MET WITH RESISTANCE: Senior linebacker Faylin Lee (12) and other Temple defenders combine to tackle a Hutto ball carrier during the Wildcats' 60-53 home victory over the Hippos on Sept. 10 at Wildcat Stadium. After an open week, defending District 12-6A champion Temple (1-2) seeks to win its league opener at Bryan (0-3) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Merrill Green Stadium. The Vikings, who lost 44-7 at Temple last October, have been limited to 14 points in each of their three games. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BRYAN – In the eyes of Temple head football coach Scott Stewart, his Wildcats didn’t play with nearly enough physicality in their first two games this season – home losses of 54-13 to top-ranked Austin Westlake and 27-14 against Magnolia West.
So before Temple hosted Hutto in the non-district finale two weeks ago, Stewart delivered a very stern, direct message to his then-winless team.
“My whole deal before that game was, ‘I want people on the stinkin’ ground. I want ’em on the ground. I don’t want any Wildcat to get up on his own. I want someone over there helping him up. But I want people who are willing to get on the ground. If we can start there, the physicality will increase, because if you’re willing to get on the ground and get dirty and get after it, then that at least gets us going in the right direction,’” Stewart recalled Tuesday. “We took some steps there.”
The result was a 60-53 victory in which big-play Temple led 52-21 entering the fourth quarter before the Hippos scored five touchdowns – four in the final 5 minutes against backup defenders – to make the final score closer than the game essentially was.
Stewart was none too pleased about the Wildcats’ late-game struggles, but from an all-around perspective he did like the renewed sense of physicality they played with at his persistent urging.
“We had some blocking after the whistle – it wasn’t anything ‘cheap’ – and we had a couple of penalties with guys trying to block (Hutto) guys onto the track. ‘OK, I’ll take that,’” Stewart said. “We have a football constitution, and one of the things is to play legal. But some of those (plays), it’s like, ‘OK, lesson learned. Don’t do that, but good job.’
“Again, none of these were late hits. They were continuous plays after the whistle, like I start blocking a guy and I may or may not hear the whistle. I can coach that. My dad said a hundred years ago that it’s easier to teach ‘whoa’ than ‘giddy up.’ I appreciate it more than most if you’re willing to put him in Lane 3 on his back. I’m OK with some ‘play hard’ penalties.”
After a three-game non-district run that included enough good, bad and ugly to satisfy Clint Eastwood, and following its open date in the schedule, defending District 12-6A champion Temple (1-2) now is set to begin league play on the road against the Bryan Vikings (0-3) of longtime head coach Ross Rogers at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Merrill Green Stadium.
Bryan lost 44-7 at Temple last year, and this season the Vikings have been outscored 97-42 – producing only 14 points in each game – by Lucas Lovejoy, The Woodlands College Park and Brenham. Rogers missed Bryan's first two games after testing positive for COVID-19, then returned to the sideline in last week's 29-14 loss at Brenham. The Vikings have been without junior quarterback Malcom Gooden, a returning starter who reportedly suffered a season-ending leg injury in the opener.
From Stewart’s vantage point, a wounded Viking is a dangerous Viking, so he and Temple are fully prepared to get Bryan’s best effort to begin district action.
“There’s no question, and they should get ours. There’s only one way to get some of that bad taste out of your mouth, and that’s to start on the right foot in that second season,” Stewart said. “I think it’s easier to have that (mentality) when you’re 1-2 and didn’t really handle the end of the (last) game like you wanted to. We’ve got a lot of work to do, and that ain’t all bad. I’d love to be sitting here at 3-0, but you’ve got to flush it and dump it. Everybody’s 0-0 right now.
“Bryan’s a very physical football team and I think they take a lot of pride in playing at home. They’re a good team. When your quarterback goes down in the first game, there’s going to be an identity change. I’ll tell you, I don’t like playing Ross Rogers after a week off. He’s as good as there is in this business of attacking what you do and putting his guys in the right spots. We’re going to have to be sound.”
Stewart’s next win will be his 50th victory in six seasons as head coach of the Wildcats, who seek their ninth consecutive playoff appearance and a third straight season of earning at least a share of a district championship.
He discussed the importance of leaving non-district play in the rear-view mirror and approaching the battle at Bryan as the first game of an entirely new season.
“You have two seasons in a football season, and there’s potentially a third (in the playoffs). The first one gets you ready for the second one,” Stewart said. “I think it’s important that no matter what happens in predistrict that you approach it that way.
“I’ve been fortunate enough – or unfortunate enough, however it turns out – to be sitting here at 3-0 or 4-0 and you think you’ve got your stuff figured out, and then you walk into a pretty competitive district with a lot of parity and all of a sudden it’s like, ‘Woah.’ You have to approach it like a new season, and that’s what we’re trying to do.”
Temple sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield passed for 302 yards and three long touchdowns – two to Devan Williams and one to fellow senior receiver Andre Anderson – against Hutto to highlight the Wildcats’ breakthrough first win.
“That was real nice, and now we’ve got Bryan for our first district game, so we’re on that film like no other. We’ve been watching them a whole lot,” Rumfield said. “We’re not taking this lightly because they’re 0-3.”
In a scheduling abnormality, Temple began its season with three straight home games followed by an open date, so this will be the Wildcats’ first road trip since their Aug. 19 scrimmage at College Station.
“I’m excited to get on the road. We’ve been at home way too long,” Rumfield said with a chuckle. “I think it’s going to be good for us. We need to go somewhere else.”
The Wildcats’ next home game will be a very important one. Next Friday night at Wildcat Stadium, Temple will battle Harker Heights (4-0), which blasted Killeen Ellison 49-8 in Thursday’s 12-6A opener. Heights led Temple 20-0 last year in Killeen before the Wildcats charged back to seize a 38-36 victory.
LONG-RANGE WEAPON: Temple senior wide receiver Devan Williams (left) catches a pass from sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield against two Hutto defenders before racing in for a 65-yard touchdown early in the third quarter of the Wildcats' 60-53 win over the Hippos on Sept. 10 at Wildcat Stadium. Williams also made a 57-yard touchdown catch from Rumfield against Hutto, and they've connected for three TDs in the last two games. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple’s open date last week had Stewart striving to strike the right balance between working to develop a more physical style and allowing key players to recover from the aches and pains of the Wildcats’ grueling first three games.
“The Tuesday before the Hutto game we had five starters not practice because they were banged up. It was nothing major, but (bumps and bruises happen) when you play really good people and really physical teams, which I’ll tell you that Westlake and Mag West are," Stewart said. "Sometimes you don’t know what you’re going to get (during the open week), but I think our kids have handled it real well.
"We had a really good off week. We went back to basics and we got really, really physical. That’s by design, and that’s important, too. Off weeks don’t mean off weeks. I thought we had some good days of work, and then we had a good Monday when was hotter than fish grease. That’s the only thing I know how to do.”
Stewart also took the time to re-evaluate how he and his staff were coaching their players early in the season as the Wildcats struggled to consistently execute in several aspects of the game, including but not limited to line play, pass coverage and special teams.
“Here’s what I did learn. Obviously accountability is a critical part of any organization, whether it be business, personal . . . there’s got to be accountability. But I think there’s a fine line between accountability and just being overly harsh,” Stewart said. “These are kids, and 2021 kids are probably different than 1992 kids, you know what I mean? What we talked about ad nauseam with the coaching staff is we’re going to emphasize with our practices and meetings that our intent is to be a physical football team. I don’t think that’s been at the level where I want it, at least.
“But we’re also going to have fun. That’s going to be the key, to find that balance. Again, in 2021, if kids aren’t having fun, they tend to lose interest. I’ve got two- and three-year lettermen that, for whatever reason, something’s not clicking, so we’re just trying to identify what that is. So (last week) we ended each practice with like a punt contest and the coaches were catching balls and they had to do pushups if they didn’t, just to make it fun. I thought we took some steps against Hutto, just turning it loose and having a good time. We got a little bit sloppy, and sometimes that happens when you say, ‘Turn it loose.’”
Rogers, who beginning in 2000 had a successful run as Harker Heights’ first head coach, guided Bryan to a 6-3 playoff season in 2020, but his Vikings had a disappointing start this year when dynamic quarterback Gooden suffered a right leg fracture early in the opening 44-14 loss to Lovejoy after he had completed three of four passes for 76 yards. The injury is expected to keep him sidelined for the remainder of his junior season.
Replacing Gooden at QB has been junior Karson Dillard, who’s completed only 14 of 50 pass attempts (28 percent) for 220 yards, with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He’s rushed for 45 yards and one TD.
“When your main guy goes down . . . this backup kid, he can spin the ball (as a thrower),” Stewart said about Dillard. “He’s not a bad runner, but he can absolutely spin it. I would imagine they’re going to morph toward that to fit him. They’ll pound it (in the running game), too.”
Bryan’s top receivers are senior Hunter Vivaldi (eight catches, 112 yards) – grandson of the Vikings’ head coach – and junior Tyson Turner (five receptions, 103 yards). Sophomore Isaiah Nutall paces the Vikings’ rushing attack with 134 yards and 6-foot-1, 195-pound senior Du’Wayne Paulhill has run for 80 yards and one TD.
Although Bryan has allowed 32.3 points per game this season, leaning on a burly and athletic defense currently gives the Vikings their best chance to contend for one of 12-6A’s four postseason berths.
Leading Bryan’s defense is menacing senior linebacker Nic Caraway, a Purdue commitment who was Texas Football magazine’s pick for 12-6A preseason Defensive MVP even though Temple junior linebacker Taurean York (39 tackles) is the district’s reigning Defensive MVP.
“Caraway is what they look like, man. He’s 6-3, 240 pounds and top-heavy,” Stewart said. “When he comes downhill, he is very top-heavy, which is exactly the way you’re supposed to play that. They’ve got big defensive linemen and they come off the ball. That all feeds off each other.”
Senior end Tanner Allen was a first-team all-district pick last season, and rangy junior safety Matthew Cooks shared 12-6A’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year award as a sophomore. Paulhill also excels as a hard-hitting safety for a defense that’s coordinated by former Mary Hardin-Baylor standout linebacker Bret Page, who served as Bryan's acting head coach when Rogers had to miss the first two games.
“They are big, big, big and physical on their defensive front. Their front six might be the best collective front six in the district,” Stewart said. “The one thing that pops off is that they play on the other side of the line of scrimmage with their defense. Their defensive line and linebackers are either crossing the line of scrimmage or trying to get to the line as fast as they can.
“And then their third-level guys (Paulhill and Cooks) play like they’re supposed to play. They’ve got that kid at safety (Paulhill) who is not a happy human being.”
Late last October at Wildcat Stadium, Temple was clinging to a 6-0 lead over Bryan midway through the second quarter but then exploded for a barrage of 28 points in a span of 5 minutes, 9 seconds en route to a 34-0 halftime advantage and a 37-point victory.
The Wildcats’ defense limited the Vikings to 149 total yards and didn’t permit a touchdown until 3 minutes into the fourth period. Then-junior running back Samari Howard scored four TDs for Temple on two short runs and receptions of 29 and 43 yards from senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi.
On Thursday night, Howard – co-MVP of 12-6A last season – announced his verbal commitment to attend and play football for Air Force beginning next season.