DETERMINED TO IMPROVE: Stewart says Temple must correct shortcomings after lopsided loss to Westlake
SCRAMBLING IN THE RAIN: Temple sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield tries to elude pressure from Austin Westlake senior lineman Ethan Burke in a first-quarter rainstorm during the Wildcats' season-opening 54-13 loss to the top-ranked Chaparrals last Friday at Wildcat Stadium. Making his Temple debut, Rumfield was 8-of-22 passing for 90 yards with no touchdowns or interceptions. The Wildcats host Magnolia West (1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
After Temple’s football team was plagued by mistakes and poor execution in its season-opening 54-13 loss to top-ranked powerhouse Austin Westlake at Wildcat Stadium last Friday night, Wildcats sixth-year head coach Scott Stewart wasn’t frustrated or angry as he went home.
However, that’s only because he didn’t return home.
Stewart’s office inside the Temple Athletic Complex also became his bedroom for the evening as he repeatedly watched video of the Wildcats’ sloppy, error-filled 41-point defeat through the wee hours. A couch, pillow and blanket along one wall provided what he called, with a chuckle, “about an hour-and-a-half nap.”
“I did not go home Friday night. I slept right there,” Stewart said Tuesday, motioning at the black sofa. “I watched the game five times, and there were about 10 plays where I, Scott Stewart, the guy that brought this defense to Temple, Texas (in 2014), did not know what the heck I was looking at.
“When (Temple’s players and coaches) came back here (Saturday morning), I was wearing exactly what I walked off the field in. If it ain’t right, then you fix it. That’s not always an easy process. You’ve got to know what’s wrong.”
After an all-around struggle for Temple in its scrimmage at College Station the previous week, the Wildcats’ bid to beat – or at least challenge – two-time reigning Class 6A state champion Westlake was undone by a series of crippling gaffes.
“They’re that good, there’s no question. We knew that going in. That’s why I wanted to play them. They’re that good, so let’s see where we’re at,” Stewart said. “I don’t know how good we are (after one game), because we’re in the charity business right now.”
With sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield going 8-of-22 passing for 90 yards in his first start, Temple’s offense never produced a touchdown against the disciplined, sure-tackling starting defense of Westlake.
Going up against the country’s No. 1-ranked senior QB in Clemson commitment Cade Klubnik, the Wildcats’ defense allowed touchdown passes of 35, 31 and 17 yards – the last two on coverage breakdowns – en route to a 31-3 halftime deficit.
And Temple was particularly suspect in the punting game, with a combination of errant snaps, ill-advised decisions and badly mishit, short kicks continually giving coach Todd Dodge’s opportunistic Chaparrals great field position and putting the Wildcats’ tiring defense in negative situations. Stewart described it as “a comedy of errors.”
So after witnessing the whole package on a disappointing opening night at Temple’s home field, albeit against one of the nation’s premier teams, the frustrated Stewart holed up in his office and viewed the hard-to-watch game film over and over, trying to identify what went wrong, why and how to fix it before his Wildcats host Magnolia West (1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium.
“I don’t care if you win big, if it’s a close game or if you get blown out. When you play that quality of an opponent, you’re always going to get good film,” Stewart said. “I’ve been in a funk. I’ve always said that our focus is not ‘winning’; I think (winning is) a biproduct of doing everything as good as you can do it. I’m funky because we didn’t do anything as good as we could have done it. Again, the premise is that you play people like this to find out who you are, what you are and where you are.”
And in the event of a lopsided loss, Stewart knows that a big part of the improvement process is being very demanding not only of himself and his players but also of his coaching staff – defensive coordinator Dexter Knox, offensive coordinator Josh Sadler, special teams coordinator Robby Case and the other assistants.
“We’ve had some pretty excitable conversations. I don’t know if you can call it a conversation when it’s just one way, but there’s been a couple staff meetings where I’ve challenged some folks. It was very curt,” Stewart said. “My job, at the end of the day, is to put the best product on the field, and in my opinion that’s not the best product we can put on the field.
“I’m in defensive meetings anyway, but I’ve been in every meeting (since the Westlake game). I’ve been asking questions, I’ve been giving my advice, everything. I’ve been there (as a defensive coordinator and an assistant coach). It’s a pain in the butt. But my job is that every kid out there, his production is my responsibility.”
Stewart said what happened during the Westlake game reminded him of Temple’s 41-10 loss at defending state champion Longview in a 6A Division II bi-district game in 2019 in terms of failing to execute well against a top opponent and handle the pressure of a high-stakes moment.
“The difference is that we were sitting there with probably 12 to 14 sophomores (in 2019),” he said.
In this season’s opening game against a talented, balanced Westlake squad that rode into town with a 24-game winning streak, Temple didn’t have a consistently effective answer for dealing with the Chaparrals in any phase of the game.
“There’s no question they’re good. Now, at times, we were a comedy of errors, and you can’t do that,” Stewart said. “I think a lot of it was pressure. There’s a lot of factors, not to mention the Division I talent that’s laden on the other sideline. They’ve got a Division I offensive line and a Division I receiver out there. Just the reactions of some of our kids . . . I saw nervous excitement and I saw borderline panic.
“I approached it like (Westlake’s) another squad, and they are. I wouldn’t change anything (about game preparation). What I’ve got to do a better job of is getting our kids to understand that instead of just telling them that.”
After winning a preseason competition for the starting quarterback position, Rumfield experienced a mostly difficult debut against the unrelenting Westlake defense of coordinator Tony Salazar, a former standout safety at Mary Hardin-Baylor. The sophomore completed passes of 42 and 32 yards to senior receivers Tr’Darius Taylor and Devan Williams, respectively, but otherwise he went 6-of-20 for 16 yards.
Rumfield, who endured a brief-but-strong rainstorm early in the first quarter that forced him to throw a soaked ball, threw neither a touchdown nor an interception and rushed five times for 14 yards while under constant pressure from Chaps defenders.
“Reese had some really good reads and threw some really good balls early. I think he lost some of that in the second half,” Stewart said of Rumfield, who transferred to Temple in May. “But again, he’s a 15-year-old and when things aren’t going well, sometimes he tries to force it, which is what sophomore quarterbacks do. (He just needs to) trust the reads.”
Temple senior running back Samari Howard became more effective as the game progressed, and the reigning District 12-6A Co-Most Valuable Player finished with a game-high 135 yards on 22 carries behind an inexperienced line with four new starters. He also played some at quarterback during the second half.
“I thought we ran the ball a little bit better (that expected). We probably should’ve gone to that earlier,” Stewart said, adding that Howard “played his tail off.” “(Entering the game) we felt like that wasn’t a good matchup, our front vs. their front. But we’ve got to be who we are, whether it’s good enough or not.
“I think we put a lot on a 15-year-old quarterback who was taking him first varsity snap. We’d probably revisit that. You’ve got to throw the ball against Westlake; they’re too dang good (not to). (The first-quarter storm) didn’t help. It’s been a while since I’ve seen raindrops that big. So that changed some of the play-calls.”
Junior standout Mikal Harrison-Pilot, Temple’s leading returning receiver, did not catch a pass against Westlake and played approximately 20 plays on defense at “boom” safety. Stewart said the third-year varsity starter and four-star recruit played through a groin injury and that the Wildcats are monitoring his status throughout this week.
Temple’s defense got 11 tackles and a forced fumble from junior middle linebacker Taurean York, 10 tackles from senior strong safety Jaden Jackson and a fumble recovery from senior free safety O’Tarian Peoples.
“I think our defense played (competitively), by and large. You’re not going to stop those guys. They stress you everywhere,” said Stewart, whose defense allowed 226 passing yards, 163 rushing yards and 389 overall against Westlake. “There were some consistency issues and some fit issues, and all of that’s on me, but a lot of it was that we played 30 defensive snaps in the first quarter. There’s only one way to get in game shape and that’s to play games.”
The final two of Klubnik’s three first-half touchdown passes came when receivers got behind the Wildcats secondary on busted coverages to make open catches. The dual-threat quarterback, voted 6A Offensive Player of the Year after leading 14-0 Westlake to last season’s Division I state title, certainly made Temple pay for those defensive lapses.
“They do some stuff to stress you. They’ve got a bigger package (in the playbook), and you can do that with a seasoned quarterback,” Stewart said. “They started leaking some people out of the backfield, and we had some guys with some bad eyes and cut one (receiver) loose. That shouldn’t happen.
“We said at halftime, ‘Look, you’re not going to fool (Klubnik) trying to give him different looks. Guess what? He’s seen every look known to man, so let’s make sure we’re in position.’”
Meanwhile, uncharacteristically poor execution in the punting game was an albatross that haunted Temple throughout the season opener. On the Wildcats’ first punting situation early in the first quarter, senior Jalen Robinson caught a wide snap deep in Wildcats territory and, after the urging of a nearby teammate, tried to right toward the right sideline for a first down but was tackled well short for a key turnover on downs.
Robinson, Rumfield and Danis Bajric (two field goals) averaged 15.7 yards on a combined six punts, and in the third quarter an extremely high snap sailed over the punter’s head and out of the end zone, giving Westlake a safety. And with 3 minutes remaining, a Temple punt deflected off the backside of one Wildcat and off the helmet of another before Will Magids returned it 45 yards for the Chaps’ final touchdown, just before Robinson’s 80-yard sprint against reserve defenders supplied Temple with its only touchdown.
“Field position was awful,” said Stewart, who vowed that the Wildcats would have ongoing competition this week at punter and long snapper. “Westlake started one drive in their own territory, and it was at their 49-yard line, by the way. Fifty-one yards was their longest drive.”
Stewart reported that when Temple resumed practice Monday and began with punting drills, the first deep snap was perfect and the first punt was good and long.
Come Friday night, the Wildcats clearly need to carry that level of execution into a live game – and definitely avoid another “comedy of errors” – as they seek to even their record at 1-1 against Magnolia West.
Said Stewart: “That’s the first message I told them after (the Westlake game): ‘Guys, we’re never going to realize what we even could be if we stay in the charity business.’”