• Greg Wille

CHAMPIONS AGAIN: Howard ties record as Temple pops Killeen 44-6 to clinch title; Stewart unsatisfied


FANCY FOOTWORK: Temple senior receiver Tr'Darius Taylor keeps his feet in bounds in the back of the end zone to catch a 28-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Reese Rumfield late in the first half as Killeen sophomore safety Jaeshaun Peyton defends during the Wildcats' 44-6 victory over the Kangaroos on Friday night at Leo Buckley Stadium. Rumfield fired four TD passes to help Temple (7-2, 6-0) clinch at least a share of its third consecutive District 12-6A championship with its 14th straight league victory. Coach Scott Stewart's Wildcats will earn the outright district title if they beat Copperas Cove in next Friday's regular-season finale at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/TempleBeltonSports.com)





By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


KILLEEN – On the surface, the Temple Wildcats enjoyed a successful Friday night against Killeen at cool, breezy Leo Buckley Stadium.

Temple’s big-play offense compiled 428 yards and its surging, aggressive defense allowed only 220 as the Wildcats charged to a 44-6 victory over the Kangaroos to clinch their third consecutive District 12-6A championship.

Sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield threw two touchdown passes to Devan Williams and one each to KeAndre Smith and Tr’Darius Taylor, and senior running back Samari Howard rushed for 163 yards and ran for one TD to move into a tie with Lache Seastrunk with 312 career points, the most in Temple’s long, storied history.

But only two weeks away from beginning the Class 6A Division II state playoffs, Wildcats sixth-year head coach Scott Stewart wanted to see more from his team than simply what the scoreboard showed – more focus, more intensity, more consistency and more attention to detail.

And because Stewart didn’t see those things for the full four quarters against last-place Killeen, he had a serious, direct message for his squad immediately after the Wildcats pushed their winning streak to seven games and recorded their 14th consecutive 12-6A victory dating to 2019.

“I just said, ‘We need this.’ We’ve had several weeks in a row of coming out and imposing our will and things just rolling. And I told them, ‘Anybody and everybody on this planet can be at their very best when things are going well. The true character of a man and any person is, what do you do when things aren’t exactly humming and clicking? What do you do?’” Stewart said after addressing his players. “Adversity doesn’t build character; it reveals it. I’m not saying we have character problems; I’m just saying we need these kinds of experiences if we’re going to make any kind of noise in the playoffs, because we can’t come out of the locker room flat and unfocused.

“Again, I don’t think it was horrible, but it wasn’t our best ball, and we should be playing our best ball at this point of the year. So we’ll use this as a learning experience and really grind on the film. This is going to be an opportunity to refocus on a Saturday.”

Temple (7-2 overall, 6-0 in 12-6A) secured its ninth straight playoff appearance by blasting Killeen Shoemaker 60-15 last Friday and has outscored district opponents 303-104. With their 38-point win at old rival Killeen (2-7, 0-6), the Wildcats assured themselves of at least a share of the 12-6A championship entering their district finale against seventh-place Copperas Cove (1-8, 1-5) next Friday night at Wildcat Stadium.

Harker Heights (8-1, 5-1) needs a home win next Thursday over playoff-bound Bryan (4-5, 4-2) and then an unlikely Temple loss to Cove to tie the Wildcats for the 12-6A championship. The Wildcats, who rallied at home to defeat Heights 44-34 on Oct. 1, will be the league’s No. 1 seed in the Division II playoff bracket and host a bi-district game at Wildcat Stadium in two weeks. Heights will be 12-6A’s top seed in Division I, followed by Belton (5-4, 4-2).


GETTING PHYSICAL: Temple senior defensive end Eric Shorter (13) knocks the ball away from Killeen sophomore quarterback Roderick Norman as junior linebacker Taurean York (18 tackles, four for loss) also pursues during the Wildcats' 44-6 win over the Kangaroos on Friday night at Leo Buckley Stadium. Temple's defense, which allowed 220 total yards, forced four fumbles and got recoveries from York and senior linebacker Faylin Lee. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Temple clinched a district championship at Leo Buckley for the second straight year, having prevailed 27-24 at Killeen Shoemaker in Week 10 last season to capture the outright 12-6A crown.

Rumfield didn’t move to Temple until mid-May, but the sophomore has thrown 22 touchdown passes while helping the Wildcats overcome season-opening home losses to No. 1-ranked Austin Westlake and Magnolia West – both teams remain undefeated – and extend their reign as champions of 12-6A.

“I’m feeling real good. I knew this was going to happen. We started off slow, but I just knew we were going to come out (strong) sooner than later,” said Rumfield, who was 10-for-20 passing against Killeen for 171 yards and has thrown eight TDs and zero interceptions in the last three games. “I knew who we were. I knew what we had. I just knew something good was about to happen.”

It wasn’t only Stewart who wasn’t completely satisfied after Temple controlled Killeen. Howard, co-MVP of 12-6A last season, said the Wildcats’ overall performance wasn’t up to their standards even though they’re glad to capture a third straight district championship.

“It’s a great accomplishment, but we’ve still got a lot of work to do. We don’t really talk about that type of stuff,” Howard said after Temple’s 19th consecutive win at Buckley. “We’re just going to go in next week with a chip on our shoulder and not underestimate Cove.”

Howard needed seven points to overtake Seastrunk as Temple’s all-time leading scorer, but he didn’t score until he ran over and through a Kangaroos defender near the goal line for a 10-yard touchdown with 4 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Now tied with Seastrunk at 312 points, the Air Force commitment will have an opportunity to break the career mark in front of Temple’s home fans next Friday.

“Yes, it’s going to be amazing, especially in our last home game. It just happens how it happens. I wasn’t really thinking about it,” Howard said before reflecting on his prolific three-year varsity career that’s put him in the Wildcats’ record books. “It’s been a lot. It’s been a grind. Sophomore year, I came in with a chip on my shoulder, behind (then-senior running back) Anthony Jackson. I’ve always been that guy to fill in a big role, so it feels good to be recognized.”

Howard was visibly frustrated on the sideline during one segment of the second half, with offensive coordinator Josh Sadler putting his arm around Howard during an animated conversation. After getting Rumfield touchdown passes to Williams, Smith and Taylor to seize a 20-0 halftime lead, Temple’s offense struggled to locate its peak form following the intermission and didn’t score a touchdown until senior backup Jalen Robinson’s 38-yard jaunt with 2 minutes remaining in the third quarter.

“I’ve just got to get out of my own head sometimes. I’ve definitely had to work on my anger and stuff,” said Howard, who racked up 73 yards on only six second-half carries and pushed his season total to 1,263 rushing yards. “From my sophomore year it’s gotten a lot better, but I still need to work on my mental game. I’m trying to get like (junior linebacker and leading tackler) Taurean York. He’s a stone wall.”

Stewart said thought Howard’s frustration stemmed simply from wanting to see the Wildcats’ offense operate at maximum potential, not from thinking too much about trying to break the scoring record.

“We’ll see. I’m going to sit down and have a conversation with him. It may be a little bit more on his mind, and not because he worries about his name at the top. Samari does not want to let anybody down, and he got a little flustered,” Stewart said. “Killeen was loading the box, because they know who No. 8 is, and we weren’t throwing the ball particularly great in the first half and in the third quarter, so he just got flustered because he wanted to score points.

“He wasn’t mad because he wasn’t getting touches. He was flustered because he’s a very intelligent kid and understands the game of football, so he had a question like, ‘Why can’t we just throw it around? They’re in man coverage. They can’t cover our guys.’ While I like the sentiment and like the attitude, the delivery . . . we’ve just got to work on that piece, so I’ll talk to him. I’m not going to say he couldn’t care less about that record; he just doesn’t want to let anybody down. I appreciate that, and that’s what makes him him.”

Sophomore quarterback Roderick Norman’s 1-yard touchdown rush midway through the third quarter was the only score for coach Neil Searcy’s Kangaroos, who will miss the playoffs for the fifth straight season.

The small, quick Norman was 9-of-15 passing for 106 yards and senior Jacobia Thomas made four receptions for 81 yards, but the Wildcats’ defensive front – notably seniors Tommy Torres and Eric Shorter, junior Jaylon Jackson and sophomore Ayden Brown – pressured Norman throughout the evening and limited him to 1 yard on 22 carries.

York (18 tackles, four for loss) and senior linebacker Faylin Lee each recovered a fumble for a unit that forced four and has feasted on creating turnovers throughout district competition.

From his vantage point, Howard has been highly impressed by the gradual improvement of Temple’s defense.

“I would say from game 1 to game 9, it’s a completely different defense. They’ve been in the film room and on the practice field, grinding every day,” Howard said. “I’m on the offensive side and I can see that directly. Hard work definitely pays off. They’re out there stoning people.”

Temple’s offense got off to a shaky start. Rumfield had to dive on a low snap for a 13-yard loss on the first offensive play, leading to a three-and-out series, and the Wildcats reached Killeen’s 15-yard line on their second possession but turned it over on downs after Rumfield’s pass to the end zone eluded Mikal Harrison-Pilot.


ELUSIVE TARGET: Temple senior receiver Devan Williams (left) spins away from Killeen sophomore safety Jaeshaun Peyton en route to a 19-yard touchdown reception during the first quarter of the Wildcats' 44-6 win over the Kangaroos on Friday night at Leo Buckley Stadium. Williams also scored on a 71-yard pass from sophomore Reese Rumfield in the fourth, giving Williams 10 touchdown receptions and Rumfield 22 TD passes this season. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



However, a 13-yard punt by the Roos gave Temple excellent field position at the Killeen 37 with 4 minutes remaining in the opening period, and the Wildcats took advantage. Rumfield threw to Harrison-Pilot for 10 yards on third-and-8 and Howard rushed for 6, then a curling Williams caught Rumfield’s crisp pass on the right side and spun outside to leave his defender behind for a 19-yard touchdown. Smith was tackled short after catching Howard’s pass on the 2-point try, leaving the Wildcats’ lead at 6-0.

Early in the second quarter, Howard rushes of 9 and 15 yards helped Temple reach the Killeen 32 before senior tight end Smith got open down the middle and made an athletic, leaping catch of Rumfield’s pass for a 32-yard touchdown. The first of Danis Bajric’s five extra points made it 13-0 2 minutes into the second period.

The deepest Killeen advanced into Temple territory was the 32 on its ensuing drive, but on fourth-and-5 Wildcats defenders forced Norman to scramble and make an inaccurate throw for a turnover on downs.

Temple’s defense delivered again late in the first half, dislodging the ball from Norman before York came out of a pile with the recovery at Killeen’s 39 with 1:35 left until halftime. After Howard’s 12-yard run, speedy senior Taylor got past the secondary along the right seam and caught Rumfield’s lofted pass just inside the back line of the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown and a 20-0 lead with 41 seconds remaining.


SKILLFUL SNARE: Temple senior tight end KeAndre Smith make a leaping catch of a Reese Rumfield pass for a 32-yard touchdown during the second quarter of the Wildcats' 44-6 win at Killeen on Friday night at Leo Buckley Stadium. Rumfield's four TD tosses – two to Devan Williams and one each to Smith and Tr'Darius Taylor – covered a combined 150 yards. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Said Rumfield about with wealth of options in the passing game: “Oh, man, it’s deadly. With Devan and Mikal both out there and then KeAndre at tight end and Tr’Darius at slot, we can’t be any more stacked. It’s awesome. I’ve spent more time watching film and I’m feeling more comfortable with our team.”

Killeen got the second half’s opening possession and had a 72-yard touchdown play nullified by a penalty, but the Roos received new life when Robinson – who blocked two punts against Belton – crashed into the punter for a 15-yard penalty after nearly blocking the kick.

On third-and-15 from the Temple 47, Thomas caught Norman’s pass across the middle, broke a tackle and sprinted for a 46-yard gain to the 1 before Norman pushed across for what proved to be the Kangaroos’ lone scoring play. The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Torres then penetrated the middle and blocked Noriel Gomez’s extra-point try, leaving the Wildcats’ lead at 20-6 4½ minutes into the third.

Howard’s rushes of 10, 28 and 10 yards helped Temple march from its 35 to Killeen’s 12 on the next possession, but the drive fizzled out and Bajric kicked a 29-yard field goal to make it 23-6 with 5:13 remaining in the third.

The Wildcats began to take full control late in the third when their defense created a third-and-1 stop on the next possession. Two Howard runs netted 15 yards before Robinson spelled him and blasted for 13 yards before he ran off right tackle and exploded for a 38-yard touchdown and a commanding 30-6 advantage.

Said Rumfield: “I’d say our goal is to come out on each possession and score and not have any three-and-outs. Just keep on scoring and stay out there and let our defense rest.”


TOUGH SLEDDING: Senior linebacker Faylin Lee (12), senior tackle Tommy Torres (top right) and two other Temple defenders combine to tackle a Killeen ball carrier during the Wildcats' 44-6 victory Friday night at Leo Buckley Stadium. Torres forced a fumble and blocked an extra point for District 12-6A leader Temple, which has allowed only 36 points in its last three games. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Jackson invaded the backfield to force a fumble on Killeen’s next play, but the Roos recovered for a 12-yard loss. They weren’t as fortunate a few minutes later, when Torres caused Norman to fumble and Lee pounced on the ball at Temple’s 26.

From the 29, Williams caught Rumfield’s long pass along the right sideline around the Roos 30, slammed on the brakes to avoid going out of bounds and then sprinted away from the lone defender for a 71-yard score – the fluid senior’s 10th touchdown reception this season – and a 37-6 game with 9 minutes remaining.

“He’s special, isn’t he? Devan’s a special talent and a big, strong kid,” Stewart said about Williams (three catches, 98 yards), who moved back to Temple after living in Wichita Falls as a junior. “He plays some on defense and plays on special teams. Several of those guys, they get mad at me if I try to take them off special teams. And that’s the culture that I want. That’s the culture that I think people get behind. Devan’s doing a really good job, obviously, and he’s a monster.”

Robinson’s 32-yard rumble to the 10 with 4 minutes left in the game set Howard up to move into a tie for Temple’s career scoring record. The senior workhorse ran to the right side, lowered his shoulder and barreled over a defender and across the goal line to match the 312 points running back Seastrunk produced from 2007-09.

With 49 career touchdowns, Howard needs three more to match Seastrunk’s record of 52. He’ll get his shot to break both records next Friday at home when the Wildcats aim to finish their second consecutive perfect run through 12-6A play.

Before that, however, the hard-driving Stewart will go to work on making sure Temple prepares with a more focused approach than what he witnessed during its week of practice and then in the Killeen game.

“It was a little bit loose this week in practice. You could kind of feel it. We can talk it all we want to talk it, but it’s good to be able to back it up. What I mean by that is I don’t know that we had the laser intensity that I felt the last couple weeks,” Stewart said. “Don’t get me wrong – that’s a good (Killeen) football team. They’re not devoid of talent and they’re not devoid of size. They’re bigger than us at dang near every position. But they’ve also got a lot of pride, they’re well-coached and they’re not just going to come over here and roll over.

“And that’s the tough part about this profession, is teenagers sometimes . . . feel like they’ve got the outcome figured out. Again, I don’t care about the scoreboard. I couldn’t care less about the scoreboard. It’s either the best ball we can play or it’s not, and I made this town a promise that I would try to put the best product on the field. And if it’s not going to be that, then we’re going to coach a little bit harder and we’re going to be a little bit more focused."


DISTRICT 12-6A FOOTBALL


TEMPLE 44, KILLEEN 6

Temple 6 14 10 14 – 44

Killeen 0 0 6 0 – 6

First quarter

Temple – Devan Williams 19 pass from Reese Rumfield (pass failed), 2:53.

Second quarter

Temple – KeAndre Smith 32 pass from Rumfield (Danis Bajric kick), 10:05.

Temple – Tr’Darius Taylor 28 pass from Rumfield (Bajric kick), 0:41.

Third quarter

Killeen – Roderick Norman 1 run (kick blocked), 7:36.

Temple – Bajric 29 field goal, 5:13.

Temple – Jalen Robinson 38 run (Bajric kick), 2:00.

Fourth quarter

Temple – Williams 71 pass from Rumfield (Bajric kick), 9:18.

Temple – Samari Howard 10 run (Bajric kick), 3:54.


TEAM STATISTICS

Rushes-yards: Temple 36-257; Killeen 47-93.

Passing yards: Temple 171; Killeen 127.

Completions-attempts-interceptions: Temple 10-20-0; Killeen 10-16-0.

Total plays-offensive yards: Temple 56-428; Killeen 63-220.


INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing – Temple: Howard 23-163, Robinson 6-99, Tavaris Sullivan 3-9, Mikal Harrison-Pilot 1-2, Rumfield 1-(-1), Damarion Willis 1-(-2), team 1-(-13); Killeen: Emory Arthur 10-39, De’Van’Te Johnson 11-35, Warren Fleming 1-22, Jacobia Thomas 1-3, Norman 22-1, Cade Searcy 2-(-7).

Passing – Temple: Rumfield 10-20-0-171; Killeen: Norman 9-15-0-106, Searcy 1-1-0-21.

Receiving – Temple: Williams 3-98, Smith 1-32, Taylor 1-28, Harrison-Pilot 5-13; Killeen: Thomas 4-81, Searcy 2-21, Johnson 1-12, Albert Powell 2-7, Gregory Gant 1-6.

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