FUN FINALE: Harrison-Pilot ignites offense as Temple rips Cove 69-7; Waxahachie playoff rematch next
CAN'T CATCH HIM: Temple senior Mikal Harrison-Pilot pulls away from a diving Copperas Cove defender on a 21-yard touchdown run during the first quarter of the Wildcats' 69-7 win over the Bulldawgs on Thursday night at Wildcat Stadium. Harrison-Pilot also caught touchdown passes of 18 and 75 yards from junior Reese Rumfield and threw a 45-yard TD pass to sophomore Christian Tutson as Temple (7-3) finished 5-1 in District 12-6A, a game behind Harker Heights. The Wildcats will host familiar opponent Waxahachie (8-2) in a Class 6A Division I bi-district playoff game at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
The Temple Wildcats readily admit that they’ve had a bad taste in their collective mouth ever since their frustrating 13-9 loss at Harker Heights two weeks ago in the showdown that essentially decided the District 12-6A football championship.
Temple didn’t get to play another game until Thursday night’s moved-up district finale against Copperas Cove, but what the Wildcats did against the last-place Bulldawgs definitely put that sweet, all-important taste of victory back in their mouth as they move on to the playoffs.
Mikal Harrison-Pilot caught two touchdown passes from Reese Rumfield, threw a scoring bomb to Christian Tutson and ran for a TD to highlight a huge offensive explosion, and Temple’s smothering defense controlled Cove throughout as the Wildcats romped to a complete 69-7 win at breezy Wildcat Stadium.
Harrison-Pilot, Tutson, Deshaun Brundage and Rymond Johnson all scored multiple touchdowns as runner-up Temple (7-3) finished 5-1 in 12-6A, one game behind a champion Harker Heights team (9-1, 6-0) that snapped the Wildcats’ 19-game district winning streak that dated to 2019.
Temple rushed for 338 yards and six touchdowns on 40 carries and passed for 275 yards and four TDs on 14-of-21 accuracy with no interceptions to compile a staggering 618 total yards against Cove's overmatched defense. Meanwhile, the Bulldawgs mustered only 8 rushing yards and 117 total yards against the Wildcat defense.
Rumfield’s three touchdown passes totaled 146 yards and Temple scored TDs on 10 of its first 14 possessions as the Wildcats jumped back on the proverbial horse, building positive momentum for another home showdown with familiar postseason foe Waxahachie (8-2) in a Class 6A Division I bi-district playoff game at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium.
“I just think we needed it. I know personally I had a bad taste in my mouth. I probably smiled only like seven times since (the loss at Heights),” said Temple senior linebacker and running back Taurean York, who recovered a muffed punt by Cove and added 27 rushing yards in his final regular-season game. “It was a tough pill to swallow that we weren’t outright district champions, but the cards play out like God wants them to, so I can’t complain. We’re on God’s time and His plan wasn’t for us to win the district championship, so that’s fine.
“We had to come out here and play like this to get our momentum back and feeling like the Temple Wildcats. I honestly felt like we had lost all our swagger throughout last week and this week, but we came out tonight and played with swag and intensity and played Wildcat football.”
Two weeks ago at Killeen’s Leo Buckley Stadium, Temple led Harker Heights 9-0 at halftime but then got outscored 13-0 in the second half and allowed the Knights to possess the ball for the final 8½ minutes as they earned a breakthrough win over the nemesis Wildcats.
After Temple worked to correct its deficiencies during the open week on its schedule, it was a completely different story for the Wildcats against struggling Cove (2-8), which finished 0-6 in 12-6A under first-year head coach Tony Johnson and fell to 7-33 in the last four seasons.
“We only put up nine points (against Heights), and that’s not us. We know that and everyone knows that. We were like, ‘This week’s the week.’ This was the week to practice and show everybody that we can score a lot of points when we want to,” said Harrison-Pilot, the versatile senior and four-year starter who rushed for a 21-yard touchdown, caught TD passes of 18 and 75 yards from junior Rumfield and fired a 45-yard scoring pass to sophomore Tutson.
Other than Joshua Butler’s 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown from Blaine Butler 3½ minutes into the second quarter, Copperas Cove’s ineffective offense never advanced past Temple’s 35-yard line against a sturdy Wildcats defense that played without starting senior ends Jaylon Jackson and Kevin Stockton because of injuries.
One year after Temple overwhelmed Cove 77-12 on Bob McQueen Field, the Wildcats produced a similarly dominant all-around performance against the Bulldawgs to give head coach Scott Stewart a good feeling as postseason competition looms.
“That’s what you need to see, and it finally showed tonight,” said Stewart, who’s guided Temple to the playoffs in all seven seasons as head coach. “When you play a team like Waxahachie, you’ve got to be hitting on all cylinders. You can’t turn that light switch on in a week. So whatever happens next week happens next week, but you’ve got to build momentum going into that and we talked all week long.
“We talked about our process, and our process is not a light switch. I’ve very proud of the effort and attitude these kids showed tonight. It got a little chippy at the end and we kept our heads. That’s a sign of maturity.”
Asked why he seemed animated in the postgame speech to his team, Stewart said he was adamantly reminding the Wildcats to wake up and get to school on time Friday morning after their first Thursday game this season. On Tuesday, Temple and Cove moved their regular-season finale up one day to avoid potential inclement weather Friday.
“That they’re going to get their butt in class tomorrow morning,” Stewart said about his postgame message. “I said, ‘Congratulations. You handled business tonight, and that’s what good football teams do when you’re getting ready for the playoffs. But guess what else they do? They do things right, and when you do things right, good things happen. And tomorrow morning we’ve got to set an alarm clock and not hit the snooze button. We’ve got to get our butt up and go to class, because that’s the right thing to do.’
“I had to remind myself that tomorrow is Friday. When I get locked in, I get locked in. All day today it’s (seemed like) Friday. I had to remind myself it was Thursday.”
BETWEEN THE TACKLES: Temple senior running back Deshaun Brundage fights through Copperas Cove defender Jalien Thomas to score a 7-yard touchdown during the second quarter of the Wildcats' 69-7 win on Thursday night at Wildcat Stadium. First-year starter Brundage added a 1-yard TD run 31 seconds before halftime and finished with 115 yards on 12 carries as he exceeded the 1,000-yard rushing milestone this season for the playoff-bound Wildcats. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Several Temple players achieved season milestones in the regular-season finale. Senior and first-year starter Brundage surged past 1,000 rushing yards with a 12-carry, 115-yard performance, Rumfield (13-of-19, 235 yards) surpassed 2,000 passing yards after throwing for 1,831 as a sophomore, and Tutson (three receptions, 99 yards) reached 10 total touchdowns.
Harrison-Pilot made four catches for 105 yards, gained 54 yards on four rushes and scored three touchdowns to push his career total to 34 TDs for Temple, which needs one more victory to join Dallas Highland Park, Amarillo and Mart as the only Texas high school football programs with 800 all-time wins.
Temple’s defense began the game with a three-and-out series, then the Wildcats used Harrison-Pilot’s 33-yard scamper on a reverse play to drive from their 44-yard line to Cove’s 8. The march stalled and Mateo Lopez made a 25-yard field goal, but Stewart chose to take those points off the scoreboard after an offside penalty on the Bulldawgs. On fourth-and-3 from the 4, York took a shotgun snap and Cove tackled him at the 2 for an early turnover on downs.
However, that still proved to be a beneficial situation for Temple. The Bulldawgs were pinned deep in their territory and lost a yard before Demetrius Pearce’s punt went only 20 yards to the 21. Harrison-Pilot then stepped in at quarterback, dashed off left tackle and sprinted untouched for a 21-yard touchdown midway through the first quarter, and the first of Lopez’s nine extra points gave the Wildcats a 7-0 advantage.
Temple’s defense quickly stuffed Cove’s next possession. From the Wildcat 47, Tutson got completely open behind the secondary and easily caught Rumfield’s long pass for a 53-yard touchdown and a 14-0 lead. It was the first TD since Sept. 23 for the fleet-footed Tutson, who scored eight total TDs in his first five varsity games before missing time with a collarbone injury.
After Temple forced Cove’s disjointed offense into another three-and-out, Brundage blasted for consecutive rushes of 14 and 22 yards to advance to the 18. On third-and-10, a jumping Harrison-Pilot deftly caught Rumfield’s well-placed fade pass in the back-right portion of the end zone for a touchdown and a commanding 21-0 lead with one minute remaining in the first quarter.
INVADING THE BACKFIELD: Temple senior linebacker Teryon Williams-Echols sacks Copperas Cove quarterback Blaine Butler for an 11-yard loss to the 5-yard line during the second quarter of the Wildcats' 69-7 win over the Bulldawgs on Thursday night at Wildcat Stadium. Temple senior tackle Ka'Morion Carter also pursues on the play. Other than Butler's 64-yard touchdown pass to Joshua Butler in the second period, Cove never advanced past the Wildcats' 35-yard line. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple senior linebacker Teryon Williams-Echols stopped Cove’s ensuing possession by darting in to sack Blaine Butler for an 11-yard loss to the 5.
Harrison-Pilot went back in at QB and, going into a strong wind that cut diagonally across the field all night, fired a long-range pass that hit Tutson in stride near the goal line for a 45-yard touchdown strike that made it 28-0 with 2½ minutes gone in the second period.
Cove’s offense responded with its biggest highlight of the evening. From the Bulldawgs 36, Joshua Butler caught Blaine Butler’s pass near the right sideline, broke a tackle and raced in for the 64-yard touchdown to make it 28-7. That turned out to be the only touchdown that Cove – which lost 55-0 to Harker Heights last week – scored in its final two games.
Temple’s first punt didn’t come until its sixth possession, and it still had a favorable outcome. Cove’s return man lunged to field Lopez’s punt but mishandled it, and two-time 12-6A Defensive MVP York was right there to recover the ball in a scrum at the Bulldawgs’ 21.
York’s cousin Brundage rushed off right tackle for 16 yards, then lost 2 yards before he kept churning through defenders and stretched the ball out across the goal line for a 7-yard touchdown and a 35-7 game 6 minutes before halftime.
Consecutive runs of 15 and 9 yards by senior Steve Jackson (four carries, 38 yards) helped Temple reach the 12 with a minute left in the half, then senior right tackle Jeremiah Mungia caught a Rumfield lateral on the right side and rumbled for 11 yards before being pushed out near the pylon. Brundage did the rest as he followed his linemen for a 1-yard touchdown rush with 31 seconds left to produce a 42-7 halftime advantage for Temple, which led Cove 56-0 at the half a year ago en route to a 65-point win.
After scoring three touchdowns against Cove last season, Harrison-Pilot delivered one more highlight-reel play against the Bulldawgs to begin the second half. The uncommitted four-star national recruit caught Rumfield’s deep pass on a post route around the Cove 30, used his strength to push away the closest defender and cruised in for the 75-yard touchdown that made it 48-7 and essentially sealed the outcome.
With so many plays to choose from, Harrison-Pilot was asked which one against Cove was his favorite. He was able to narrow the list down to two.
“The one where I caught the post (for the 75-yard TD) and the one where I threw the post (to Tutson),” a smiling Harrison-Pilot said. “I told them, ‘I want to throw a touchdown today.’ I was like, ‘I scored two already. Let me throw one.’ I wanted to throw one to Christian Tutson, who can outrun anybody in the state.”
WIDE-OPEN SPACES: Temple sophomore receiver Christian Tutson catches a 53-yard touchdown pass from junior Reese Rumfield during the first quarter of the Wildcats' 69-7 win against Copperas Cove in Thursday night's District 12-6A finale at Wildcat Stadium. Tutson (three receptions, 99 yards) caught a second-quarter pass from senior Mikal Harrison-Pilot for a 45-yard score, giving Tutson 10 total TDs this season. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Stewart praised not only the many on-field accomplishments but also the leadership and overall impact of Harrison-Pilot and his friend and fellow four-year starter York.
“Mikal’s a special talent and I’ll throw Taurean York in there with him. Both of those kids, what they’ve done in their career at Temple High School and this football program and in this city and community, you can’t measure it,” Stewart said. “And it goes way beyond catching balls and tackling people. It’s their leadership. They’re in our leadership council and I go to them first. They’re going to be successful in whatever they do and I can’t thank them and their families enough. I’ll get emotional talking about those guys. They’re good people.”
Even when Temple made a rare mistake, it did something positive to make up for it. After Brundage lost a fumble on his 8-yard run near midfield 3 minutes into the second half, senior safety Josh Donoso made a leaping interception of Blaine Butler’s deep pass at the Wildcats 20. Jeremiah Lennon’s 21-yard reception from Rumfield and Brundage’s 24-yard gain on a screen pass set up junior running back Jervonnie Williams (five carries, 56 yards), who blasted off left tackle and used stellar blocking to scoot in for a 24-yard touchdown and a 55-7 lead midway through the third.
Cove’s ensuing possession was another three-out by Temple’s defense, which had sophomore safety O’Ryan Peoples back in the lineup after he missed four district games with a shoulder injury and started sophomore reserve running back Adrian Scott at end out of need.
The Baylor-committed York said the Wildcat defense approach the Cove game with an intent to dominate.
“That was the plan this morning and in the walkthrough today. I was like, ‘They don’t score. This is us. This is what we do. They’re not going to score on us,’” York said. “I’m really just bummed out that they scored. But to score 69 points and hold them to seven, that’s what Temple Wildcat football needs to be.”
Brundage’s 31-yard gallop helped move Temple to the 8 before junior reserve Johnson (66 yards on seven carries) took a shotgun snap and ran off left tackle for a touchdown and a 62-7 game.
After Temple’s defense stopped the next two Cove possessions, the slithery Johnson took advantage of another opportunity midway through the fourth. He broke a tackle at the line of scrimmage and dashed for a 26-yard touchdown to complete a relentless scoring outburst by the Wildcats, whose backups got plentiful playing time in the second half.
“We haven’t really put four quarters together, but tonight in the fourth quarter we had our 2s and 3s in and they were still scoring,” Harrison-Pilot said. “That’s what Coach Stewart said: ‘No matter who’s in there, we’re going to go score on every drive.’ That’s what we did, so I’m proud of my guys.”
PROGRESS STOPPED: Temple senior linebacker Taurean York (5) tackles Copperas Cove running back Markis Nash during the Wildcats' 69-7 victory against the Bulldawgs on Thursday night at Wildcat Stadium. Cove rushed for only 8 yards and had 117 yards overall. The Baylor-committed York, who recovered a fumble on a muffed punt, finished with a 26-2 District 12-6A record along with fellow four-year varsity starter Mikal Harrison-Pilot. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple’s next step is a situation it’s become very accustomed to: hosting Waxahachie in a first-round playoff game. The Wildcats beat the Indians 38-0 in a 6A Division II bi-district duel in 2020 at Wildcat Stadium, then in the 6A D-II rematch one year ago Temple emerged from a hard-hitting, tightly contested battle with a 28-14 victory. For the Wildcats, both of those seasons ended with area-round defeats against high-scoring Rockwall-Heath.
Waxahachie has had a strong second year with head coach Shane Tolleson, beginning the regular season with four straight wins and ending it with another four-game winning streak – it beat winless Dallas Skyline 49-21 on Thursday – while outscoring its opponents 373-196.
The Indians’ only two losses came in back-to-back road games against perennial state heavyweights DeSoto (42-24) and Duncanville (24-7) in top-heavy 11-6A. Waxahachie had a 7-0 halftime lead against third-ranked Duncanville (9-0) before the Panthers scored 24 unanswered points in the second half.
After Harker Heights’ 49-14 home win over Bryan on Thursday officially ended Temple’s three-year championship reign in 12-6A, the Wildcats now shift their entire focus toward advancing past a physical, athletic Waxahachie team for the third consecutive season.
“I haven’t looked at one play of them, but I know Shane Tolleson and I know he does a phenomenal job. He’s a dear friend of mine and we’ve shared ideas for a long time,” Stewart said. “They had Duncanville tied 7-7 in the fourth quarter, so they’re going to be as good as anybody we play in the playoffs. They’re well-coached, they play hard and I have all the respect in the world for those guys. I probably wish we could play somebody else, but I don’t get to decide that.”
Harrison-Pilot said Temple will be prepared for another stern challenge against a steadily improving Waxahachie crew.
“They’re physical. They play in that top district with Duncanville and DeSoto and all those cats up there, so it’s going to be a physical game,” said Harrison-Pilot, who along with York helped Temple go 26-2 in district play in their four seasons. “It’s here and we get home-field advantage, but every year they always get better and better. We’re going to get their best and hopefully we come out with the W next week.”
Going into what’s almost certainly the final game at Wildcat Stadium for himself and Harrison-Pilot, York said it’s paramount for Temple to summon its best performance against a motivated Waxahachie team.
“Honestly, it’s do or die. Everybody knows what we’re fighting for. The Heights game, even though this team is young, we were locked in. We just didn’t finish. But that’s an experience we can use in this game (against Waxahachie), because I can promise you next week is not going to be a 69-7 win,” York said. “I see it playing out like the Heights game, because they have a great defense and we have a great defense. We’re going to buckle down and tweak some things.
“We have to understand that it’s do or die, and the seniors have to put it all on the line and put in work this (coming) week. We’re on God’s time and His time for us very well could be next Friday night at 7:30. I genuinely hope we can get this done and advance to the second round.”
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