• Greg Wille

FUN-FILLED FINALE: Howard, Arizmendi, defense shine as Temple thrashes Killeen 49-6; playoffs next


TEMPLE TAKEAWAY: Temple junior defensive end Eric Shorter (13) celebrates after forcing and recovering a second-quarter fumble deep in Killeen territory as teammates Taurean York (left) and Tommy Torres run off the field with him during the Wildcats' 49-6 victory over the Kangaroos on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Shorter's play set up a 5-yard touchdown run by junior Samari Howard, and playoff-bound Temple finished its regular season 9-1 overall and 7-0 in District 12-6A. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


Temple needed every bit of energy it could muster last Thursday night to grind past Killeen Shoemaker for a 27-24 road victory that clinched the outright District 12-6A championship for the Wildcats.

With the league title and top playoff position already secured, Temple had the freedom to simply turn things loose and have fun in its regular-season finale against struggling Killeen on a cool, windy Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. That approach paid big dividends as the Wildcats combined big-play offense with swarming defense to romp to a 49-6 win that completed their perfect district record.

That more relaxed feeling allowed Temple junior running back Samari Howard to not worry too much about dropping a would-be 46-yard touchdown pass on a double-pass bomb from sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot right before halftime. Perhaps that was because Howard already had scored four TDs in the first half – including an incredible one-handed grab for a 32-yard score from Humberto Arizmendi – to help propel the Wildcats (9-1 overall, 7-0 in 12-6A) to a commanding 35-6 lead.

“I lost it in the lights,” Howard said with a smile after surpassing 1,000 rushing yards for the season and pushing his touchdown total to 21 in nine on-the-field games, making a strong case to earn 12-6A's Most Valuable Player award.

No less excited was senior quarterback Arizmendi, Temple's first-year starter who not only threw three touchdown passes – a 26-yard strike to Harrison-Pilot, then connections of 32 and 58 yards with Howard – but also rushed for a game-high 90 yards and finally scored his first rushing TD of the season, a 25-yard dash in the third quarter.

“Before the game, I was just saying to myself, 'I'm going to score a rushing touchdown in this game,'” Arizmendi said. “And then when I broke it loose and I saw me and the safety, I was like, 'I gotta get in here.'”

Meanwhile, Temple's aggressive, sure-tackling defense showed no mercy against Killeen (2-6, 1-5) as it limited the sputtering Kangaroos to 28 rushing yards, 53 passing yards and 81 total yards on 49 plays. Wildcats junior end Eric Shorter caused a fumble and recovered it, and junior linebacker Marshall Grays made an interception to highlight a smothering, balanced performance.

“I feel like we played a complete game physically, but emotionally I feel like we were at an A-minus because of the unnecessary flags,” said Temple sophomore linebacker Taurean York, whose Wildcats were penalized 10 times for 105 yards. “We just wanted to limit the big plays. Last week against Shoemaker we (allowed) four explosive plays, which is impressive (defensively) for how explosive and fast Shoemaker is.”

Navigating the 12-6A schedule without a defeat is something that York – a two-year starter whose 2019 squad shared the 12-6A championship with Waco Midway – and his teammates certainly can and should celebrate.

“The goal is to win every game, and I know sometimes that's just not a possible feat to capture,” said York, Temple's leading tackler for the second straight season. “But I'm so proud of our team and how much we've grown since the scrimmage (against College Station). The growth is just tremendous.”

Temple fifth-year head coach Scott Stewart was fully aware that the comeback win at Shoemaker clinched the Wildcats' first outright district championship since 2015 and their first outright league crown in the state's largest classification since 2007.

But with Temple getting an open date next week before it hosts Waxahachie (5-4) in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game Friday, Dec. 11 at 7:30 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium, Stewart's sole focus against old rival Killeen was getting his Wildcats to produce a strong four-quarter performance as they tune up for postseason competition.

“That's the kind of stuff you can talk about after the game. I mean, all we wanted this week was to go 1-0,” said Stewart, whose Wildcats seek their first playoff victory since 2017 after two consecutive first-round defeats to Mesquite Horn and Longview, respectively. “The implications that come with doing that enough weeks in a row is you get to say, 'Hey, (we went) undefeated in district.' That's fine and good, but there was not any talk of that this week. I didn't care about being undefeated in district. I care about playing 48 minutes of Temple Wildcat football.”

Temple senior kicker Aaron Wagaman missed the game because of what Stewart called contact tracing related to COVID-19. Junior Danis Bajric filled in for four-year starter Wagaman and made all seven extra-point attempts. Stewart said he expects Wagaman to be cleared to return soon.

Temple junior reserve Jalen Robinson rushed for 67 second-half yards, including a 3-yard touchdown on the fourth quarter's first play to complete the scoring. The Wildcats rushed for 258 yards and passed for 235 in a 493-yard attack fueled by the line's stellar blocking.


AIR ARIZMENDI: Aided by the blocking of linemen Allen Camacho (left), Matt Frye and Kai Lynn, Temple senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi (10) throws a deep pass that sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot caught for a 26-yard touchdown in the first quarter of the Wildcats' 49-6 win over Killeen on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Arizmendi was 13-for-16 passing for 208 yards and three touchdowns – two scores went to junior running back Samari Howard – and also rushed for a game-high 90 yards with a 25-yard touchdown, his first TD this season, as District 12-6A champion Temple compiled 493 yards total offense. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Arizmendi was 13-for-16 for 208 yards and the three touchdowns, giving him 1,733 yards and 24 TDs for the regular season. He completed his first 10 passes and threw for 185 yards by halftime.

Junior quarterback Ahmad Bailey, one of three QBs Killeen used, ran for a 30-yard touchdown early in the second quarter for the Kangaroos' lone score, after which Temple senior lineman Jayven Taylor blocked the extra-point try. The Roos punted seven times and had seven fumbles, recovering all but one. Coach Neil Searcy and Killeen, who play last-place Copperas Cove next Friday, will miss the playoffs for the fourth straight season.

Temple set the tone early in its regular-season finale, getting a three-and-out series on defense and then using Howard's 13-yard run, Arizmendi's 23-yard keeper and a pass-interference penalty to march to Killeen's 5-yard line. Howard then took a shotgun snap and ran off left tackle for his first of four touchdowns and a 7-0 Wildcats lead with 4½ minutes gone.

Another strong series by Temple's defense plus a 15-yard penalty on Killeen set up the Wildcats at their 46, and they quickly moved to the Roos 26. Arizmendi threw a perfect pass to the middle of the end zone that Harrison-Pilot juggled briefly before securing the ball near the back line for another touchdown – their sixth TD connection this season – and a 14-0 advantage with 2½ minutes left in the opening period.

The bright spot for offensively challenged Killeen was its ensuing 70-yard drive on which Bailey blasted off right tackle and sprinted through a crease in Temple's defense for a 30-yard touchdown and a 14-6 game 2 minutes into the second quarter.

Taylor, the dominant nose tackle, rushed up the middle and blocked the botched extra-point try, scooped up the ball and returned it past midfield before the Roos retreated to prevent the Wildcats from adding two points on the conversion play.


SINGLE-HANDEDLY: Temple junior Samari Howard uses his left hand to pull in Humberto Arizmendi's long pass for a 32-yard touchdown reception during the second quarter of the Wildcats' 49-6 victory against Killeen on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. A few minutes later, Howard took a screen pass from Arizmendi and turned it into a 58-yard touchdown. He also had a two 5-yard scoring runs in the first half – giving him 21 TDs overall in nine games this year – and surpassed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season as Temple finished 9-1 overall and 7-0 in District 12-6A. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Temple responded with Howard's consecutive runs of 15 and 14 yards to advance to the Killeen 32 before he and Arizmendi connected on a highlight-reel play. Howard got wide-open down the left sideline and reached high with his left hand to snare Arizmendi's pass at the 7 before taking it in for the touchdown and a 21-6 lead 8 minutes before halftime. He credited the impressive catch to “instinct.”

“I'd have to say the one-handed grab,” Howard, the 12-6A Offensive Newcomer of the Year last season as a sophomore, said when asked to pick his favorite play against Killeen. “I didn't expect to do that.”

Another fruitless Killeen possession followed before Howard struck yet again. On third-and-20 from Temple's 42, Arizmendi tossed a screen pass on the right side to Howard, who darted around and blazed through a series of defenders for a 58-yard touchdown and a 28-6 lead 4:32 before halftime.

A stellar defensive play then helped the Wildcats expand their lead. After combining with Taylor and sophomore Jaylon Jackson on a game-sealing fourth-down stop against Shoemaker, Shorter stripped the ball away from Killeen standout senior Kadarius Marshall and pounced on it at the Roos' 13. Arizmendi kept for 8 yards before Howard swept wide to his left and retreated to the 16 before turning upfield and scooting past the defense for a 5-yard touchdown to make it 35-6 with 1:58 left.

“We knew coming into the game that we needed energy, and we brought that,” said Howard, who scored three TDs in a 6-minute span and pushed his season rushing totals to 1,036 yards and 15 TDs. “We knew had to execute and we knew we were going to score a lot of points, so we were already prepared to put our 2s in.”

Howard very nearly had a five-touchdown first half. From the Killeen 46 with 14 seconds remaining before halftime, Arizmendi threw a slightly backward pass that Harrison-Pilot – Temple's receptions leader and also its backup quarterback – caught near Temple's sideline.

The strong-armed sophomore fired a long pass to Howard, who was wide-open and got his hands on the ball at the 7 but couldn't complete the catch for what would have been an easy touchdown. The culprit? Losing the ball in the stadium lights, a grinning Howard said afterward.

Asked whether he's given any thought to being worthy of winning 12-6A's MVP award, Howard admitted that he's a “contender” for the honor but added, “I don't want to say too much. I want to be humble.”

Arizmendi, Temple's junior varsity quarterback last year as a junior, is in the running to be the fifth consecutive Wildcats senior QB to win his district's offensive player of the year award. His career-best 139-yard rushing game against Shoemaker last week played a vital role in Temple's tight road win, but Arizmendi entered the district finale with zero touchdown runs despite having 361 ground yards.

That drought finally changed midway through the third quarter after Temple's Grays made his second interception this season. Arizmendi passed to senior Luke Allen for 17 yards and Robinson ran for 23, then Arizmendi kept the ball off left tackle, got up to top speed and sprinted through a gap in the defense for a 25-yard touchdown, his long-awaited first scoring run.

“When I finally made it, I didn't even know what to think," he said.


ROADBLOCK: Senior nose tackle Jayven Taylor (95) and another Temple defender tackle Killeen junior quarterback Ahmad Bailey during the host Wildcats' 49-6 win over the Kangaroos on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Temple's defense allowed only 28 rushing yards and 81 total yards in its District 12-6A finale against the Kangaroos, whose lone score came on Bailey's 30-yard touchdown run in the second quarter. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Robinson added a 3-yard touchdown run to begin the fourth and Temple's unrelenting defense completed the second-half shutout. Stewart commended Wildcats linemen Taylor, Shorter, Jackson, Cody Little and Tommy Torres for dictating the action at the line and getting into Killeen's backfield.

After running the 12-6A gauntlet, York said next week's open date comes at a good time for the Wildcats before they turn their full attention toward first-round playoff opponent Waxahachie, whose Indians edged Waco 19-15 and will host second-ranked Duncanville (7-1) next Friday in the 11-6A finale.

“I know a lot of us were beat up after the Shoemaker game, and I'm sure we'll be beat up after this game as well,” York said. “It's not as grueling as it was last Thursday night, but still we played a tough game.”

Howard, though, sounded more eager to get right back on the field.

“We're ready for Waxahachie,” he said. “We're ready for anything right now.”

As for Arizmendi, the skilled passer and suddenly dangerous runner reflected Stewart's stance about how the surging Wildcats should go about their business from this point forward.

“We feel really good, but we can't get ahead of ourselves,” Arizmendi said. “We've got to stay humble and focus on what's next, and that's the playoff game.”

TEMPLE 49, KILLEEN 6

Killeen 0 6 0 0 – 6

Temple 14 21 7 7 – 49

First quarter

Temple – Samari Howard 5 run (Danis Bajric kick), 7:32.

Temple – Mikal Harrison-Pilot 26 pass from Humberto Arizmendi (Bajric kick), 2:34.

Second quarter

Killeen – Ahmad Bailey 30 run (kick blocked), 9:46.

Temple – Howard 32 pass from Arizmendi (Bajric kick), 7:56.

Temple – Howard 58 pass from Arizmendi (Bajric kick), 4:32.

Temple – Howard 5 run (Bajric kick), 1:58.

Third quarter

Temple – Arizmendi 25 run (Bajric kick), 4:47.

Fourth quarter

Temple – Jalen Robinson 3 run (Bajric kick), 11:54.

TEAM STATISTICS

First downs: Killeen 10; Temple 23.

Rushes-yards: Killeen 32-28; Temple 42-258.

Passing yards: Killeen 53; Temple 235.

Completions-attempts-interceptions: Killeen 8-17-1; Temple 16-22-0.

Offensive plays-total yards: Killeen 49-81; Temple 64-493.

Punts-average: Killeen 7-33.1; Temple 1-37.

Fumbles-lost: Killeen 7-1; Temple 2-1.

Penalties-yards: Killeen 9-88; Temple 10-105.

INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing – Killeen: Emory Arthur 7-26, Bailey 8-23, Shemar Cheever 1-4, Kadarius Marshall 4-(-1), Jordan Matney 1-(-3), Jacobia Thomas 6-(-5), Jayden Hill 5-(-16); Temple: Arizmendi 11-90, Robinson 8-67, Howard 11-67, Harrison-Pilot 5-28, Thomas McVade 3-15, Bryce Langrum 2-2, team 2-(-11).

Passing – Killeen: Hill 3-4-1-23, Bailey 3-6-0-22, Thomas 2-7-0-8; Temple: Arizmendi 13-16-0-208, Harrison-Pilot 3-6-0-27.

Receiving – Killeen: Davontay Monroe 3-14, Thomas 1-11, Marshall 1-10, Arthur 1-8, Albert Powell 1-8, Milan Kemp-Murray 1-2; Temple: Howard 2-90, Harrison-Pilot 5-52, Luke Allen 2-35, AJ McDuffy 3-25, Michael Heckstall 2-20, Jonah Walker 1-7, Tr'Darius Taylor 1-6.

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