• Greg Wille

GETTING THE JOB DONE: Temple opener 'sloppy,' but defensive stands help Wildcats beat McKinney 17-10


MET WITH RESISTANCE: McKinney junior running back D'Kedrion Abrams is swarmed by Temple defenders Ka'Morion Carter (left), Naeten Mitchell, O'Ryan Peoples and Kevin Stockton during the Wildcats' season-opening 17-10 victory Saturday afternoon at McKinney ISD Stadium. With seven new starters, Temple's defense limited the Lions to 90 passing yards and 233 total yards as McKinney star senior quarterback Keldric Luster didn't play in the final 2 1/2 quarters. Senior linebacker Josh Donoso sealed the Wildcats' win by making a diving interception in the final minute. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)





By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


McKINNEY – In Saturday afternoon’s season opener at McKinney ISD Stadium, there were several dropped passes, a slew of ill-timed penalties and multiple cases of not taking advantage of excellent field position.

And that by was the winning team, whose head coach described his squad’s overall performance as “sloppy.”

Fortunately for Temple, the resilient Wildcats also came through with a combination of great plays and gritty plays to stave off McKinney for a hard-earned road victory in a game that included a nearly 1-hour weather delay.

Reese Rumfield threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Mikal Harrison-Pilot and rushed for a 1-yard TD, then Temple’s stubborn defense recorded two vital turnovers on downs in the second half and sealed a 17-10 win over the Lions when senior outside linebacker Josh Donoso made a diving interception in the final minute.

“I think we just played our game and were very resilient. When a play needed to be made, my guys stepped up,” said Temple senior all-state linebacker Taurean York, whose defense limited star junior running back Bryan Jackson and McKinney’s burly offense to 233 total yards. “That’s all you can ask for. When the game’s on the line, they stepped up for sure and showed me a lot.”

Temple seventh-year head coach Scott Stewart praised his defense – which took the field with seven new starters for coordinator Dexter Knox – for making the game-deciding plays.

“I’m really proud of the defense. That was a bend-but-don’t-break (performance),” Stewart said. “Those kids played their guts out today and we gave up probably 50 to 55 pounds per man up front. I’m just really proud of those kids.”

Breaking down the good, bad and ugly from the opening victory will come when the Wildcats’ coaches and players examine the game video, which might not be a pleasant experience. But as Temple’s team walked off the field after a grueling, hard-hitting duel, the feeling of winning took precedence over anything else.

“It was a sloppy win, but a W’s a W,” said junior quarterback Rumfield, who went 9-3 last season as the Wildcats’ first-year starter. “You see all the potential we have, so we know what we can be. I’m really excited about what the future’s going to look like for us."

Stewart clearly wanted to see a cleaner, more efficient performance from his team on a day that began as sunny and warm before a lightning delay and a rainstorm arrived. That said, he’ll accept the result and deal with fixing problems later after the Wildcats improved to 5-2 in season openers with Stewart at the helm.

“I challenged them, to say the least. But the older I get . . . I used to not appreciate wins like this. My dad sat me down and said, ‘These things don’t come easy.’ Any ugly win is better than a pretty loss,” said Stewart, whose Wildcats have gone 7-0 two straight seasons in District 12-6A. “Champions find a way. We’re not even close to being champions yet, but a championship mentality is you find a way when you have to. I do appreciate that about this team.

“We talk all the time about the biggest room in the house is the room for improvement. And we’ve got a lot to improve if we want to be in any conversations two months from now.”


MAKING THE CONNECTION: Temple senior wide receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot catches a 33-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Reese Rumfield late in the second quarter of the Wildcats' season-opening 17-10 win over McKinney on Saturday afternoon at McKinney ISD Stadium. That was the final play before lightning detected in the area forced the game to be delayed for almost an hour. Harrison-Pilot made four receptions for 74 yards from Rumfield, who added a 1-yard rushing TD. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Temple will shoot for a 2-0 start when it hosts Willis in the Wildcats’ home opener at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium. The Wildkats of Willis, led by star junior quarterback DJ Lagway, opened their season Friday with a 73-14 thrashing of Bryan Rudder.

The Baylor-committed York said Temple must resolve to correct its opening-game shortcomings before its debut on the new artificial turf surface at Bob McQueen Field.

“This showed us that we have a lot of work to do and things to improve on offense, defense and special teams,” said York, who lost a fumble to McKinney during a short stint at running back to begin the second half. “It was sloppy in the second half. There was a lot of costly penalties at the end of the fourth quarter. There was no need for us to have to get back on defense at the end of the game, but penalties kept on occurring. We’ve got to clean that up for sure.”

After passing for 72 yards, McKinney senior quarterback Keldric Luster left the game for unknown reasons midway through the second quarter and did not return. The Southern Methodist commitment compiled more than 5,000 yards of offense and 53 total touchdowns last season while playing for Frisco Liberty.

Temple got out of town with the victory despite rushing for only 73 yards, completing just five passes – albeit for 146 yards – and committing 10 penalties for 70 yards, including a first-half infraction that negated a long touchdown.

“McKinney’s a dadgum good football team. We were sloppy. The offensive coaches aren’t going to like me very much this week, but that’s OK. I’m not here to make friends,” Stewart said. “We’ve got to be more sound. We’ve got to play legal. Some of that ain’t on the coaches, but we need to do some work. We had four foolish penalties in the second half.”

Stewart also lamented the Wildcats’ failure to turn great field position in the second half into scores.

“It’s been a long time since we started drives on the plus-49, plus-48 and plus-30 and didn’t come away with any points out of it. It’s just sloppy football. We’ve got to be able to run the football against anyone in the country if we’re going to be very good,” said Stewart, who got 51 yards on 15 carries from senior and new starting running back Deshaun Brundage. “That’s what our focus is going to be.”

The first key stand by Temple’s defense came when McKinney went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Lions’ 48-yard line with 3 minutes left in the opening quarter. Junior nose tackle Ayden Brown, last season’s District 12-6A Defensive Newcomer of the Year, dropped 250-pound running back D’Kedrion Abrams for a 2-yard loss.

After the Wildcats’ offense couldn’t convert that turnover on downs into points, McKinney got a 26-yard rumble by Jackson and Luster’s 30-yard pass to Dylan Rhodes to advance to the Temple 17. But the Wildcat defense again stood firm, pushing the Lions back to the 29 before Luster’s 15-yard completion to Rhodes came up well short of a first down.


SPEED TO BURN: Temple junior receiver Jeremiah Lennon sprints for a 72-yard reception on a pass from junior quarterback Reese Rumfield during the second quarter of the Wildcats' 17-10 win over McKinney on Saturday afternoon at McKinney ISD Stadium. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Temple’s offense then finally got going to begin the second quarter when junior Jeremiah Lennon caught Rumfield’s crossing pass and used impressive speed to produce a 72-yard gain from his 14 to the McKinney 14. However, the Wildcats advanced only 2 yards before new kicker Marcos Garcia made a 28-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

On McKinney’s ensuing possession, the 5-foot-10, 220-pound Luster ran left for a 13-yard gain but absorbed a punishing hit from 5-10, 167-pound Temple senior cornerback Naeten Mitchell along with Lions sideline. An incomplete third-down pass was Luster’s final play of the day. He was replaced by junior QB Owen Fann.

“Luster’s a special kid and I don’t know what happened to him,” Stewart said. “He just wasn’t in there. I didn’t see him limp off or anything.”

Temple’s defense forced a punt 4 minutes before halftime, leading to what appeared to be a breakthrough play for the Wildcats. Lennon fielded a punt at his 26, cut across the field and sprinted well into McKinney territory a Lions player forced him to fumble near the 15. But Harrison-Pilot was there, recovering the ball and dashing in for a would-be touchdown.

However, the officials penalized Temple for holding before the punter kicked the ball, wiping out the TD and making the Wildcats start a possession at their 20.

But Temple quickly overcame that wild sequence. Rumfield ran for 10 yards and Harrison-Pilot pushed the pile for a 15-yard rush before Rumfield (5-of-13 passing for 146 yards) hit a slanting Harrison-Pilot for a 21-yard gain to the McKinney 33.

Fourth-year starter Harrison-Pilot (four receptions, 74 yards) continued to display why he’s a four-star national recruit. The 6-foot, 196-pound speedster beat his defender along the left sideline to catch Rumfield’s well-thrown pass for a 33-yard touchdown with 1:05 remaining before halftime, pushing Temple’s lead to 9-0.

“That’s what you want to see. We get the ball in our playmakers’ hands. That’s Coach Case for you,” York said, referring to Wildcats offensive coordinator Robby Case, who was promoted after Josh Sadler left in June to become Killeen’s head coach.

As Temple lined up in a swinging-gate formation for the conversion, and with ominous clouds having replaced a sunny sky, the officials instructed the teams to return to their locker rooms because lightning had been detected nearby, forcing an automatic 30-minute delay at 1:03 p.m. Steady rain arrived soon thereafter and a fresh 30-minute wait began after another lightning strike was detected.

It was then determined that the extended pause would count as the normal halftime break and that both schools’ bands would wait until after the game to perform on the field. The teams returned to the field and stretched for a few minutes before the game resumed at 1:59 after a delay that lasted almost an hour.

“We didn’t do too much. We didn’t play any music. It was just talking amongst each other and building relationships,” four-year starter and two-time 12-6A Defensive MVP York said about how Temple handled the long break in its locker room. “We just talked about the game. There were no major adjustments, just minor adjustments.”

The first play after play resumed was Garcia’s extra-point kick for a 10-0 Wildcats lead. After McKinney’s offense went nowhere in the first half’s final minute, the teams stayed on the field and went directly to Temple receiving the second-half kickoff.

McKinney fifth-year head coach Marcus Shavers then called for a surprise onside kick but the Lions touched the ball before it traveled the required 10 yards, setting up the Wildcats at the McKinney 49 to start the third.

York then gained 4 yards on his first carry of the season, but on his ensuing rushing attempt he had the ball stripped away. Lions star junior safety Xavier Filsaime scooped the ball up and made a bid to score before Harrison-Pilot tracked down his fellow four-star recruit and tackled him at the Temple 11.

Senior cornerback and Troy transfer Steve Jackson chopped down a ball carrier for a 2-yard gain on third-and-5, and McKinney opted to get on the scoreboard as Luke Watkins kicked a 21-yard field goal for a 10-3 game 3 minutes into the third.


WHEN STARS COLLIDE: Temple senior linebacker Taurean York tackles McKinney junior running back Bryan Jackson short of a first down on a fourth-down rush during the Wildcats' 17-10 win over the Lions on Saturday afternoon at McKinney ISD Stadium. Jackson, a four-star national recruit, carried 25 times for 102 yards and a touchdown against Temple. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



After a Temple punt, McKinney went for it on fourth-and-1 at its 32, but it turned into a bad decision by the Lions. York, Mitchell and senior ends Kevin Stockton and Julian White combined to swarm the 6-foot-1, 230-pound Jackson for a 2-yard loss before the Wildcats celebrated a crucial turnover on downs.

“There’s a lot of new faces on defense. One (reason is) from graduation and two is because of we had a couple injuries and moved some guys around,” said Stewart, who shifted all-district senior end Jaylon Jackson to weakside linebacker after ankle surgery sidelined senior all-district defender Zion Moore for six to eight weeks. “It’s an opportunity and some of those guys are taking big advantage of it.”

Temple took advantage of the takeaway. The Wildcats went for it on fourth-and-14 from McKinney’s 34. Rumfield’s pass fell incomplete but the Lions were penalized for holding his intended receiver, giving Temple a first down at the 24.

From the 19, Harrison-Pilot snared Rumfield’s slant pass and was tackled a yard short of a touchdown. Rumfield, who rushed for one TD in 2021, followed junior center Endrei Sauls for a 1-yard scoring sneak and a 17-3 Wildcats lead with 1:33 left in the third.

Temple’s defense had McKinney in a fourth-and-6 predicament at the 50, but junior backup QB Fann escaped pressure and Dylan Brown caught his on-the-move throw at the 36 for a first down. Jackson then rushed for 15 yards and the Lions moved to the 4 before Jackson charged through multiple defenders for a touchdown, slicing the Wildcats’ lead to 17-10 with 10 minutes remaining.

“That’s what you want to see. That’s what I’m going to be seeing (at Baylor),” York said about competing against the powerful Jackson, who rushed for a well-earned 102 yards on 25 carries. “It was a good test and he’s a great player. Hat’s off to him. He ran hard and gave us a good run for our money.”

Said Stewart, whose defense unofficially got eight tackles apiece from Mitchell, Stockton, Steve Jackson and sophomore safety O'Ryan Peoples: “That’s a tough offense with a 230-pound back. He’s a load, and our kids just stood in there all day long. Kudos to our defensive staff. They did a great job.”

Temple sputtered on its ensuing possession and a short punt set up McKinney at the Wildcats 38 with 8:30 left. After York, Steve Jackson and senior lineman Ka’Morion Carter dropped Bryan Jackson for a 1-yard loss, Carter pressured a scrambling Fann on fourth-and-6 and forced an inaccurate pass for an important turnover on downs at the 22 with 3:46 remaining.

“I hadn’t seen the backup (QB Fann) play very much, so I didn’t know what he could do. Then they kept handing the ball off,” Stewart said about McKinney’s offense without Luster. “The backup’s going to have to prove he can sling the rock. We made an adjustment and got in a (bigger) front and started stunting and moving. That puts you in a bad situation if you’ve got a mobile quarterback, but we were at least to make that kid prove he could do it.”

Brundage’s 21-yard rush helped Temple advance to its 48 and drain some clock, but the Wildcats’ third and fourth penalties of the drive killed their momentum before Mateo Lopez’s punt rolled to the McKinney 20 with 34 seconds left.


GAME-SEALING PLAY: Temple senior linebacker Josh Donoso makes a diving interception at McKinney's 22-yard line with 19 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter to secure the Wildcats' season-opening 17-10 win at McKinney ISD Stadium. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



With the Lions out of timeouts and needing to go 80 yards for a potential tying touchdowns, Jackson limped off the field after his 2-yard catch. Fann then rolled left and threw a pass that first-time starter Donoso read perfectly, making a diving interception near the Temple sideline to secure the Wildcats’ victory before jubilant teammates swarmed him.

“I’m so proud of Josh. That kid plays on a different level and his commitment level is through the roof,” Stewart said. “Good things happen when you prepare that hard for as long as he has."

“They surprised me. They played their hearts out. I’m glad to be their teammate and I’m glad they stepped up in a fistfight. It was a great game by those dudes,” York said about Temple’s new defensive contributors. “We just stuck to our script and played Temple Wildcat football.

“We handled the distractions well. The distraction could have been the (weather) delay or (McKinney’s) quarterback change, but we kept playing our game, so hat’s off to Coach Stewart and our coaching staff.”

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