• Greg Wille

GRITTY VICTORY: York's last-minute TD, Mitchell's final pick help Temple overcome feisty Hutto 31-27

Updated: Oct 19


PUNISHING PRESENCE: Temple senior linebacker Taurean York puts a hard hit on Hutto junior quarterback Will Hammond as senior tackle Ka'Morion Carter looks on during the Wildcats' 31-27 homecoming win over the Hippos on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. York made 17 tackles and forced a fumble, and his career-best three touchdowns included a pair of 2-yard rushes and the go-ahead 2-yard catch from Reese Rumfield with 42 seconds remaining as Temple (6-2) moved to 4-0 in District 12-6A and clinched its 10th straight playoff berth. Hammond passed for 269 yards and three TDs for the Hippos (3-4, 0-3). (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)





By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


Before Friday night, the last time Taurean York was seen scoring a touchdown at Wildcat Stadium was last Oct. 1, when the star middle linebacker’s 76-yard fumble return sealed Temple’s 44-34 comeback win over Harker Heights in what essentially was the District 12-6A championship game.

Twelve and a half months later, Temple needed all of York’s heroics in all three phases of the game and numerous clutch plays by his teammates to get past upset-minded Hutto and remain on track for potentially a fourth straight league title.

A 2-yard play-action pass from Reese Rumfield produced York’s third touchdown of the evening and gave the Wildcats the lead with 42 seconds left, then Naeten Mitchell intercepted Will Hammond’s deflected Hail Mary pass at the goal line as time expired to secure Temple’s dramatic, hard-earned 31-27 victory over the feisty Hippos in front of a large, loud homecoming crowd Friday night at Wildcat Stadium.

York is Temple’s leading tackler for the fourth straight season and recorded 17 stops against Hutto, but the two-time 12-6A Defensive MVP also made a major impact on offense to help the Wildcats claw out a vital win and clinch their 10th consecutive playoff berth.

“It’s a lot of my hard work that paid off in the long run. We’re going to need it in times like this. That’s why I’m playing offense,” said the Baylor-committed York, the newly crowned homecoming king whose pair of 2-yard touchdown rushes helped Temple jump out to a 15-0 lead early in the second quarter before Hutto roared back with a valiant charge.

Following their 19th consecutive 12-6A win, the Wildcats (6-2 overall, 4-0 in district) needed to catch their collective breath before turning their attention toward next Friday’s showdown with co-leader Harker Heights (6-1, 3-0) at Killeen's Leo Buckley Stadium that again should determine the district championship.

Temple overcame two interceptions and two lost fumbles to survive and deny a game Hutto team (3-4, 0-3) that’s striving to remain in the playoff hunt in Will Compton’s first season as head coach.

“I think we fumbled the ball four times on the night and had (two) interceptions, so we’re minus-5 in the turnover category and still find a way to win. That speaks to the character of these young men,” said Temple head coach Scott Stewart, whose team was outscored 27-9 from early in the second quarter to late in the fourth. “But we’ve got to clean that crap up. That won’t work from this point on. If we’re going to play much longer, we’re going to have to get out of the charity business.

“Coach Compton does a great job and Hutto plays hard. I said that all week long. I think they’ve been trying to find themselves on defense statistically, and they did a great job tonight. They reduced our gaps inside and made us bounce it. But bottom line, if we connect on two or three (deep passes) and we don’t fumble the ball, we’re probably looking at (scoring) 48 or 56 points and nobody’s really worried about that.”


RETURN TO SENDER: Temple senior defensive end Jaylon Jackson (0) celebrates with Naeten Mitchell after Jackson blocked a 49-yard field goal attempt by Hutto kicker Timothy Hollenbeck in the final seconds of the first half of the Wildcats' 31-27 victory Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Jackson also blocked Hollenbeck's 50-yard try in the third quarter and has three blocked field goals during District 12-6A play for first-place Temple. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Although the Wildcats allowed Hammond’s go-ahead 4-yard touchdown pass to big, versatile senior Brody Bujnoch with 3:10 remaining, senior defensive end Jaylon Jackson never doubted that his squad had the fortitude to rebound and prevail in crunch time.

“I could tell we were going to go score. Nobody on the offensive line or the wide receivers freaked out. I didn’t see anybody down or throwing helmets,” said Jackson, who blocked two long field goal attempts by Hutto. “They knew they were going to go out there and do what they had to do. They did it, then the defense came back out there and did what we had to do.”

In a non-district game last September at Wildcat Stadium, then-sophomore Hammond came off the bench to run for a 76-yard touchdown and then threw four fourth-quarter touchdown passes against Temple backup defenders in Hutto’s 60-53 loss.

The strong-armed, dual-threat quarterback entered the rematch with 18 touchdown passes and zero interceptions this season, and Hammond’s play lived up to his advance billing. He threw TD passes of 38 yards to Alex Green, 32 yards to Carson LaPlante and 4 yards to Bujnoch as Hutto gained 260 yards through the air and 433 overall.

Mitchell’s game-ending interception – the New Mexico State commitment’s fourth pick this year – was the first interception thrown by Hammond (22-of-41, 269 yards) all season.

“We knew the quarterback was going to come in and be the best quarterback we were going to go against the whole year. I felt he was, and we had to get to him quick,” Jackson said. “We played the whole game tonight and didn’t let up at all.”

Said Stewart about Hutto’s Hammond-led attack that also got a 40-yard touchdown rush from hard-running Jalon Banks to begin the final period: “I’m not going to lie to you guys. I’m going to tell you the God’s honest truth as I see it. That’s the best offense in this district statistically, and they showed why tonight.”


GAME-SEALING PLAY: Temple's Naeten Mitchell makes an interception at the goal line on Hutto's Hail Mary pass with no time remaining as fellow senior defenders Taurean York (far left) and Mikal Harrison-Pilot look on, finishing the Wildcats' 31-27 homecoming victory Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. It was the fourth pick of the season for New Mexico State commitment Mitchell and the first interception thrown this year by Hippos junior quarterback Will Hammond against 21 touchdowns. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Temple had not only the game’s first possession but also excellent field position after catching Hutto’s short kickoff at the Wildcats’ 49-yard line. Rumfield (9-of-23, 109 yards) fired a pass over the middle to senior receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot (four catches for 65 yards), who sprinted along the right side and finally was pushed out at the 5 for a 46-yard gain.

From the 2, York was inserted at quarterback, took the shotgun snap and ran in untouched off right tackle for his first touchdown of the season. From a swinging gate formation, junior Damarion Willis ran straight ahead for the 2-point conversion, his fourth of the season, and an 8-0 Temple lead 2:20 into the opening period.

The Wildcats’ defense forced a three-and-out series, but the Hippos got the ball right back when linebacker Bujnoch recovered a fumble by senior running back Deshaun Brundage at the Hutto 46.

The turnover bug bit Temple again on its next possession when Steven Galindo darted across the middle and leaped to make an athletic interception of Rumfield’s pass at midfield.

Two plays later the Wildcats lost starting safety Willis – also their holder on kicks – to an upper-body injury. Hutto drove to the Temple 33, but on fourth-and-2 York, junior nose tackle Ayden Brown and senior tackle Ka’Morion Carter combined to tackle Banks for no gain and a turnover on downs.

Brundage’s 31-yard burst off left tackle and Mitchell’s 21-yard catch-and-run from Rumfield pushed Temple to the 2 before York, playing fullback, crashed over right guard for his second touchdown and a 15-0 Wildcats advantage 11 seconds into the second quarter.

The Hippos needed to respond, and they did quickly. Hammond threw to Devon McMarion for 19 yards, then fired a deep pass that Green caught against single coverage in the middle of the end zone for a 38-yard touchdown and a 15-7 game 2 minutes into the second.

Mitchell’s 33-yard return of the ensuing kickoff set Temple up at the Hutto 44, and Brundage (175 yards on 25 carries) ripped off a 24-yard run before the Wildcats settled for senior Mateo Lopez’s 37-yard field goal to take an 18-7 lead 8 minutes before halftime.

Again, however, Hutto found an answer. Banks (150 yards) carved through the defense for a 51-yard run before Harrison-Pilot shoved him out at the Temple 32. LaPlante then took advantage of a missed assignment in the secondary to get wide open on the left side and catch Hammond’s pass for a 32-yard touchdown that trimmed the Wildcats’ advantage to 18-14 with 7:36 remaining in the first half.

Temple’s next drive sputtered at midfield, but another key play by York resulted in a crucial mistake by the Hippos on special teams. As Bujnoch tried to catch Lopez’s high punt at the Hutto 17, York hit him with a hard shot and caused him to muff the ball and junior deep snapper Ethan Magana pounced on it at the 18 with 3 minutes left before halftime.

Rumfield’s 7-yard run helped Temple reach the 8 before junior running back Rymond Johnson followed senior tight end Landon Halvorson’s lead block to the left side for an 8-yard touchdown run that extended the Wildcats’ lead to 24-14 at the 1:06 mark.

Hutto advanced to Temple 32 with 9 seconds left and tried to get points on a 49-yard field goal from Timothy Hollenbeck, but Jackson crashed through the middle of the line and blocked the kick to preserve the Wildcats’ 10-point halftime lead.

Temple’s defense delivered a key stop on the second half’s opening possession. The Hippos reached the Wildcat 45, but a fourth-and-5 Hammond’s slant pass was too low as Temple grabbed a turnover on downs. However, the same thing happened on the ensuing drive as the Wildcats reached Hutto’s 28 before Rumfield threw too low on a fourth-and-8 crossing pass.

An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty then helped Hutto march to Temple’s 33, but the Wildcat defense stiffened and Hollenbeck’s 50-yard field goal attempt was rejected by the active, hard-to-block Jackson, who again penetrated the middle of the protection scheme for his second block of the night. He also blocked a field goal in the win at Bryan.

“When we played against (state-ranked) Arlington Martin, they had a good field goal (blocking unit). I took their technique and sprinted through the O-line," said Jackson, who tackled a Waco Midway ball carrier for a safety in Temple’s 44-10 road victory last week. "I told my boy Ayden Brown to hit ’em hard and I’ll get through there and get the field goal block."

Trying to add to its lead, Temple instead absorbed another turnover as Rumfield’s deep pass was intercepted by athletic safety Kenny Settles at the Hutto 20 and returned to its 36 with 1:25 remaining in the third.

A defensive holding penalty on fourth-and-4 prolonged Hutto’s ensuing drive, and the Hippos moved to Temple’s 40 before Banks blasted through the middle, cut out to the right side and beat the last defender to crash into the right pylon for the touchdown that cut the Wildcats’ lead to 24-21 10 seconds into the final quarter.

Four hard runs by Brundage helped Temple move to the Hutto 39, but he fumbled on his fifth carry of the drive and Bujnoch notched another recovery at his 28 with 9 minutes remaining.

An errant snap on Temple’s next possession pushed the Wildcats back to their 10 before they punted and Hutto took over at its 40 with 6½ minutes left. Needing to drive for the go-ahead touchdown, that’s exactly what the Hippos did.

Hammond’s third-down slant pass to LaPlante produced a 32-yard gain to the 12, then from Bujnoch got open in the left flat and caught Hammond’s pass for the 4-yard touchdown with 3:10 remaining for Hutto's first and only lead of the evening. But Hollenbeck missed the extra-point kick to the left, keeping the Hippos’ advantage at 27-24.


FINAL PUSH: Temple senior running back Deshaun Brundage tries to break through the grasp of a Hutto defender during the Wildcats' final drive, which concluded with a 2-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Reese Rumfield (10) to senior Taurean York with 42 seconds remaining. Brundage lost two fumbles but rushed for 175 yards as Temple (6-2, 4-0) prevailed 31-27 in Friday night's homecoming game at Wildcat Stadium to remain in the District 12-6A lead. The Wildcats play at Harker Heights (6-1, 3-0) next Friday night at Killeen's Leo Buckley Stadium. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Instead of a deep kickoff, Hutto opted for an onside kick and Temple recovered at its 48. The Wildcats rode Brundage rushes of 12, 16 and 6 yards to move to the 20, then a Hippos defensive back was called for pass interference as he tried to cover sophomore receiver Christian Tutson on Rumfield’s throw to the right side of the end zone.

Brundage’s next two runs went for a combined 3 yards to the 2. With less than a minute remaining on third-and-goal, Rumfield deftly carried out a fake handoff to Brundage up the middle. The defense collapsed on Brundage, which allowed fullback York to sneak out into the right flat and easily catch Rumfield’s lofted pass in the end zone for the go-ahead 2-yard touchdown – York’s third TD from that distance – with 42 seconds remaining.

Lopez then made the extra point for a 31-27 lead, forcing a Hutto team that had used all its timeouts into a must-score-a-touchdown situation.

Gary Choice caught Hammond’s pass along the Hutto sideline and the Hippos picked up an extra 15 yards on the play when the Temple defender who tackled him was penalized for non-flagrant targeting, moving the ball to Temple’s 40 with 32 seconds left.

Another Hammond completion pushed Hutto to the 29, but the Hippos hurt themselves with back-to-back penalties on false starts.

Hutto had one final snap from the 39 with 2 seconds remaining. Hammond spun away from rushing defenders, rolled left and heaved a high-trajectory pass that descended into a leaping scrum of four Wildcats and two Hippos, including the 6-foot-3, 225-pound Bujnoch, near the goal line. The ball ricocheted off one player’s hands and bounced directly into the hands of Mitchell 5 yards away along the goal line.

With the clock showing all zeroes, Temple’s sideline and festive homecoming crowd celebrated wildly as Mitchell returned the interception approximately 55 yards before he ran out of bounds, completing a stirring comeback win for the Wildcats.

“It’s a bend-but-don’t-break (mentality). We’ve got two (defensive backs) out there who haven’t played football since they were in eighth grade, and so it’s next man up,” Stewart said. “We’ve got who we’ve got. I don’t get to go recruit people. I love these kids. They look for the opportunity, and when they get the opportunity they’ve got to try to make the most of it. And we made enough of it tonight.”


IN THE ZONE: Temple senior Taurean York jumps after rushing for a 2-yard touchdown off a direct snap during the first quarter of the Wildcats' 31-27 win over Hutto on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. The Baylor-committed York, an all-state linebacker who was named homecoming king at halftime, added another 2-yard scoring run and caught the go-ahead 2-yard touchdown pass from junior Reese Rumfield with 42 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. York also made 17 tackles and forced a fumble. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



York gave Hutto full credit for pushing Temple to the limit.

“They’re a really good program. I was telling them on the field, ‘Hey man, keep it up. Y’all are a great team. Keep fighting,’” York said. “They think I’m trying to be nice, but in between the white lines it’s a war zone. Hutto’s a playoff-caliber team, without a doubt.”

Added York about being announced as Temple’s homecoming king during a halftime ceremony: “That’s also pretty cool. I’m glad that my school had enough faith in me to represent them as homecoming king. That’s awesome stuff.”

With its 10th straight postseason trip secured, Temple now will begin preparing for a major challenge next Friday against Harker Heights, which had its open date Friday after beating Hutto 42-24 last week. Head coach Jerry Edwards’ Knights have the reigning 12-6A MVP in Houston-committed senior running back Re’Shaun Sanford II (1,326 rushing yards, nine touchdowns), and their fast, stingy defense has allowed only 17 points per game.

Heights built three-touchdown leads in the first half against Temple in 2020 and 2021, only for the resilient Wildcats to rally and earn memorable victories en route to finishing as 7-0 district champions. The Knights will be hungry to finally knock the Wildcats off their 12-6A pedestal next week in front of what should be a charged-up atmosphere at Leo Buckley.

“It’s a great opportunity to showcase who we are as a team. I think we’re going to start off fast and we’re going to finish fast. They know that we’re coming to town. It’s definitely going to be a showdown and I don’t expect anything else than a great game,” York said. “That’s a great program and their defense is better than it has been over the past three years that I’ve been playing. They’re right there with us, for sure.”

Said Jackson: “I’d say we’ve got to be ready for Re’Shaun Sanford. We can’t go out there like we played tonight. We’ve got to start strong. Offense has to start strong and defense has to get more stops than this week.”

Asked whether he has any worries about Temple being able to bounce back after its white-knuckle win over Hutto, Stewart said his Wildcats have no choice but to prepare themselves as well as possible for the highly anticipated battle against a motivated, worthy contender.

“It ain’t really going to make a difference if I worry about it or not. That game’s coming in seven days whether I’m worried about it or not, so I might as well not. We’ve got to get our butts ready to play against probably the most talented team in this district. I can’t worry about that,” Stewart said. “We’ll get them as ready as we can get them, and they’re going to have to make a choice to take that step or not. We’ll try to go put our best foot forward against a really good football team.”

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