FAST-STARTING WILDCATS: Howard, Temple race to 24-0 lead, quell Cove rally to win 12-6A opener 55-21
DAWG CATCHER: Temple junior defensive end Eric Shorter (13) grabs Copperas Cove senior quarterback Russel Cochran during the visiting Wildcats' 55-21 win over the Bulldawgs in Friday night's District 12-6A opener at Bulldawg Stadium. Shorter and the Wildcats allowed only 179 total yards and posted their third second-half shutout in four games. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
COPPERAS COVE – Temple scored the first 24 points in its District 12-6A opener Friday night against Copperas Cove, getting two touchdown runs and three 2-point conversion runs from Samari Howard and a TD pass from Humberto Arizmendi to AJ McDuffy in the opening 9 minutes.
The Wildcats also scored the game's final 24 points, with Mikal Harrison-Pilot's 41-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Arizmendi plus long TD runs by Howard and Bryce Langrum and an Aaron Wagaman field goal.
So, why did Temple head coach Scott Stewart have to show his self-proclaimed “ugly side” at halftime and use the term “unacceptable” after the game? Well, because the host Bulldawgs didn't simply roll over and succumb after incurring an early 24-0 deficit. Temple took its foot off the proverbial gas in the second quarter and was outscored 21-7 by resurgent Cove, turning a would-be blowout into a competitive 31-21 game by halftime.
A week after absorbing their first defeat, the Wildcats responded to Cove's comeback by allowing only 61 yards after halftime and posting their third second-half shutout in four games as Temple regained full control on its way to a thorough 55-21 victory at Bulldawg Stadium.
“We just wanted to come out here and attack them, but then we got too lax and just let them come back,” said Howard, Temple's junior standout who totaled 204 yards – 142 rushing on 19 carries and 62 receiving on six catches – and racked up 24 points with three touchdowns and three 2-point rushes. “Coach Stewart wasn't happy at all. He said we got beat 21-7 in the second quarter. Coming into the second half, we knew we had to get that fixed, and we came out and dominated.”
The Wildcats rushed for 321 yards and gained 512 yards overall, allowing them to depart Bulldawg Stadium in a much better mood than they were in after Cove rallied in the fourth quarter to beat Temple 22-18 in the 2018 regular-season finale.
Temple (3-1) bounced back from its 43-25 home loss to Arlington Martin that was plagued by crippling mistakes on special teams. After the Wildcats learned those difficult lessons, the defending 12-6A champions learned some more on the road in their league opener – primarily that they can't relax after seizing a large lead early, as they did against a Cove squad (1-3, 0-1) that one week earlier picked up its first win under new head coach Jason Hammett.
“It's a young (Temple) team, and when you get up on someone 24-0 sometimes you put it in neutral, and that's what I watched for about 10 minutes in that second quarter. To get outscored 21-7 in a quarter is unacceptable. I don't care if we're playing the Dallas Cowboys,” Stewart said. “I went in at halftime and they got to see the ugly side of Coach Stewart, because I don't care what the scoreboard says. I've promised this town I would try to put the best product on the field, and that second quarter was not the best product that we've put on the field. And it's just not acceptable.
“So I went in and challenged them. I didn't break anything this time, but I challenged them and I was proud of how they responded to that. If you want to be a champion, you have to be champions all the time. That's not a bad (Cove) football team, and they proved it. If you rest on your laurels for half a second, they'll score 21 points. Again, I know our offense gave up 14 of those directly, but it's either good football or it's not.”
After the second Arizmendi-to-McDuffy touchdown connection of the evening, this one from 24 yards, extended Temple's advantage to 31-14 with 3 minutes left before halftime, the Wildcats' defense allowed Cove to drive 65 yards and pull within 31-21 on Russel Cochran's 23-yard TD pass to Brandon Ortega with only 16 seconds remaining.
That score gave the Bulldawgs a big boost of momentum going into the intermission, but it also stoked the Wildcats to nip Cove's rally in the bud – with Stewart's spirited halftime speech providing some extra and necessary emphasis.
BIG GAME: Senior defensive tackle Cody Little made a sack to force a turnover on downs and helped Temple shut out Copperas Cove in the second half Friday night, helping the Wildcats begin District 12-6A play with a 55-21 road victory that improved their overall record to 3-1. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
“He thought we let go of the gas a little bit, and it's easy to do that. I think he was able to tell us we had to keep pushing so we could finish them off,” said Temple senior defensive tackle Cody Little, whose crew permitted only 68 passing yards and 179 overall. “I would say it was more of an attitude, just deciding to not let them score any more. Obviously they're going to make some plays here and there, but I think we just had to stay aggressive.
“I feel very proud of my teammates when we're able to come together and accomplish a goal. Things are going to happen, but it's about what you do afterward. Not everything's going to go perfect.”
The Wildcats' defense played the first half without two of its top players in senior free safety O'Tarian Peoples and sophomore middle linebacker Taurean York because of what Stewart called “a violation of team rules.” After defenders such as junior Johnny Donoso and sophomore Zion Moore filled in during the first half, Peoples and York returned for the final two quarters and helped Temple shut out Cove. Stewart said junior outside linebacker/safety Marshall Grays and senior cornerbacks Keon Williams and Carlton Mack had strong performances.
The frustrating 18-point home loss to Martin brought the Wildcats back to earth after they began the season with double-digit wins away from home against state-ranked Longview and also Magnolia West. Opening its seven-game district schedule at Cove, Temple probably couldn't have played a better first 9 minutes.
The Wildcat defense began the game by forcing a three-and-out series, and speedy Temple junior Tr'Darius Taylor returned a punt from his 42-yard line to the Bulldawgs' 13. Howard caught Arizmendi's 6-yard pass and on the next play stretched across the goal line for a 7-yard touchdown run. Not content to kick the extra point, Temple employed its swinging gate formation on the conversion and Howard easily rushed in for 2 points and an 8-0 lead with 2:40 gone.
TAKING OFF: Temple senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi (10), who threw three touchdown passes and rushed seven times for 70 yards Friday night, breaks through Copperas Cove defenders during the Wildcats' district-opening 55-21 win. Arizmendi ran for gains of 27, 23 and 17 yards as part of Temple's 321-yard rushing attack. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
After another defensive stop, senior quarterback Arizmendi sparked Temple with a 27-yard rush off right tackle. A holding penalty negated Howard's would-be 61-yard catch-and-run touchdown, but from the Cove 46 McDuffy ran past the secondary along the right seam and caught Arizmendi's long pass in stride for the TD. The Wildcats again went for the 2-point conversion and Howard broke an arm tackle to score for a 16-0 advantage with 3:28 left in the first quarter.
Temple made another big play on the ensuing kickoff as a hard tackle by Williams caused Cove returner Justin Raines to fumble, sending the ball flying before Moore grabbed it out of midair to give the Wildcats possession at the Bulldawgs' 26. Harrison-Pilot dashed for a 21-yard gain before Howard followed the block of senior center Matthew Frye for a 1-yard touchdown.
The conversion call again was a direct snap to Howard, and the shifty back easily went off right tackle for his third 2-point conversion of the first quarter to produce a commanding 24-0 lead for Temple. Howard explained that special teams coordinator Robby Case is finding ways to make the swinging gate work to the Wildcats' advantage, one week after Martin's 2-point plays did plenty of damage against Temple.
“Coach Case is a great coach, and we game plan against it,” Howard said. “He just puts us in the right spots and we execute it.”
Added Stewart about the 2-point conversions: “We've worked on it since June. It was something our special teams coordinator was adamant about, and it's a weapon. This game is angles and numbers, and that's that every offensive coordinator talks about. (Case) is good at what he does. I wanted to pull out the stops (tonight). I wanted to show that you can have a bad week but that we can still play special teams in Temple, Texas. He said, 'If I get the angles, do you want it?' And I'm like, 'You're dang right I do.' We were 3-for-3 (on 2-point conversions), and when stuff gets executed well, then it looks good.”
As much as Temple dominated the first quarter, the game changed on the second period's second play. Arizmendi's pass to the left side sailed over McDuffy's head and Cove's Isaiah Chisholm intercepted it at his 33 before sprinting all the way to the Wildcats 1, where Howard pushed him out. Junior quarterback Shane Richey scored on a 2-yard touchdown run to finally get Cove on the board at 24-7.
Howard's 34-yard jaunt off left tackle helped Temple march deep into Cove territory midway through the second, but Bulldawgs defensive back Tyrese Carter then stepped in front of Arizmendi's long out pass to intercept it at the 10 before sprinting 90 yards for a touchdown return and a 24-14 game.
“What he's got to learn is that not every ball has to be caught,” Stewart said of Arizmendi, the first-year starter who threw for 191 yards and three touchdowns but also tossed the two interceptions that created 14 Cove points. “The first one was a high throw and his technique got away from him a little bit. The second one, they rolled the coverage, which is a great thing to do on that play. They're good coaches and they do their homework.
“He's got to understand to hit the guy in the cowboy hat in the fifth row. Hit the nacho lady. He's like, 'I want to make good things happen.' It's like, 'Dude, it's second down. Let's live to fight another play.' You've got to play through that. He's played four games in his entire career at this level. He's going to get better as he goes.”
IN STRIDE: Temple senior wide receiver AJ McDuffy (3) beats Copperas Cove defender Tyrese Carter for a 24-yard touchdown reception from senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi late in second quarter of the Wildcats' district-opening 55-21 victory at Bulldawg Stadium on Friday night. McDuffy also made a 46-yard TD catch from Arizmendi. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
A one-handed catch by Howard went for 16 yards on third-and-8, and on the next play McDuffy beat Carter on the right side of the end zone for a 24-yard touchdown reception from Arizmendi to push the Wildcats' lead to 31-14 with 3 minutes left in the first half.
Undeterred, Cove picked up a key first down on a fake punt and made it 31-21 with 16 seconds remaining before halftime when Ortega streaked past the middle of Temple's secondary to catch Cochran's 23-yard TD strike. That came a few plays after dual-threat junior QB Richey had to leave the game after getting sandwiched by a hard hit from two Wildcats defenders.
The Bulldawgs were within striking distance at that point, but their comeback proved short-lived. Temple took the second-half kickoff and reached the Cove 41 before sophomore Harrison-Pilot caught Arizmendi's quick pass to the left side, used a sharp block and sprinted down the sideline for the 41-yard touchdown and a 38-21 lead after the first of Wagaman's three extra points.
Cove lineman Ayden Paquette stopped Howard on fourth-and-3 from the 5 late in the third, but the Dawgs couldn't do anything after the turnover on downs and the Wildcats extended their lead to 41-21 on Wagaman's 27-yard field goal 9 seconds into the fourth quarter.
After Little sacked Cochran on fourth-and-5 from the Cove 40, Howard took advantage of stellar blocks from McDuffy and Frye on the right side to scamper for a 28-yard touchdown and a 48-21 lead with 8:26 remaining, essentially sealing the outcome.
“He understands the blocking schemes. Not that he didn't (as a sophomore), but now it's the nuances. That's the nuances of playing the game. He's learned how to see the picture instead of just hitting the hole,” Stewart said of Howard, the 12-6A Offensive Newcomer of the Year in 2019. “He's starting to see the angles and understanding the scheme. He's starting to learn the 'why' and the 'how.'”
Langrum, a senior reserve, showed impressive speed as he added the exclamation point with a 52-yard touchdown burst with 6:42 left to complete the scoring.
Temple will play the first of its four district home games against Bryan (2-0, 1-0) – a 28-21 winner over Harker Heights on Friday – at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium;
TEMPLE 55, COPPERAS COVE 21
Temple 24 7 7 17 – 55
Cove 0 21 0 0 – 21
Temple – Samari Howard 7 run (Howard run), 9:20.
Temple – AJ McDuffy 46 pass from Humberto Arizmendi (Howard run), 3:28.
Temple – Howard 1 run (Howard run), 2:59.
Cove – Shane Richey 2 run (Caleb Newberry kick), 9:56.
Cove – Tyrese Carter 90 interception return (Newberry kick), 5:27.
Temple – McDuffy 24 pass from Arizmendi (Aaron Wagaman kick), 3:04.
Cove – Brandon Ortega 23 pass from Russel Cochran (Newberry kick), 0:16.
Temple – Mikal Harrison-Pilot 41 pass from Arizmendi (Wagaman kick), 10:32.
Temple – Wagaman 27 field goal, 11:51.
Temple – Howard 28 run (Wagaman kick), 8:26.
Temple – Bryce Langrum 52 run (Wagaman kick), 6:42.
First downs: Temple 19; Cove 8.
Rushes-yards: Temple 41-321; Cove 35-111.
Passing yards: Temple 191; Cove 68.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Temple 12-18-2; Cove 6-19-0.
Punts-average: Temple 2-42.5; Cove 6-39.2.
Fumbles-lost: Temple 0; Cove 1-1.
Penalties-yards: Temple 7-60; Cove 5-38.
Rushing – Temple: Howard 19-142, Langrum 6-74, Arizmendi 7-70, Harrison-Pilot 3-23, Jalen Robinson 5-8, Thomas McVade 1-4; Cove: Ortega 9-60, Richey 9-22, Warren Fleming 6-16, Josiah Key 2-5, Brody Sanders 3-5, Cochran 6-3.
Passing – Temple: Arizmendi 12-18-2-191; Cove: Cochran 3-12-0-55, Richey 3-7-0-13.
Receiving – Temple: McDuffy 3-82, Howard 6-62, Harrison-Pilot 3-47; Cove: Tyrez Reynolds 3-42, Ortega 2-25, Fleming 1-1.