MAJOR TEST: Temple aims to learn from frustrating loss at College Station as skilled Martin rolls in
STOP RIGHT THERE: Temple sophomore safety O'Ryan Peoples (right) grabs the jersey of College Station running back Anthony Trevino as senior safety Josh Donoso pursues the play during Temple's 45-35 loss last Friday night at Cougar Field. Temple (2-1) shoots to bounce back in its non-district finale when it hosts Class 6A No. 11-ranked Arlington Martin (2-1) at 7:30 tonight at Wildcat Stadium. Martin won 43-25 at Temple in 2020. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
In last Friday’s non-district showdown at College Station, the Temple Wildcats did a lot of things to give themselves an opportunity to beat the always-tough Cougars for the first time in three tries.
Temple had a 300-yard passer in junior quarterback Reese Rumfield and a 200-yard receiver in senior Mikal Harrison-Pilot, with those two connecting late in the third quarter for back-to-back touchdowns that totaled 100 yards.
The Wildcats got two blocked punts from sophomore Lezlie Jackson, one of which was returned 31 yards by sophomore Christian Tutson for a touchdown. They also got Tutson’s 94-yard kickoff return for a TD.
However, Temple simply could not overcome its many key mistakes in a 45-35 defeat that followed wins against McKinney and Willis – games in which the Wildcats allowed a combined 30 points.
Against nemesis and Class 5A Division I ninth-ranked College Station, the 6A No. 22 Wildcats permitted 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to start the second half and, trailing by 10 points with 3½ minutes remaining, threw an interception that the Cougars returned 37 yards for the TD that essentially sealed their win.
Temple’s defense permitted touchdowns of 28, 35 and 60 yards because of a combination of missed tackles, poor angles and busted coverages, and a crucial penalty for not having enough players on the line of scrimmage wiped away Harrison-Pilot’s 65-yard scoring sprint that would have given the Wildcats the lead going into the final period.
“We’ve got to shore some things up. We go up four points at the end of the third quarter and we have all the momentum going if one receiver goes forward one more foot,” Temple seventh-year head coach Scott Stewart said. “Again, who knows what would have been different (after that)?”
All told, College Station’s six touchdowns added up to 261 yards, a reality from which Temple couldn’t escape as the Wildcats – who also couldn’t generate a productive running attack – were denied their first 3-0 start since 2018.
As Temple (2-1) prepared this week for its non-district finale against another top-notch opponent in 6A No. 11 Arlington Martin (2-1) at 7:30 tonight at Wildcat Stadium, Stewart emphasized the need for his Wildcats to focus on taking care of their responsibilities and cutting out the catastrophic errors to give themselves a shot to defeat the Warriors.
“To me, you don’t know exactly how they handle anything until you line it up again. They had a good day of practice (Monday) and there was a lot of challenging going on. We’ve got to play a different caliber of football,” Stewart said Tuesday afternoon. “What I mean by that is, College Station scored 45 points on six plays, and there were 207 plays in that game. So we’ve got a lot of work do technically, but it’s the mishaps. Very rarely do you have somebody score that many points on that few plays and things go well.”
Stewart said he’s heard throughout his long coaching career that close games generally are decided by five plays. From giving up several long touchdowns to having one negated by an ill-timed penalty, that certainly proved to be the case for Temple against College Station.
“I’ve literally said that my entire career, because I’ve heard it my entire career,” Stewart said. “And the caveat to that is you’ll never know what those five plays are until after the game, so until we get to the mindset of ‘the next play could be that play,’ we’re not going to be as successful as any of us wants to be. That is as consistent as gravity.
“The hidden yardage will never show up on a stat sheet. When Mikal scored on a 65-yard run and they bring it back 5 yards, that’s a 70-yard penalty,” he added. “I think it’s more mental type stuff. I don’t think there was one time where these kids were like, ‘You know what? I don’t feel like playing hard right here.’ But it’s mental focus. Not lining up on the line of scrimmage, that’s inexcusable. They were in the right formation; (the receiver) just wasn’t up close enough. He says he checked with the official, but the official said he didn’t. But the call is the call, and I want (the officials) to call what they see.”
Next Friday night Temple begins the quest for its fourth consecutive District 12-6A championship and third straight outright league title when the Wildcats travel to Bryan to battle the Vikings (2-1) at Merrill Green Stadium.
If Temple needs one more high-quality tuneup to prepare for its six-game district schedule, the Wildcats should get exactly that tonight against powerful Martin.
Two years ago, the Warriors of veteran head coach Bob Wager invaded Wildcat Stadium and seized a 43-25 win that featured a series of crippling breakdowns by Temple’s special teams. Lenard Lemons returned a second-quarter kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown, then took the second-half kickoff and went 100 yards for another TD. And those huge plays happened after Temple’s errant punt snap a minute into the game was recovered by Martin in the end zone for a touchdown.
After Temple gained 411 yards total offense to Martin’s 286 and still lost by 18 points, Stewart described his squad’s performance on special teams as “just atrocious” and called what happened “the weirdest game I’ve ever seen.”
Temple’s coach knows his team will have to put forth a strong all-around performance and execute much better than it did in College Station as Martin returns to Bob McQueen Field.
The Warriors opened their season by beating Austin Lake Travis 39-31 and followed it with a 44-6 shellacking of Cedar Hill. Martin hit a speed bump last Friday with a 27-16 loss to perennial power Allen.
It’s a difficult matchup for Temple simply because of the numbers game. Martin’s official University Interscholastic League enrollment taken last fall is 3,830 students, which is more than 1,400 more than Temple’s figure of 2,399. Stewart said Martin’s playing style is similar to College Station’s, just with additional size and depth.
“Martin will be the best team we play. It’s probably more kids (than College Station) and larger just as far as body size. They look the part and play the part,” Stewart said. “I’ve always said that the way kids play is a reflection of the attitude of their head coach, and Coach Wager is as good as I’ve ever talked to in getting to know him through the process of playing them.”
Martin’s most high-profile player is uncommitted five-star recruit Javien Toviano, a 6-foot-2, 185-pound senior cornerback who’s ranked by Rivals as the No. 20 overall recruit in the country. In the Warriors’ 2020 win at Temple, Toviano threw a 2-point pass and added a 2-point run. This season he’s made 18 tackles and one interception, forced a fumble and recovered one.
Martin’s other leading defenders include junior safety Anthony Crenshaw (21 tackles, two interceptions), junior linebacker Karsten Webb (32 tackles), senior safety Chris Johnson (28 tackles), junior linebacker Jake Landrum (27 tackles) and senior linebacker Ca’Dynce Hall (24 stops).
“They get to the line of scrimmage in a hurry and they get there in a bad mood,” Stewart said.
Martin’s offense has generated 623 rushing yards compared to 375 passing. The go-to player is 5-6, 175-pound senior running back Michael Barrow, who has offers from Army and Navy. Barrow has rushed 45 times for 308 yards and four touchdowns and added 80 receiving yards and one TD.
Junior quarterback Tristan Bittle has thrown for 363 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 84 yards. His leading deep target in the aerial game is lean senior Jeremiah Charles (6-1, 150), who’s totaled 142 yards and two TDs on five catches.
But putting offense and defense aside, what Wager and Martin actually are best known for is their commitment to creative and outstanding play on special teams. Considering what happened against the Warriors two years ago, Temple knows it must be on its toes in kicking-game situations again tonight.
“That’s the best special teams unit I have ever seen. From the two times we’ve seen them (including this year), this is not an anomaly,” Stewart said. “I told (our coaches), ‘Let’s not worry about going to college practices in the spring. Let’s go visit Arlington Martin.’ One of our coaches knows a coach on their staff and he said Coach Wager runs the special teams and 2 hours a day they work on special teams."
It’s one thing to know that Martin is highly skilled on special teams; it’s quite another to devise a plan to figure out what the Warriors want to do and stop them.
“The philosophy behind it, which I think is ingenious, is it’s hard to get aggressive against them because you have no idea what they’re going to do,” Stewart said. “I think they’ve attempted seven fakes this season and they’re six out of seven. They do crazy stuff. I think they’ve attempted six or seven onside kicks and got three of them back. They’ve got two kickers – one of them being Wager’s son (senior Gage Wager) – and they stand right next to each other and this one will kick it this way and that one will kick it the other way. They’ll bloop it. Their kickers are good enough that they wait until you line up and they’ll spray it wherever you’re not. Wager’s son is on every special team they have.”
Gage Wager is 8-for-8 on extra points and averages 38.9 yards on nine punts.
It was a rare miss on special teams that hindered Martin in its loss to Allen a week ago. The Warriors began the game with a successful onside kick, but they trailed 20-16 with 6 minutes left when Bob Wager had his team attempt a fake punt from its own 31-yard line. Barrow took the short snap but was tackled for a turnover on downs, then the Eagles added a touchdown en route to the 27-16 win.
Wager grew up in upstate New York but after playing college football in Massachusetts decided he wanted to try coaching in Texas. After head coaching stints in Tolar, Groveton and Kaufman, he became Martin’s head coach in 2006 and has guided the Warriors to 16 straight playoff berths and seven seasons of 10-plus wins. Wager has compiled a 196-99 record in 26 seasons as a head coach, including a 135-62 mark with Martin.
Like Temple, Martin in 2021 was a 9-3 team that went undefeated in district and reached the area round of the 6A playoffs. While the Wildcats were eliminated by Rockwall-Heath for the second straight season, the Warriors bowed out with a 35-18 loss to Lewisville.
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