GREAT ESCAPE: Temple climbs out of early 20-0 hole, then staves off Harker Heights for 38-36 victory
REJECTED: Temple junior defensive end Tommy Torres (90) blocks an extra-point attempt by Harker Heights kicker Diego Fierro during the second quarter of the Wildcats' 38-36 comeback victory over the host Knights on Thursday night at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen. Temple trailed 20-0 when Torres blocked the PAT try, then scored 31 of the next 34 points as the Wildcats improved to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in District 12-6A. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
KILLEEN – Temple didn't score first and didn't score last. It committed three turnovers to only one by Harker Heights. The host Knights accumulated 419 yards total offense to the Wildcats' 321.
Those things and especially falling behind 20-0 in a district game on the road certainly do not formulate a recipe for success.
And yet, Temple somehow – and fortunately – walked out of Leo Buckley Stadium late Thursday night with the same number of District 12-6A losses as it had when it arrived several hours earlier: zero.
According to several Wildcats players and head coach Scott Stewart afterward, the key factor to overcoming adversity to prevail was a simple one: Don't panic.
Harker Heights outplayed a seemingly sleepwalking Temple squad to build a 20-0 lead a minute into the second quarter, but the Wildcats woke up to score 31 of the next 34 points, seized the lead for good on Humberto Arizmendi's 7-yard touchdown pass to AJ McDuffy early in the third period and staved off the Knights' spirited comeback attempt in the fourth to escape with a wild 38-36 victory.
After dominating Heights 45-0 in 2018 and 37-3 last year at Buckley, Temple faced far more resistance in this meeting but managed to move to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in 12-6A as Arizmendi threw touchdown passes of 38, 7 and 13 yards to fellow senior McDuffy.
Senior quarterback Shaun West passed for 283 yards and two touchdowns and sophomore Aimeer Washington rushed for 108 yards and three TDs for the Knights (3-3, 1-2).
“An ugly win's better than a pretty loss,” Stewart said before finding some humor about what he was thinking when the Wildcats trailed 20-0: “I thought I was going to send somebody back to Temple High School to figure out where the Wildcats were. We got the wrong kids.”
In all seriousness, Stewart gave Heights credit for taking the fight to Temple early and potentially providing a lesson that might benefit the Wildcats down the road.
“Hat's off to them. They're a good football team. I think I told everybody that,” Stewart said of the Knights. “They came out and executed. It's a short week and they're not reinventing the wheel. They showed up ready to play. We're very fortunate to spot somebody 20 points (and come back to win). You just can't do that. This district's too good.
“Again, we're fortunate to come out with a win, but we've got to get back to the drawing board. Part of it is we probably thought we were a little better than we actually are.”
So, what exactly was going on and being said on Temple's sideline when the district-leading Wildcats were staring at a stunning 20-0 deficit after Heights got West's 20-yard touchdown pass to LaPrinceton Dixon 48 seconds into the second quarter?
“Not to panic. Our coaches told us, 'Don't panic,'” said Wildcats junior running back Samari Howard, who rushed 25 times for 100 hard-earned yards – his fifth consecutive game with at least 100 rushing yards – and scored two touchdowns and a 2-point run. “Wednesday we practiced being down by 11 and it showed up tonight. We practiced it and didn't freak out about being down.”
Said Temple sophomore linebacker Taurean York, who preserved the Wildcats' 31-29 lead early in the fourth by sacking West on a 2-point try: “I feel our poise has grown tremendously since the College Station scrimmage, when we were cussing each other out on the bench. Tonight, we were down 20-0 and we were picking each other up. We were saying, 'Next play. Next play.' It's (having a) short-term memory, especially with the defensive backs. If you get burned, we got you on the next play.
“We were down 11 points yesterday in our walkthrough. We trained just being behind, and I feel we did that at the perfect time because it came into good use tonight.”
GOTCHA: Temple senior defensive tackle Cody Little (44) sacks Harker Heights senior quarterback Shaun West during the visiting Wildcats' 38-36 comeback win over the Knights on Thursday night in District 12-6A action at Killeen's Leo Buckley Stadium. West passed for 283 yards and two touchdowns and helped Heights race out to a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter, but Temple outscored the Knights 38-16 the rest of the way. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Harker Heights edged Killeen Ellison 35-34 last week when the Eagles bobbled the snap on a 31-yard field goal attempt as time expired. Against Temple, the Knights controlled the game's first 13 minutes but couldn't maintain that momentum as the Wildcats overcame problems with coverage and tackling to outscore Heights 38-16 the rest of the way.
“We played extremely well. Our kids battled hard and we did everything we needed to do. We just didn't make the plays when we needed to,” Heights head coach Jerry Edwards said after falling to 0-6 against Temple. “I think we missed out on some key execution. We gave up a third-and-long that got them their first touchdown and gave them some momentum. And then we didn't capitalize with moving the football – just some missed throws here and there.”
Seven minutes into a scoreless game, Temple began to show some cracks on defense. Heights faced a fourth-and-10 situation from the Wildcats' 37-yard line, and Dixon got wide-open to catch West's pass for an 18-yard gain. Washington then rushed through the middle and broke several tackles for a 15-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Knights lead.
Heights regained possession at its 44 after Arizmendi's errant pass to Howard on fourth-and-2. On third-and-7, West fired a crossing pass to 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior receiver Terrance Carter, a converted quarterback who split two defenders en route to a 43-yard gain to the 10. From the 7, Washington charged through Temple's defense again for a touchdown and a 14-0 advantage with 11 seconds left in the first quarter.
“Tonight in the first half I felt we got outphysicaled, and that probably hasn't happened since College Station,” said York, Temple's leading tackler for the second straight season. “We got outphysicaled and there's nothing more, nothing less to it.”
For the Wildcats, things then went from bad to worse as Arizmendi's pass across the middle on the second quarter's first play was easily intercepted by Jack Byse at Temple's 31 and returned to the 18. West then fired to Dixon, who sidestepped an attempted tackle by cornerback Carlton Mack and sprinted along the right sideline for a 20-yard touchdown. Junior defensive end Tommy Torres blocked the extra point, leaving the Wildcats with a 20-0 deficit 48 seconds into the second period.
THROUGH THE ALLEY: Temple senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi (10) tries to run through the Harker Heights defense as Wildcats wide receiver AJ McDuffy blocks the Knights' R'Jai Rogers during Temple's 38-36 win Thursday night at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen. Arizmendi threw an interception and lost two fumbles but also connected with McDuffy for three touchdown passes and rushed 11 times for 50 yards. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Although senior quarterback Arizmendi (11-of-23 passing, 181 yards) threw an interception and lost two fumbles, he also gave Temple a much-needed spark on its next possession by making its biggest play to that point. On third-and-6 from his 45, Arizmendi rushed up the middle for 20 yards. He then fired a pass that sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot caught in traffic for another 20-yard gain before Howard blasted through a hole for a 15-yard touchdown 2 minutes into the second quarter, finally getting the Wildcats on the board at 20-7 after senior Aaron Wagaman's extra point.
Heights put together a 63-yard drive on its ensuing possession, but Temple's defense stiffened and limited the Knights to Diego Fierro's 25-yard field goal to make it 23-7 5:19 before halftime.
The Wildcats then marched into Knights territory before McDuffy ran past the secondary along the right seam and easily snared Arizmendi's pass for a 38-yard touchdown, with Howard's 2-point run out of the swinging gate formation cutting Temple's deficit to 23-15 with 3:44 left until intermission.
“We had practiced real hard this week with us being down, and us being down in that moment, it was really time to just kick it in,” McDuffy said. “Coach was talking about not just being 'you' but 'us' and 'we' as a team, not just individuals. We were down, but we kicked it in and we started rolling. The energy was there and we just had to keep pushing.”
Temple collected only one turnover, but it was an important one. After Heights recovered an Arizmendi fumble at Temple's 38 with 1:52 left in the second, West's pass was intercepted by Wildcats junior linebacker Faylin Lee at the Knights 31 and returned to the 25. Temple couldn't convert its takeaway into a touchdown, but Wagaman's 28-yard field goal with 28 seconds remaining trimmed the Wildcats' deficit to 23-18.
Stewart has been known to deliver fiery halftime speeches, including two weeks ago in Temple's district-opening 55-21 win at Copperas Cove, but this time he took a different approach.
“I went the other way, because I was proud of how we responded in the second quarter. I was just like, 'Does anyone want to go find the real Wildcats?'” Stewart said. “Lack of effort bothers me. But just sleepwalking and like not being ready to play? Again, that's 100 percent on me.
“We did the best job we've ever done of bringing the atmosphere (to a Thursday game at Buckley), but that tells me maybe we don't need to do that. Maybe we just need to focus on what we need to do instead of worrying about what kind of crap we bring with us.”
UNAFRAID OF HEIGHTS: Temple sophomore wide receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot (7) makes a catch in midair in front of Harker Heights junior Christopher Sistrunk during the visiting Wildcats' 38-36 win over the Knights on Thursday evening at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen. Harrison-Pilot had three receptions for 66 yards as Temple rallied from a 20-0 second-quarter deficit to move to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in District 12-6A. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple received the second-half kickoff and immediately got a huge play when Arizmendi passed to Harrison-Pilot for 34 yards to the Heights 25. From the 7, McDuffy ran to the back-right corner of the end zone and climbed up the back of his defender to propel himself and grab Arizmendi's well-thrown pass for a touchdown and the Wildcats' first lead of the game – and also the lead for good – at 24-23 2 minutes into the third quarter before Heights stopped Howard's attempted 2-point run.
“(It's) just being strong and outworking them,” said McDuffy, who has seven TD receptions through six games. “Once I get past them I feel like it's just me and the ball and I've just got to make a play.”
The Knights came right back with Carter's 43-yard catch-and-run to reach the Wildcats 15, but four Temple players sacked West for a 10-yard loss on third down before Torres and fellow junior end Eric Shorter sacked him for another 10-yard setback and a crucial turnover on downs.
The Wildcats drove from their 35 to the Knights 11 – Arizmendi rushed for a hard yard on fourth-and-1 – before Howard rushed off left tackle and barreled through standout safety Savonte Sanford-Paige for an 11-yard touchdown, extending Temple's advantage to 31-23 with 4 minutes left in the third.
At that juncture the Wildcats had scored 31 of the game's last 34 points. The Knights were staggered, but they definitely weren't out of contention. In the third period's final minute, West's pass to the left sideline was caught by small, speedy junior receiver Marcus Maple, who dashed for a 64-yard gain to Temple's 16.
On third-and-goal from the 2, West froze the defense with a play-action fake and threw to a wide-open Quintin Howard for a touchdown to bring the Knights within 31-29 with 31 seconds gone in the fourth. But as West looked to tie the game with a 2-point pass, York raced untouched off the right side of the defensive line and sacked West to preserve Temple's slim lead.
“We ran that play earlier and I think they gained yards on it,” York said. “I'm like 0-for-4 or 0-for-5 on sacks this year, so it just felt good to get a sack. It put us in good position and we had the momentum on our side.”
Said Stewart about York's key play that prevented Heights from making it 31-31: “It was called. We saw that they were leaving their backside C gap (unblocked). Coach (Dexter) Knox called it and they executed it. It's amazing what happens when you execute the dadgum assignments.”
Temple gained the separation it needed 5 minutes into the fourth. A quick defensive stop followed by a good punt return gave the Wildcats excellent field position, then McDuffy again beat his defender in the back-right corner of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown reception from Arizmendi, their third scoring connection of the evening. Wagaman's extra point made it a two-possession game at 38-29 with 7:12 remaining.
Heights made a strong response, swiftly driving from its 30 to Temple's 10 before the hard-running Washington rumbled in for his third TD of the game and a 38-36 score with 5:36 left.
The Knights needed a stop from their defense to earn another possession, but the Wildcats made sure they didn't get it. Howard picked up one first down with a 12-yard run and then another with a tough 5-yard rush on third-and-3, allowing Temple to drain the clock and seal its comeback victory after trailing by 20 points.
“We haven't played our best four quarters of football yet. We haven't played Temple Wildcat football yet,” Howard said. “We've just got to come to play.”
The Wildcats will host Killeen Ellison (1-4, 0-2) – which takes on rival Killeen on Friday night at Buckley – next Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium.
TEMPLE 38, HARKER HEIGHTS 36
Temple 0 18 13 7 – 38
Heights 14 9 0 13 – 36
Harker Heights – Aimeer Washington 15 run (Diego Fierro kick), 3:52.
Harker Heights – Washington 7 run (Fierro kick), 0:11.
Harker Heights – LaPrinceton Dixon 20 pass from Shaun West (Fierro kick), 11:12.
Temple – Samari Howard 15 run (Aaron Wagaman kick), 9:52.
Harker Heights – Fierro 25 field goal, 5:19.
Temple – AJ McDuffy 38 pass from Humberto Arizmendi (Howard run), 3:44.
Temple – Wagaman 28 field goal, 0:28.
Temple – McDuffy 7 pass from Arizmendi (run failed), 9:57.
Temple – Howard 11 run (Wagaman kick), 4:07.
Harker Heights – Quintin Howard 2 pass from West (run failed), 11:29.
Temple – McDuffy 13 pass from Arizmendi (Wagaman kick), 7:12.
Harker Heights – Washington 10 run (Fierro kick), 5:36.
First downs: Temple 16; Harker Heights 15.
Rushes-yards: Temple 38-140; Harker Heights 35-136.
Passing yards: Temple 181; Harker Heights 283.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Temple 11-23-1; Harker Heights 15-34-1.
Punts-average: Temple 3-39.3; Harker Heights 5-34.
Fumbles-lost: Temple 2-2; Harker Heights 1-0.
Penalties-yards: Temple 3-25; Harker Heights 8-73.
Rushing – Temple: Howard 25-100, Arizmendi 11-50, team 2-(-10); Harker Heights: Washington 20-108, West 9-20, Re'Shaun Sanford 5-8, Terrance Carter 1-0.
Passing – Temple: Arizmendi 11-23-1-181; Harker Heights: West 15-34-1-283.
Receiving – Temple: Mikal Harrison-Pilot 3-66, McDuffy 4-66, Luke Allen 3-46, Howard 1-3; Harker Heights: Carter 5-126, Marcus Maple 3-81, Dixon 4-44, Sanford 2-30, Howard 1-2.