylor as the Wildcats thrashed the Indians 38-0 in a Division II bi-district game at cool, damp Wildcat Stadium.
Temple's first two forays into the 6A playoffs had painful endings: a 45-38 home loss to previously 3-7 Mesquite Horn in 2018, then last season's 41-10 defeat at then-defending state champion Longview.
But fifth-year head coach Scott Stewart has insisted that there's no proverbial monkey on the Wildcats' collective back and that focusing on the process instead of the result is what has driven this Temple team to the outright District 12-6A championship, a 10-win season and – yes, finally – that elusive first postseason victory in 6A, the top level of Texas high school football.
“I mean, it's nice to get it. I don't know that there was a monkey (on Temple's back). I know people think I'm full of it, but it's not about winning; it's about going and playing well. If you play well, usually winning takes care of itself. So I'm very appreciative,” Stewart said after Temple's first playoff win since it defeated Port Arthur Memorial 33-29 in a 5A Division I Region III semifinal in 2017.
“I think if our kids play well, we at least have a chance. If they come out there and play their ever-loving guts out and don't score enough points, I'm not going to sit here and pout. I guess I don't feel that 'pressure to win.' I feel more pressure to get them ready on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday than I do on Friday night.”
After pushing his season total to 26 touchdown passes, first-year starter Arizmendi said the Wildcats (10-1) are right where they always believed they could be – even if those outside their program didn't.
“We're not surprised. We knew what we had coming in,” he said. “We knew there was a bunch of doubt (from outsiders), but our bond pulled us together and made us better as a team.”
HUMBERT-GO: Temple senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi (10) sprints past Waxahachie's Jeb Rozier during the Wildcats' 38-0 victory in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Arizmendi, a first-year starter, led Temple (10-1) with 119 rushing yards on nine carries and threw touchdown passes of 42 yards to tight end De'Andre Smith and 37 yards to receiver Tr'Darius Taylor. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Robinson exploded for a 33-yard touchdown run 5 minutes into the second half, and Temple senior Aaron Wagaman kicked field goals of 44, 34 and 45 yards and three extra points for a 12-point evening after the four-year starter missed the regular-season finale against Killeen because of COVID-19 contact tracing.
Wildcats star running back Samari Howard didn't score a touchdown after racking up 21 TDs in nine regular-season games, but the versatile junior carried 17 times for 91 yards and rushed for a 2-point conversion after Grays' early interception return for a TD.
Waxahachie (5-5) won its final four 11-6A games after moving dynamic senior Brandon Hawkins Jr. from receiver to quarterback, but Temple used swarming and opportunistic defense to limit him to 30 yards on 22 carries and 16 passing yards on 4-of-13 accuracy, including interceptions by Wildcats junior linebackers Grays and Faylin Lee.
“Offensively we couldn't get anything going. We came out a little flat," Waxahachie third-year head coach Todd Alexander said. "Temple outplayed us, so hat's off to Coach Stewart."
Indians running back Shawn Cherry got loose for a 54-yard run in the first half, but the 210-pound senior's other 18 carries totaled only 42 yards. Senior tackle Cody Little recovered a fumble as Temple produced its first shutout since a 52-0 win at Waco on Oct. 26, 2018. Before they blanked Waxahachie, the Wildcats hadn't shut out a playoff opponent since 1993, when they beat district rival Killeen 40-0 in a 5A regional final.
“I'll tell you what, Coach (Dexter) Knox (the Wildcats' defensive coordinator) and the defensive staff did an unbelievable job,” said Stewart, whose team has permitted six points in its last two games. “We knew Waxahachie was run-heavy, and they did a good job of putting kids in the right places and the kids did a great job of executing. What I see when I watch that is that the kids are believing what the coaches are teaching them, and the coaches are believing that the kids can do it.”
Temple recorded its first playoff win while competing in the state's largest classification since 2003, when the Wildcats beat Round Rock McNeil 23-17 in a 5A Division I bi-district game in Killeen. After that, Temple lost its next seven postseason games while playing in the biggest classification before finally breaking that drought by shutting out Waxahachie.
The Wildcats' reward is an area-round matchup against Rockwall-Heath (8-2) at 7 p.m. next Friday at Baylor's McLane Stadium in Waco. The high-scoring Hawks scored the second half's final 28 points for a 42-14 home win Friday night against Garland. Their second-year head coach is Mike Spradlin, who coached Temple from 2011-15 and guided the Wildcats to the 5A Division I state championship game in 2014.
Spradlin's coaching staff at Rockwall-Heath includes former Temple quarterbacks Chad President – the Wildcats' QB in 2014 – and Joey Haag along with Bryce Monsen, Temple's head coach from 2005-10. Stewart was the defensive coordinator in Spradlin's final two seasons with the Wildcats, and he knows that Temple will need to devise a great defensive plan to contain Rockwall-Heath's explosive attack.
“Here's what I know: There's like five teams in the state averaging 550 yards a game, and that's one of them,” Stewart said of Rockwall-Heath, which scores 50.4 points per game. “Mike Spradlin is one of the better offensive minds I've ever been around. The dude has an understanding of the game that's just scary. We'll come up with a good plan and we'll see if we can slow them down.”
On the game's second offensive snap, Arizmendi committed what at the time had the appearance of being a costly turnover. He rushed ahead for a 15-yard gain but fumbled while being tackled, and Waxahachie recovered the ball at its 36-yard line.
However, Grays bailed out his quarterback by making his team-leading third interception on the Indians' second offensive play. Hawkins threw a short pass to the right flat, and the oncoming Grays was in the perfect spot to pick it off at the 26 and sprint in untouched for a touchdown only 68 seconds into the game. Howard's 2-point run out of a swinging gate formation gave Temple an 8-0 lead.
“We've been studying that play for two weeks now, since the Killeen game and the bye week. Coach Knox and Coach (Chris) Pilot have been telling me, 'It's going to come. It's going to come,'” Grays said. “It's just believing in what I'm doing and believing what they teach me.
“It feels ecstatic. We played great defense,” he added. “It feels great to pitch a shutout against great athletes from that Dallas-Fort Worth area.”
Said Arizmendi about Grays' big play and Temple's overall defensive performance: “Our defense played wonderful. When I fumbled it . . . I've just got to hold the ball more. But then when we got the pick-6, all the momentum just shifted right back on our side. Our defense played a wonderful game.”
Temple was the only 12-6A playoff team to win its bi-district game against competition from a loaded 11-6A. Harker Heights, Killeen Shoemaker and Bryan lost to second-ranked Duncanville, No. 11 DeSoto and No. 8 Cedar Hill, respectively, by a combined score of 144-46.
BIG MOMENT: Temple junior tight end Ke'Andre Smith caught a 42-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi in the first quarter Friday night at Wildcat Stadium, his first varsity TD. Smith's blocking helped the Wildcats rush for 297 yards on 35 carries as they rolled to a 38-0 win over Waxahachie in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
After Temple forced a punt on Waxahachie's second possession, Arizmendi's 19-yard run off right tackle helped the Wildcats reach the Indians' 42. From there, Arizmendi froze the defense with a play-action fake and junior tight end Smith raced behind the secondary to get open and easily catch Arizmendi's pass en route to the 42-yard touchdown and a 15-0 lead with 4:51 left in the opening period.
“It's a new play that just came in. It's a play where I've got to wait, let the other tight end (senior Dylan Hinkle) go and watch that a little bit and wait for it to clear, and then go and it's going to be wide-open,” said Smith, whose blocking helped Temple rush for 297 yards on 35 carries. “It was an exciting game for me – first varsity touchdown and first playoff win. It was just a good environment.”
Cherry broke free for a 54-yard gallop to the Temple 8 on the Indians' ensuing possession, but Hawkins mishandled a shotgun snap and Little pounced on the ball at the 9.
Late in the first quarter, Hawkins escaped pressure on fourth-and-5 for a 27-yard burst to the Temple 7. On fourth-and-goal from the 2, Hawkins tried to run it in on the left side, but Grays invaded the backfield, grabbed the quick QB and tackled him for a 3-yard loss and a vital turnover on downs.
Howard's rushes of 12 and 10 yards and Arizmendi's 36-yard sprint up the middle on third-and-20 keyed a 6-minute drive that concluded with Wagaman's 44-yard field goal for an 18-0 halftime lead.
“That's the first time I can remember that at halftime our offense, defense and special teams had scored the same amount of points (six each),” Stewart said. “I think in the first half we just couldn't get into a rhythm (offensively). A lot of these kids have never been in this situation before, on the field, play in and play out. Any time you do something for the first time, there's going to be some bugs and jitters. The whole thing at halftime was, 'Hey, let's just settle down and go play.'”
Waxahachie compiled a respectable 127 yards total offense in the first half, but Temple's aggressive defense – which got stellar games from junior end Eric Shorter and sophomore middle linebacker Taurean York, among others – allowed only 25 yards after halftime and intercepted Hawkins once in each half.
Robinson gave the Wildcats some breathing room on their first drive of the second half when he tore through the heart of the Indians' defense for a 33-yard touchdown and a 25-0 advantage.
Waxahachie prevented another Temple TD when Xavien Thompson intercepted Arizmendi's deep throw in the end zone, one play after the quarterback ripped off a 39-yard run. But Lee then picked off a Hawkins pass, and the junior linebacker's 16-yard return to the 21 set up Wagaman's 34-yard field goal to end the third quarter with the Wildcats leading 28-0.
POSTSEASON PERFORMER: Temple junior outside linebacker Marshall Grays produced a stellar game Friday night against Class 6A Division II bi-district foe Waxahachie in a 38-0 win for the Wildcats (10-1). He returned an interception 26 yards for a touchdown 68 seconds into the game, made a fourth-and-goal tackle for a 3-yard loss late in the first quarter and teamed with junior end Eric Shorter for a 15-yard sack on fourth down early in the final period. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
For added effect, Grays and Shorter then sacked Hawkins for a 15-yard loss and a turnover on downs. Two plays later, Arizmendi fired an out pass to his right to speedy junior receiver Taylor, who used a series of shifty cuts to carve through the defense for a 37-yard touchdown. Wagaman's 45-yard field goal with 3 minutes left provided the final score.
After impressively securing the shutout and breaking through for their first playoff win in 6A, the Wildcats now will shift their focus to Round 2 and the intriguing matchup with Spradlin's prolific Rockwall-Heath squad.
“We're basically going to see our own offense,” Grays said. “Coach Spradlin and Coach President are up there. It's like a taste of our own medicine, basically.”
CLASS 6A DIVISION II BI-DISTRICT PLAYOFF
TEMPLE 38, WAXAHACHIE 0
Waxahachie 0 0 0 0 – 0
Temple 15 3 10 10 – 38
Temple – Marshall Grays 26 interception return (Samari Howard run), 10:52.
Temple – Ke'Andre Smith 42 pass from Humberto Arizmendi (Aaron Wagaman kick), 4:51.
Temple – Wagaman 44 field goal, 2:16.
Temple – Jalen Robinson 33 run (Wagaman kick), 7:02.
Temple – Wagaman 34 field goal, 0:00.
Temple – Tr'Darius Taylor 37 pass from Arizmendi (Wagaman kick), 9:18.
Temple – Wagaman 45 field goal, 3:09.
First downs: Waxahachie 9; Temple 16.
Rushes-yards: Waxahachie 43-136; Temple 35-297.
Passing yards: Waxahachie 16; Temple 109.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Waxahachie 4-13-2; Temple 8-11-1.
Offensive plays-total yards: Waxahachie 56-152; Temple 46-406.
Punts-average: Waxahachie 6-40.2; Temple 2-39.
Fumbles-lost: Waxahachie 1-1; Temple 1-1.
Penalties-yards: Waxahachie 5-50; Temple 6-70.
Rushing – Waxahachie: Shawn Cherry 19-96, Brandon Hawkins Jr. 22-30, Preston Hodge 1-7, Roderick Hartsfield 1-3; Temple: Arizmendi 9-119, Howard 17-91, Thomas McVade 3-46, Robinson 3-39, Bryce Langrum 1-2, Mikal Harrison-Pilot 2-0.
Passing – Waxahachie: Hawkins 4-13-2-16; Temple: Arizmendi 8-11-1-109.
Receiving – Waxahachie: Blair Williams 2-12, Jaden Basham 1-6, Cherry 1-(-2); Temple: Taylor 3-58, Smith 1-42, AJ McDuffy 2-7, Howard 2-2.
JUST FOR KICKS: Temple senior Aaron Wagaman (1) kicks a 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter as junior Samari Howard holds and senior Cody Little (44) blocks during the Wildcats' 38-0 win over Waxahachie in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. After missing the District 12-6A finale against Killeen because of COVID-19 contact tracing, Wagaman also made field goals from 44 and 34 yards and kicked three extra points, scoring 12 points for 10-1 Temple. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)