• Greg Wille

FAMILIAR FOES COLLIDE: Temple seeks clarity at QB, other spots in home scrimmage vs. College Station


PASSING GRADE: Senior Humberto Arizmendi (throwing) is competing with sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot for Temple's starting quarterback position. Those two will have an opportunity to shine when the Wildcats host College Station in the teams' lone scrimmage at 6:30 p.m. Thursday at Wildcat Stadium. Temple and College Station clashed for the District 18-5A championship in 2016 and 2017, with the Cougars winning both games in close fashion. This is the third straight season for them to meet in a scrimmage. (Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)



By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


The Temple Wildcats and the College Station Cougars clashed in a pair of memorable showdowns for the District 18-5A championship in 2016 and 2017, and College Station dealt Temple two agonizing defeats: 17-16 at Wildcat Stadium the first year and 26-20 in overtime at Cougar Field a year later.

Temple moved up to Class 6A for the 2018 and 2019 seasons, but Wildcats coach Scott Stewart and Cougars coach Steve Huff liked the teams' rigorous competition enough that they agreed to meet up again for preseason scrimmages. Four touchdown receptions by then-Temple junior Quentin Johnston highlighted the 2018 matchup at Wildcat Stadium, but the host Cougars controlled the action on their field last August.

The perennial playoff qualifiers are set to meet again Thursday for a scrimmage at approximately 6:30 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium, with the hope that they'll once again give each other a significant test and make each other better entering next week's delayed regular-season openers.

Temple begins its season by battling Longview – ranked No. 3 in the state in 5A Division I by Texas Football magazine – at 8 p.m. next Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. That will be a rematch of the Wildcats' 41-10 loss to the Lobos in a 6A Division II bi-district playoff game last November in Longview. College Station, ranked No. 16 in 5A Division I, will host Hutto next Friday night.

Sub-varsity scrimmages between Temple and College Station will precede this evening's main event. The junior varsity teams will match up at 5 p.m. on Wildcat Stadium's Bob McQueen Field, while the freshman squads scrimmage on Temple's adjacent grass practice fields.

Temple missed its customary four weeks of spring football practice and the summer 7-on-7 season because of the COVID-19 pandemic, and the Wildcats have been practicing in full pads only since Saturday. Therefore, Stewart is eager to see how his players – especially those untested, up-and-coming prospects who are competing for starting spots and playing time – handle the challenge posed by always-tough College Station, which captured the 5A Division II state championship in 2017.

“We have positions where there's battles going on, in particular slot receiver, offensive line and quarterback, where somebody will get the (starting) nod (in the scrimmage) – not necessarily because they're the starter; it's just rock/paper/scissors and go out there,” said Stewart, who's entering his fifth season as Temple's head coach after two as the Wildcats' defensive coordinator.

“Obviously I would like to have depth charts solidified by Saturday. We'll watch the film on Friday, and probably Thursday night. There's definitely wiggle room (for competitions to continue after the scrimmage), but I do think there's a premium put on competition against high-level a opponent.”

The Temple-College Station scrimmage will use a standard format, with a controlled portion followed by two “live” quarters of timed action. College Station's starting offense will go against Temple's starting defense for a series of 12 plays before the Wildcats' top offense runs 12 plays against the Cougars' top defense. The second-team units then will follow the same format before that scheduled is repeated. All possessions will begin at the offense's 25-yard line.

For the live half, standard game timing will be used in the first quarter before a modified running clock – stoppages for change of possession and kicking plays – takes effect for the second quarter. All penalties will be enforced during the live half. All drives will begin at the offense's 25.

“My goal (for the scrimmage) is usually about 50 to 60 plays. I think in a game there's probably between 70 and 80 to 85,” Stewart said.

The scrimmage offers a great opportunity for the two players competing for Temple's starting quarterback position: sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot – who started all 11 games at free safety last season – and senior Humberto Arizmendi, the starting QB for the Wildcats' top JV team in 2019. Harrison-Pilot is a dual-threat performer with a strong throwing arm and stellar running ability, while Arizmendi is more of a traditional pocket passer with good accuracy.

“They're trending in the right direction, and they're kind of trending together,” Stewart said of his quarterbacks. “It's nice to have that battle, and you have two kind of conflicting styles. Both of them throw the ball from the pocket pretty well, at least in practice. It'll be interesting when they start getting a live rush and stuff like that.”

Stewart said junior running back Samari Howard – last year's District 12-6A Offensive Newcomer of the Year – has emerged as a team leader during the Wildcats' first two weeks of practices. Experienced seniors A.J. McDuffy and Luke Allen pace the group of receivers, and senior Aaron Wagaman enters his fourth season as the starting kicker.

Senior left tackle Alex Rodriguez is Temple's only returning starter on the offensive line, although right tackle Colby Rice got plenty of playing time last year. So did senior Kai Lynn, who's competing along with at least four other players at the two guard positions. Senior Matt Frye is the leading contender at center.

Sophomore linebacker Taurean York returns after starting all 11 games, leading Temple with 80 tackles and sharing 12-6A's Defensive Newcomer of the Year award. Senior defensive tackles Jayven Taylor and Cody Little and junior end/linebacker Eric Shorter are back, and Stewart expects production from imposing junior end Tomas Torres.

Other impact players on the Wildcats' defense include junior linebackers and Marshall Grays and Faylin Lee, senior cornerbacks Keon Williams and Carlton Mack and junior safeties O.T. Peoples and Jaden Jackson.

College Station went 8-4 last year, beating Tyler John Tyler 40-21 in the first round of the 5A Division I playoffs before the Cougars lost 45-30 to eventual state semifinalist Frisco Lone Star in the area round. Huff is 63-16 in six seasons at College Station, guiding the Cougars to at least the second round of the playoffs each of the last five years.

The College Station offense is led by Roderick Brown (1,219 yards, 16 touchdowns in 2019) and receivers Houston Thomas and Dalton Carnes along with junior quarterback Jett Huff (1,009 passing yards, eight TDs), son of the team's head coach. The Cougars' defense is paced by veteran linebackers in senior Bubba Carter (120 tackles, seven sacks) and junior Jaxson Slanker (103 tackles).

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