COMPLETE GAME: Big-play offense, dominant defense shine as Temple pummels Bryan 49-7 to start 12-6A
Updated: Sep 27
A FORCE IN THE AIR: Air Force-committed Temple senior running back Samari Howard (8) goes airborne to get past Nic Caraway (7), another Bryan defender and eventually Du'Wayne Paulhill (8) for an 18-yard touchdown run during the third quarter of the Wildcats' 49-7 win over the Vikings in Friday night's District 12-6A opener at Merrill Green Stadium. Howard rushed for 169 yards with scores of 28, 18 and 30 yards, giving last season's 12-6A Co-MVP seven TDs against Bryan in two years. Junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot caught touchdown passes of 95 and 42 yards from sophomore Reese Rumfield, who threw four TDs overall. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BRYAN – The Temple Wildcats certainly didn’t play as well or as consistently as they wanted to as they went 1-2 during their non-district schedule.
But with the stakes raised for the start of District 12-6A play against Bryan on Friday night, the defending league champions emphatically got back to playing Temple Wildcats football – and they had fun while doing it.
Air Force commitment Samari Howard rushed for three explosive touchdowns in a tour de force performance, Mikal Harrison-Pilot’s 95-yard score highlighted Reese Rumfield’s four long TD passes and Temple’s defense shut out the winless Vikings as the Wildcats overcame four turnovers to surge to a 49-7 victory at Merrill Green Stadium.
Temple junior linebacker Taurean York said it was the kind of all-around game that head coach Scott Stewart and the Wildcats have been pointing toward.
“Coach Stewart’s always been talking about whenever this thing pops off, it’s going to be fun, and we had a lot of fun tonight. We went into hostile territory and came out with the win, and we had fun while doing it,” said York, the reigning 12-6A Defensive MVP. “It’s a game at the end of the day. I feel like sometimes I get too serious during the game, but whenever I relax and have fun, I tend to play better. I think that’s what happened a lot tonight.”
Stewart said the so-called off week following Temple’s 60-53 home win over Hutto – the Hippos scored four touchdowns in the last 5 minutes against defensive reserves to tighten the final margin – gave the Wildcats an opportunity to ratchet up their physicality and also sharpen their mental approach entering the seven-game district gauntlet.
“We spent a lot of time and effort not only beating the crap out of each other during the off week but also (emphasizing that) if you’re wearing this uniform, there’s an expectation,” Stewart said after Temple’s ninth consecutive district victory dating to 2019 and his 50th win in six seasons at the helm. “I’m so proud of the players and the coaches. I thought it was a good plan and we executed it well, and I’m just happy for this team and this town.”
Limited to a combined 27 points in home losses to top-ranked Austin Westlake and still-unbeaten Magnolia West to start the season, Temple (2-2) now has produced 109 total points in back-to-back wins.
Senior running back Howard verbally committed to Air Force on Thursday night, and one day later he showed why as last year’s 12-6A Co-MVP rushed for 169 yards and scored touchdowns of 28, 18 and 30 yards, giving him seven TDs against Bryan in two years. On his 18-yard burst late in the third quarter, Howard used a high-flying hurdle to elude two Vikings defenders near the 5-yard line and crashed into the end zone at the right pylon.
“He’s electric. He’s got every tool in the bag, and it means so much to him,” Stewart said about Howard, who scored four touchdowns – two runs and two receptions – in Temple’s 44-7 home thrashing of Bryan last year. “He loves playing the game and he plays it as hard as he possibly can. He practices as hard as he possibly can.”
The Wildcats’ offense accumulated 521 yards and compiled 319 yards just on its seven touchdown plays – Howard’s three scoring runs and Rumfield’s TD passes of 95 and 42 yards to junior Harrison-Pilot, 76 yards to senior Devan Williams and 30 yards to senior Nyles Moreland with 1:16 remaining in the game. Rumfield three for a career-best 341 yards.
Meanwhile, the only score for struggling Bryan (0-4) was Hunter Vivaldi’s 90-yard kickoff return late in the third quarter after Howard’s 18-yard touchdown run had expanded Temple’s lead to a commanding 28-0. The Vikings of veteran head coach Ross Rogers have scored only 49 points this season.
PROGRESS STOPPED: Temple senior safety Kaleb Hill (15) tackles Bryan sophomore quarterback Tate Allen as senior defenders Eric Shorter (13) and Tommy Torres close in during the Wildcats' district-opening 49-7 win over the host Vikings on Friday night at Merrill Green Stadium. The Temple defense produced four turnovers and and allowed only 216 yards shut out Bryan, whose only score came on Hunter Vivaldi's 90-yard kickoff return late in the third quarter. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Senior cornerback LeMichael Thompson and senior linebacker Faylin Lee (team-high eight tackles) had fumble recoveries for Temple and junior safeties Harrison-Pilot and Zion Moore each made an interception as the Wildcats’ aggressive defense limited the Vikings to 216 total yards.
York, who made seven tackles, identified the starting line – senior end Eric Shorter, junior end Jaylon Jackson, senior tackle Tommy Torres and sophomore tackle Ayden Brown – as a vital factor in Temple's defense recording a shutout performance.
“I’m extremely pleased. Our front seven and especially the four down linemen, they played outstanding tonight. They showed up when they needed to most,” said York, a three-year starter and Temple’s leading tackler. “There was a lot of doubts about the defense, and I feel like we proved a lot of people wrong by pitching a shutout. Definitely the D-line played great and I’m proud of them.”
Despite the runaway score, Temple played far from a perfect game. Sophomore quarterback Rumfield was intercepted three times by Bryan senior safety Du’Wayne Paulhill. The Wildcats’ low punt snap in the second quarter resulted in a turnover on downs, and senior running back Jalen Robinson lost a third-quarter fumble after absorbing a hard hit.
In the end, however, those mistakes were mere footnotes in a strong, thorough performance by Temple.
“To have four turnovers and to drop two touchdown passes and still score 49 points and pitch a shutout on defense, I’m just so proud of the kids’ effort,” said Stewart, whose team now will turn its attention to next Friday night’s showdown with the red-hot Harker Heights Knights (4-0, 1-0) at Wildcat Stadium.
“We have to play with full effort and give everything we’ve got,” Torres, who's playing through an ankle injury, said of the highly anticipated matchup with Harker Heights, which led Temple 20-0 last year in Killeen before the Wildcats charged back to earn a 38-36 victory.
Coming off of three losses and then the open date, Rogers and Bryan – who lost standout junior quarterback Malcom Gooden to a leg fracture in the season opener – threw a wrinkle at Temple by starting rugged sophomore Tate Allen at QB even though the 6-foot-1, 195-pound player didn’t have a pass attempt or a carry in the Vikings’ first three games. Junior Karson Dillard had completed only 14 of 50 passes after replacing the injured Gooden.
Temple’s defense stuffed the option-heavy rushing game of Allen and Bryan on the game’s opening possession, but on the Wildcats’ first possession Rumfield threw late over the middle and Paulhill – wearing Gooden's No. 8 jersey to honor his injured teammate – made his first interception at the Vikings’ 35-yard line and returned it to the Wildcats’ 42. Bryan reached thew 30, but Brown’s fourth-down tackle forced a turnover on downs.
Late in the first quarter, Allen’s rollout pass to Tate Schneringer gained 28 yards to the Temple 18, but Vikings running back Tason Devault fumbled on the next play and Thompson recovered at the 3.
After Howard’s 2-yard run, a Wildcats offense that had been frustrated to that point finally broke through in long-distance fashion. Harrison-Pilot sprinted past his defender on the left side and caught Rumfield’s deep pass in stride around the Temple 40 before cruising in for the 95-yard touchdown. The first of seven extra points by senior kicker Danis Bajric gave Temple a 7-0 lead with 27 seconds remaining in the opening period.
A mistake on special teams hurt the Wildcats 4 minutes into the second quarter. The snap to punter Bajric skidded along the ground and he was swarmed for an 18-yard loss and a turnover on downs after finally securing the ball at his 38.
Alas, Bryan couldn’t capitalize on the gift. Brown hit Allen on a running play and forced a fumble that Lee recovered at Temple’s 39. Howard’s 15-yard run and Rumfield’s 11-yard pass to senior Tr’Darius Taylor moved the Wildcats to the Vikings’ 28 before Howard burst off left tackle and used a combination of strong blocks and quick-shifting moves to race in for his first touchdown and a 14-0 lead 5:21 before halftime.
Temple had a prime opportunity to extend its lead late in the second quarter after Rumfield’s pressured pass to Howard produced a 28-yard gain to the Bryan 17. But after Purdue-committed outside linebacker Nic Caraway sacked Rumfield for a 7-yard loss, Rumfield’s pass hung in the air too long over the middle, allowing Paulhill to cut over and make another interception at the 1.
BREAKING AWAY: Temple junior wide receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot (left) breaks the tackle attempt by Bryan junior safety Matthew Cooks en route to a 42-yard touchdown reception from sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield during the third quarter of the Wildcats' 49-7 win over the Vikings in Friday night's District 12-6A opener. Harrison-Pilot started the scoring for Temple (2-2) with a 95-yard catch-and-run from Rumfield late in the first period and also made one of the Wildcats' two interceptions. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Needing a touchdown to dampen Bryan’s hopes of a comeback, Temple got exactly that on the second half’s first possession. Four-star recruit Harrison-Pilot (two receptions, 137 yards) beat two defenders on a post pattern and snared Rumfield’s long pass before racing in for a 42-yard score and a 21-0 lead.
Stewart then decided to have Temple try a surprise onside kick and Bajric recovered his straight-ahead dribbler at midfield, but the officials ruled that the ball didn’t travel the required 10 yards. Nonetheless, Stewart said the attempt was worth the risk based on his desire to see the Wildcats play with more of a cut-it-loose, make-it-happen style.
“We’ve got to show ourselves that we can finish and that we can take chances,” Stewart said. “We scored on our first drive (of the second half), and I said, ‘Let’s go get a little onside (kickoff). Let’s have fun doing this.’ This is a game and you’ve got to take chances. It didn’t work out for us, but I think it was a bad call (by the officials).”
Bryan’s chances of getting back into contention evaporated midway through the third. The Vikings advanced to the Wildcats’ 36, but Allen dropped the snap on fourth-and-10 and was taken down by a multitude of defenders.
Rumfield threw to a leaping Williams for 19 yards before Harrison-Pilot went in at quarterback and ran for a 24-yard gain to the 18. That set the stage for Howard, who zipped around the right edge, employed a high-rising hurdle to avoid Caraway and another oncoming defender near the 5 and powered inside the pylon for his second touchdown and an insurmountable 28-0 advantage with 3:12 left in the third.
Vivaldi gave Bryan a much-needed spark on the ensuing kickoff when he carved through Temple’s coverage crew for a 90-yard touchdown return, making it 28-7 before a punishing hit by the 240-pound Caraway forced a Robinson fumble that the Vikings recovered at their 11 with 2 minutes remaining in the third. But on fourth-and-4 from the Wildcats 42, Torres tackled Allen (83 rushing yards) a yard short as Temple’s defense produced a turnover on downs.
Paulhill proceeded to go low and pick off a Rumfield pass at the Temple 42 for a hat trick of interceptions, but Harrison-Pilot made up for that giveaway by jumping to intercept Allen’s pressured pass at the Wildcats 24 with 9 minutes left in the fourth.
The Wildcats then drove the proverbial nail into the coffin, as Williams sprinted along the right side and caught Rumfield’s deep pass in stride for a 76-yard touchdown – their fourth TD connection in the last three games – and a 35-7 lead.
“They’re awesome,” Torres said about the Temple offense’s big-play weapons. “Devan’s one of my best friends. I’ve been friends with him since freshman year and it’s cool seeing him get touchdowns.”
After York picked up Allen and slammed him to the turf for a 1-yard loss on fourth down, Howard blasted off right tackle and expertly followed his blockers for his third touchdown, a 30-yard jaunt that made it 42-7. Moore’s midfield interception set up Temple’s final TD, on which Moreland caught Rumfield’s strike across the middle for his first reception this season and raced in for the 30-yard score with a minute remaining.
After Temple’s backup defenders struggled to withstand Hutto’s furious late-game charge two weeks ago, Stewart was pleased by how the Wildcats’ defense – both starters and reserves – completed its shutout of Bryan.
“In predistrict games, you want to give some other guys some shots. Nobody likes close games and nobody likes that to happen, but you know what? As long as I’m getting paid to do this, I’ll make the decisions,” Stewart said. “I wanted to give some kids some looks in a game that didn’t end up affecting us long-term. Tonight we put the reserves in at the end and they didn’t give up hardly any yards.”
TEMPLE TEAMWORK: Danis Bajric (right) kicks one of his seven extra points as fellow senior Samari Howard provides the hold during Temple's 49-7 win at Bryan in Friday night's District 12-6A opener at Merrill Green Stadium. Howard rushed for three touchdowns. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
The competition figures to get considerably more challenging next Friday night when Temple hosts Harker Heights, a playoff qualifier last season. The Knights, powered by dynamic junior running back Re’Shaun Sanford II, hammered Killeen Ellison 48-7 on Thursday and have outscored their first four opponents 218-78.
“Coach (Jerry) Edwards and his staff, they do as good a job as anybody in the state of Texas. I haven’t seen any film on them (this season), but I will tell you we’re going to have to be at our dead-level best just to have a chance,” Stewart said. “We’ll try to put a good plan together, and if everybody will oblige us, we’ll show up and play a game anyway.
“I know (most people) probably have already got us beat, but that’s why you play the games. That’s why they’re not played on paper. They do a great job over there and they’ve got some phenomenal talent, and hopefully it’ll be a good game.”
After two straight weeks of grueling practices prepared Temple for its runaway victory at Bryan to begin 12-6A action, York said great preparation again will be vital for the Wildcats approaching their battle with Harker Heights.
“First things first, we’ve got to get healthy and get in the treatment room tomorrow,” York said. “Tuesday we have to come in and attack it, lift weights and get the gameplan set and have a great, hard week of practice. We have to lock in and have the Wildcat family come out and definitely pack the stands for this game. It’s going to be a good one and a fun one to watch.”
DISTRICT 12-6A FOOTBALL
TEMPLE 49, BRYAN 7
Temple 7 7 14 21 – 49
Bryan 0 0 7 0 – 7
Temple – Mikal Harrison-Pilot 95 pass from Reese Rumfield (Danis Bajric kick), 0:32.
Temple – Samari Howard 28 run (Bajric kick), 5:21.
Temple – Harrison-Pilot 42 pass from Rumfield (Bajric kick), 9:16.
Temple – Howard 18 run (Bajric kick), 3:12.
Bryan – Hunter Vivaldi 90 kickoff return (Matthew Gibson kick), 3:00.
Temple – Devan Williams 76 pass from Rumfield (Bajric kick), 7:43.
Temple – Howard 30 run (Bajric kick), 6:09.
Temple – Nyles Moreland 30 pass from Rumfield (Bajric kick), 1:16.
Rushing yards: Temple 180; Bryan 157.
Passing yards: Temple 341; Bryan 59.
Total yards: Temple 521; Bryan 216.
Rushing – Temple: Howard 18-169, Harrison-Pilot 2-28, Jalen Robinson 1-8, Rumfield 1-(-7), team 1-(-18).
Passing – Temple: Rumfield 13-23-3-341.
Receiving – Temple: Harrison-Pilot 2-137, Williams 3-111, Howard 3-40, Moreland 1-30, Tr’Darius Taylor 4-23.