FINISHING FLOURISH? Temple preps for Waxahachie playoff rematch in 12-6A finale vs. last-place Cove
CUTTING IT LOOSE: Temple junior quarterback Reese Rumfield throws a pass between Harker Heights senior defensive linemen Lamarian Hatcher (57) and Evan Kime during the host Knights' 13-9 win over the Wildcats in a District 12-6A showdown two weeks ago at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen. Temple (6-3, 4-1) aims to bounce back with a win to end the regular season when it hosts last-place Copperas Cove (2-7, 0-5) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Wildcat Stadium. The game was moved up a day to avoid potential inclement weather conditions on Friday. The Wildcats will host familiar opponent Waxahachie (7-2) in a Class 6A Division I bi-district playoff game at 7:30 p.m. next Friday. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Temple’s final game of the regular season has no bearing on whether the Wildcats will advance to the playoffs. They clinched their 10th consecutive postseason berth three weeks ago when they scored a last-minute touchdown to edge Hutto 31-27.
Regardless of Temple’s Week 11 result against Copperas Cove or anything else that happens this week in District 12-6A, the Wildcats (6-3, 4-1) are locked into hosting now-familiar opponent Waxahachie in a Class 6A Division I bi-district playoff game at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium.
And because Cove resides in last place in the league standings at 0-5 after its 55-0 loss to Harker Heights, Temple’s regular-season finale against the Bulldawgs (2-7) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Wildcat Stadium certainly doesn’t include the anticipation and pressure that the Wildcats felt when they battled Harker Heights two weeks ago in 12-6A’s de facto championship game at Killeen’s Leo Buckley Stadium.
In that high-stakes showdown, a 9-0 halftime lead for Temple turned into a frustrating 13-9 defeat as the determined Knights stopped the Wildcats’ district winning streak at 19 games, most likely denying their quest to capture a fourth straight 12-6A title.
But although there doesn’t seem to be much on the line for Temple in a game that’s been moved one day earlier to avoid potentially inclement weather Friday, don’t tell that to the Wildcats or Scott Stewart, their seventh-year head coach.
“There’s going to be that taste in their mouth, and there’s nothing you can do about that. There’s only one way to get that taste out, and that won’t happen until you play again and you get that taste out of your mouth,” Stewart said last Wednesday as the Wildcats took their open week after playing nine consecutive games.
Back in regular game-week mode Tuesday, Stewart said it’s highly important for Temple to produce a focused, sharp, clean performance in its 12-6A finale against Copperas Cove, whose Bulldawgs were blasted 77-12 by Temple one year ago.
“We have a standard in play because of who we are, not because of who somebody else is. Philosophically, that thwarts any of that,” Stewart, whose team led Cove 56-0 at halftime, said about the prospect of Temple overlooking the Bulldawgs this time. “I’ll tell you, last Friday night was the first time I’ve seen Cove just kind of get run off the field.
“It was a close game against (Pflugerville) Weiss, it was a close against Hutto, it was a close game against (Waco) Midway. They should have beaten Midway. They’ve played with everyone else in the district, at least for a while. Heights played its best 48 minutes, which is what you want to do going into the playoffs.”
That’s the primary message being delivered by Stewart and his staff to their players the week before they’ll shoot to beat Waxahachie in a first-round playoff game at Wildcat Stadium for the third straight year.
“I want to see us play our best 48 minutes. I think we’ve played lights-out at times. I think we’re very inconsistent. But if you wait until the playoffs to start playing playoff football, you’re probably putting yourself in a bad situation, especially in 6A Division I,” Stewart said. “It ain’t getting any easier. Waxahachie and (undefeated, third-ranked) Duncanville were 7-7 in the fourth quarter, then Duncanville kind of pulled away a little bit.
“I hear a lot of people talk about process. We talk a lot about process. A process is not a light switch. If you wait until you need it to try to flick it on, it won’t be there.”
As for Temple’s regular-season finale being pushed up by one night, Stewart said he started studying the Friday weather forecast at the beginning of this week and saw that the probability for inclement conditions was high and increasing.
With a clear forecast for Thursday evening, Temple and Copperas Cove sought to move their game up a day and the 12-6A District Executive Committee approved it – which had Stewart and Temple assistant athletic director Steve Prentiss, Stewart's right-hand man, in scramble mode for much of Tuesday to make all the necessary adjustments and arrangements.
“It was an easy call, (but) the logistics behind it . . . there’s a lot of stuff that goes on,” Stewart said. “You’ve got stadium workers, security, officials, clock crew, chain crew, pregame meals, travel for the JV games (that were moved up to Wednesday). There’s just a thousand people who are involved.”
The game’s rescheduling will give Temple an extra day to recover and prepare for its third straight playoff matchup with Waxahachie (7-2), which completes its regular season Thursday night at winless Dallas Skyline. The Indians’ only losses came in back-to-back road tests against state-ranked 11-6A foes: 42-24 at No. 13 DeSoto and 24-7 at No. 3 Duncanville.
Copperas Cove is in its first season with head coach Tony Johnson, who was hired in February after guiding Dallas White to consecutive 6-5 playoff seasons in 2020 and 2021. He succeeded Jason Hammett, who resigned after the Bulldawgs went 1-9 in each of his two seasons at the helm.
Including a 3-7 record under coach Jack Alvarez in 2019, Cove is 7-32 in the past four seasons and hasn’t qualified for the playoffs since 2018, Alvarez’s first year. Johnson is the fourth head coach in six seasons for the Bulldawgs, who made 18 playoff appearances and reached two state championship games with coach Jack Welch from 1994-2017.
Johnson’s debut Cove squad was 2-2 after dominant non-district wins against Georgetown East View (39-9) and 5A Division II district title contender Waco University (51-18), but success has eluded the Bulldawgs during 12-6A action. They’ve been outscored 228-92 in league losses to Bryan (49-20), Weiss (51-20), Midway (24-21), Hutto (49-31) and Heights.
Cove’s offense features a collection of go-to players. Senior running back Craig Brown is a 5-foot-10, 200-pound workhorse who’s rushed for 679 yards and five touchdowns on 125 carries. The Dawgs possess a pair of tall, talented wide receivers in 6-3, 180-pound junior Demetrius Pearce (26 receptions, 497 yards, five TDs) and 6-4, 175-pound sophomore Trishstin Glass (38 catches, 461 yards, six TDs).
“They’ve got a running back that’s pretty good and they’ve got two outside receivers who can go – big, tall, lanky receivers and they like to throw it around a little more than they have in the past,” Temple defensive coordinator Dexter Knox said about Cove’s offense. “We’re going to have to play pretty well.”
The quarterback position has been something of a revolving door for the Bulldawgs. Junior Gabriel Rodriguez played mostly well in the first five games, passing for 505 yards and seven touchdowns against one interception and rushing for three TDs. However, he hasn’t played since the district opener.
Athletic junior Micah Casson and senior Blaine Butler have shared the QB duties since then. Casson has passed for 586 yards and seven touchdowns against one interception in four games and also is a running threat with 99 yards, but he left last week's Harker Heights game with an injury. Butler, who played QB against Temple in relief last year, has thrown for 371 yards and one TD with two interceptions.
Cove’s offensive line has an outstanding player and prospect in hulking tackle Michael Uini, a 6-7, 290-pound junior. Rated as a four-star national recruit, Uini has scholarship offers from Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana State, Penn State, Southern California and Oregon along with Texas, Texas A&M, Baylor, Texas Christian and Texas Tech. Junior guard Dominique Wyche is another skilled Dawgs lineman.
WRAPPED UP: Temple senior weakside linebacker Teryon Williams-Echols (36) grabs Harker Heights receiver Alexander Bailey during the Wildcats' 13-9 loss to the Knights on Oct. 21 at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen. In his first season as a starter, the 5-foot-6, 148-pound Williams-Echols has made 62 tackles to rank second on Temple's defense to the 105 stops of senior middle linebacker Taurean York. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
It’s no surprise that Baylor-committed senior middle linebacker and two-time 12-6A Defensive MVP Taurean York (105 tackles) leads Temple in tackles for the fourth straight season, but the fact that senior weakside linebacker Teryon Williams-Echols ranks second with 62 stops definitely qualifies as a pleasant surprise for the Wildcats.
Williams-Echols was a reserve safety last season and finished with 13 tackles. Thrust into a starting role as a senior and helping make up for the absence of injured senior starter Zion Moore, Williams-Echols has been among Temple’s most productive and reliable players all season – performing better than his 5-6, 148-pound body might suggest.
“I’ve liked the season that I’ve had. I never expected to start, especially at linebacker. I’m just really glad that I’ve gotten the opportunity to play,” said the mild-mannered Williams-Echols, who led Temple with 14 tackles in the close, hard-hitting loss at Harker Heights.
Knox has been highly impressed by how Williams-Echols has taken to and executed his expanded role on a defense that’s been depleted by injuries.
“Man, Teryon just works his butt off. He’s a smart kid and has some football savvy. He’s a hard worker and is going to give you everything he has. That’s the deal with our kids that I love,” said Knox, who’s gotten a steady season from another undersized senior in 135-pound strong safety Josh Donoso. “He knows where to be and he knows how to get there. Coach (Chris) Pilot does a good job with those (linebacker) guys.”
The quick, sure-tackling Williams-Echols said he’s become a smarter and better player through studying film with first-team all-state player York, the Wildcats’ well-established defensive leader who collected 12 tackles against Harker Heights.
“Taurean is definitely a great influence on how I play. I try to do everything as fast as I can,” said Williams-Echols, who plans to attend Tarleton State in Stephenville after graduation. “I watch film with him and we have this group chat on defense and we all text about plays and what they’re going to do. It’s really fun.”
Despite giving away at least 6 inches and 50 pounds to many of the opponents he’s tasked with tackling, Williams-Echols doesn’t necessarily view his small stature on the field as a disadvantage, even on the talent-laden 6A level.
“We try to use our size to our advantage. We use our swiftness and our speed to beat most people,” he said. “They don’t really expect you coming since they’re mostly looking over you.”
Williams-Echols and the Temple defense kept Harker Heights star senior running back Re’Shaun Sanford II out of the end zone in the big clash two weeks ago, but the Houston commitment and reigning 12-6A MVP rushed for 148 of his 193 yards after halftime to help the Knights effectively keep the ball away from the Wildcats. Fueled by the elusive Sanford, Heights possessed the ball for the game's final 8 1/2 minutes.
Copperas Cove’s defense had a more difficult time last week against the speedy, hard-to-tackle Sanford. He racked up 263 yards and a school-record six touchdowns on only 14 carries as Heights – which led 42-0 by halftime – overwhelmed the Bulldawgs and clinched at least a share of the 12-6A crown.
Heights (8-1, 5-0) can clinch the outright championship with a home win over playoff-bound Bryan (6-3, 3-2) on Thursday night at Leo Buckley Stadium. However, a Heights loss and a Temple win would give the Wildcats a share of their fourth straight 12-6A title.
Stewart said Copperas Cove deploys an aggressive 3-4 defense. Senior linebacker Kevin Pontious paces the Bulldawgs with 100-plus tackles.
Temple’s offense seeks more production against Cove from junior quarterback Reese Rumfield, senior running back Deshaun Brundage and its top two wide receivers in senior Mikal Harrison-Pilot and sophomore Christian Tutson after the fast, sturdy Harker Heights defense controlled the Wildcats in the second half.
“They’re fast, fast, fast. That’s the fastest Heights defense I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and I’ve seen some good ones,” Stewart said. “I’ve said for the last four years that I feel like they’re the most talented team in our district. Every year it’s like rinse and repeat. Again, credit to Heights’ defense, but I think every drive in the second half we put ourself in a first-and-20 or second-and-20 (situation). You’re not going to have a good night against that defense doing that. Sometimes when you do that you can’t get away with it, but against those people you don’t.
"So we’ve got to clean it up and be more efficient and more effective. We stalled out in the red zone some in the first half, but we didn’t even get the ball moving in the second half. A lot of that was a holding penalty, a bad snap and an interception. So it’s cleaning that up and moving the football, staying consistent and getting in a rhythm. I don’t feel like we were in a rhythm at all (against Heights).”
The highly recruited Harrison-Pilot has made 37 receptions for 734 yards and six touchdowns this year and enters his final regular-season high school game needing one TD catch to reach 20 for his career. He's scored 31 touchdowns overall in his four-year varsity career. Two-year starter Rumfield needs 197 passing yards to reach the 2,000-yard mark for the season and Brundage needs 104 rushing yards to reach 1,000.
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