MASSIVE MATCHUP: Temple aims to make season-opening statement vs. QB Klubnik, No. 1-ranked Westlake
Updated: Oct 1, 2021
BIG GAME HUNTER: Junior middle linebacker Taurean York and the Temple Wildcats face a huge challenge in their season opener, taking on Clemson-committed senior quarterback Cade Klubnik and Class 6A No. 1-ranked Austin Westlake at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium. The Chaparrals have won 24 straight games and two consecutive 6A state championships with head coach Todd Dodge, who will retire at the end of this season. Former Mary Hardin-Baylor safety Tony Salazar is the defensive coordinator of Westlake's stingy unit. Coach Scott Stewart's Temple squad won the District 12-6A title last season and finished 10-2. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
As a tradition-rich program that went 10-2 last year, was the undefeated District 12-6A champion and has plenty of talented players returning, Temple can’t exactly be compared to David from the Bible.
But Austin Westlake, armed with a 24-game winning streak, two straight Class 6A state championships, Clemson-committed star quarterback Cade Klubnik, a dominant defense that allowed 20 regular-season points last year and one of the most successful head coaches in Texas high school football history in the soon-to-retire Todd Dodge, most certainly can be likened to Goliath.
So as Temple prepares to battle No. 1-ranked Westlake in the highly anticipated season opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium, the underdog Wildcats enter their huge test with a why-not-us attitude as they aim to strike down the giant that is the Chaparrals program.
“I told the team (Monday) before practice, ‘Hey, no one is giving us a shot, but I feel like we can shock the world and make this thing happen,’” Temple junior middle linebacker Taurean York, the reigning 12-6A Defensive MVP, said Tuesday. “I told them, ‘We’ve got to run to the ball hard and we’ve got to block hard. We’re going to have to play a good game to beat these guys.’ It’s a great test – a tremendous test – to play these guys.”
Until now, the Wildcats probably hadn’t entered a game with so few observers expecting to them to win since 2016, when three-loss Temple took on undefeated, third-ranked, Manvel in the 5A Division I Region III final.
What happened on that late Saturday night in early December at AT&T Stadium in Arlington? The unranked Wildcats pulled off a stunning 24-22 upset victory on their way to reaching the state championship game in head coach Scott Stewart’s first season.
Only time will tell whether this Temple team – which has sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield making his first career start – actually can beat this Westlake’s Klubnik-fueled juggernaut, but Stewart and his Wildcats definitely are eager to find out, one way or the other.
“If you go get your tail whipped, you’ve got a lot of stuff to work on. But if you go play their tails off and make it a close game, now everybody is like, ‘Oh, wow,’ even our kids,” Stewart said Tuesday. “I didn’t schedule this game trying to make it respectable. We’re going to do everything we can to win a football game.
“I’ve always been of the mentality of, ‘Let’s find out who we are.’ It’s just great experience. A lot of (coaches) adhere to that cream-puff mentality and they’re just trying to rack up as many wins as possible. I’ve had a lot of people tell me I’m crazy (to play Westlake), but to me it’s not about winning everything. It’s about finding out who you are and how much better you can get.”
Stewart said one of his primary concerns in the opener – the first of Temple’s three straight home games in non-district action – is remaining healthy.
“What you do worry about in years like this when we don’t have a lot of depth is, can we stay healthy? That’s the big part, because Westlake is going to play a physical brand of football,” Stewart said. “So that’s a bigger concern than, ‘Oh my God, what happens if we get beat 65-12?’ Well, we’re going to have a lot of work to do then.”
This is the first Temple-Westlake matchup since the schools clashed from 2012-15 in a competitive non-district series. The Wildcats seized a 20-14 home win in 2012, but the Chaparrals responded by winning the next three meetings: 45-41 and 49-48 in Austin and 28-17 at Wildcat Stadium.
Temple is seeking to shore up its all-around performance after a mostly shaky scrimmage last Thursday at formidable College Station. Rumfield threw long touchdown passes to senior running back and reigning 12-6A Co-MVP Samari Howard and junior wide receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot but also tossed two interceptions, one of which was returned for a TD. The Wildcats’ defense experienced a difficult evening, struggling against the run and the pass while allowing several scores of 30-plus yards.
UP FOR THE CHALLENGE: In 2020, head coach Scott Stewart's Temple Wildcats set the tone for their 10-2 campaign by beating Longview 40-13 in the season opener at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. Stewart and Temple have another marquee matchup to begin their 2021 schedule, welcoming Class 6A top-ranked Austin Westlake to Wildcat Stadium for a highly anticipated clash at 7:30 p.m. Friday. Winners of 24 straight games, the Chaparrals won the 6A Division II state championship in 2019 and seized the 6A D-I state title last season. (File photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple faces a massive challenge against powerful Westlake. Dodge has compiled a seven-season record of 88-13 with the Chaparrals, who haven’t lost since rival Austin Lake Travis edged them 26-25 on Oct. 11, 2019. Westlake won its final 10 games that year en route to the 6A Division II state championship at 15-1, then in 2020 the Chaps went 14-0 to seize the 6A Division I state crown.
“Westlake beat (powerhouse Galena Park) North Shore (24-21 in a state semifinal last year). They’re the best team right now in the state of Texas, according to all the experts,” said Stewart, whose 2020 squad reached the 6A D-II area round before losing 56-28 to Rockwall-Heath. “So it’s not going to get any harder (than playing Westlake). Let’s go find out where we are right now.
“In theory, we won’t play anybody that’s better than they are. If they’re that good, make them prove it. I want to see who we are and how we’re going to handle those situations, because I promise you, those teams will be waiting if we do well enough to make it to the postseason.”
Although Westlake’s high-scoring offense rightfully gets plenty of headlines and accolades, it’s an extremely stubborn defense that pushed the Chaps to new heights with their back-to-back state championships the last two seasons.
That defense’s mastermind is well-respected coordinator Tony Salazar, a Mary Hardin-Baylor product who was a standout Crusaders safety from 2000-03. Westlake’s defense allowed only 9.0 points per game in 2019, when the Chaps blasted Katy Taylor 63-3 in the semifinals and smothered Denton Guyer 24-0 in the Division II title game.
Salazar’s band of defenders was even more stingy in 2020, recording five shutouts and permitting only 20 total points in eight regular-season games. Even after allowing a combined 55 points against North Shore and then Southlake Carroll in Westlake’s 52-34 triumph in the 6A Division I state final, the Chaps surrendered a meager 7.7 points on average.
DEEP THREAT: Temple receiver Tr'Darius Taylor beats a Rockwall-Heath defender to catch a 19-yard touchdown pass from Humberto Arizmendi during the Wildcats' 56-28 loss in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game last December. The speedy Taylor, now a senior, will try to help Temple's offense create steady production against Austin Westlake's stingy defense in the season opener at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium. (File photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple offensive coordinator Josh Sadler recently discussed the challenge of going up against a defense as sharp as Salazar’s disciplined, sure-tackling group.
“Our mantra is to score every time we have the football, period, the end. I mean, that’s our goal. We want to do that,” said Sadler, whose offense produced 503 total yards in the second-round playoff loss last December. “Now, is that a reality? Probably not, because we’re going to face some really, really good defenses – case in point on August 27, when we’ve got one of the best defensive coordinators (Salazar) in the state of Texas coming into town. It’s going to be difficult, but that’s definitely going to be our goal.”
Westlake’s coaching staff also includes former UMHB standout defenders Matt Cody and Baylor Mullins, along with Belton graduate and former Temple College pitcher Tyler Vail and former Cameron Yoe quarterback Jack Rhoades.
As dominant as Westlake’s defense was last year, it has only two returning starters in senior back Carter Barksdale (61 tackles) – who’s committed to play lacrosse at Michigan – and senior linebacker Jacob Leopold (51 tackles). Although Westlake’s defense is breaking in nine new starters, Stewart watched the Chaps’ scrimmage at Cedar Park last Friday and fully expects a stern challenge against Salazar’s revamped unit.
“We’re not going to go run the ball 60 times against this team and have any success whatsoever,” Stewart said. “They’re huge up front. We’re humming about 230, 240 (pounds per man) across the offensive line and (Westlake’s defensive front averages) about 260 and they’re 6-foot-6.”
Two of Westlake’s new starters are 6-6, 225-pound junior end Colton Vasek and junior linebacker Nate Weyand (6-3, 225), valuable reserves last season.
“People talk about all the starters they lost,” Stewart said, “but I’m watching a game from last year and No. 91 (Vasek) is just throwing people in their face.”
Westlake’s defense certainly presents a stiff challenge for Rumfield in his Temple debut, but Stewart said the sophomore quarterback must step up and deliver his throws with vigor and confidence to keep the Wildcat offense on the field.
“Our message (to Rumfield) this week is, ‘Look, dude. They’re good. The windows are going to be small. See what you see and take a rip. If you screw up, fire and fall back. We’re going to do it again,’” Stewart said.
York, who started all 11 Temple games in 2019 as a 14-year-old freshman linebacker, offered some advice for the Wildcats’ new QB entering the Westlake duel.
“I’d say be vocal, and you can’t let people see if you’re struggling,” York said. “If they’re going to look up to you as a quarterback, you can’t be screaming or throwing your helmet. You have to stay cool, calm and collected all the time. I think when Reese and the receivers are on the same page, they can be very deadly.”
On the other side, Westlake’s Klubnik was voted 6A Offensive Player of the Year in 2020 after passing for 3,495 yards and 35 touchdowns and rushing for 583 yards and 15 TDs as a first-year starter while steering the Chaps to their second straight state title. A dual-threat weapon, the accurate, speedy Klubnik (6-2, 185) is ranked by many media outlets as the nation’s top senior QB and plans to graduate this December before enrolling at Clemson.
Stewart was highly impressed while watching the five-star recruit carve up Cedar Park’s defense a week ago.
“Klubnik’s as good as anybody I’ve ever coached against. I can’t think of one who’s downright better. He can throw every ball,” said Stewart, who was Temple’s defensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015 when the Wildcats played Westlake QB and eventual Texas starter Sam Ehlinger, now a rookie with the Indianapolis Colts. “The closest one in recent memory would be (Rockwall-Heath’s) Josh Hoover. (Klubnik) isn’t as big and thick, but he’s got top-end speed. He’s got every tool.
“In the scrimmage he threw a 65-yard ball that was about 100 feet in the air. It just kept going. He was throwing 35-yard back-shoulders. He’s throwing 15-yarders from the opposite hash, which is probably a 40-yard ball, and it gets 10 feet off the ground. I watched him in the state championship game last year, but I didn’t realize he can uncork it like that. Kids with that kind of talent are few and far between.”
A major piece of Klubnik’s supporting cast is big, athletic junior receiver Jaden Greathouse (6-3, 210), the first freshman starter in Westlake program history. Greathouse has made 116 receptions for 1,860 yards and 23 touchdowns in two seasons. The ESPN 300 ranks him as the nation’s No. 82 overall recruit in the 2023 graduating class, while Temple’s Harrison-Pilot is ranked No. 102.
The Chaps’ other leading skill-position players include junior receivers Bryce Chambers and Keaton Kubecka.
Meanwhile, Westlake returns a very seasoned group of linemen, paced by Texas commitment Connor Robertson (6-4, 295), Indiana commitment Bray Lynch (6-5, 275) and fellow seniors Jack Griffin (6-0, 250) and Michael McKelvy (6-0, 255). The Chaparrals' line became even better when junior tackle and blue-chip recruit T.J. Shanahan (6-5, 300) moved in from Orlando within the last two weeks. He has scholarship offers from Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana State, Ohio State and Notre Dame, among many others.
“Westlake’s really, really good on defense, but this might be the best offense I’ve ever gone against from front to back, side to side,” Stewart said. “They’re so dangerous down the field. I think they scored seven or eight or nine touchdowns (in the scrimmage). They had long runs, they had long passes and they threw short passes that turned into (long gains).
“They didn’t make any mistakes. Klubnik’s not going to let you touch the ball if he doesn’t want you to. Those guys have played a ton of games, so I promise you they’re not jittery. You have to try to make them earn it, especially this group.”
Temple defensive coordinator Dexter Knox said it’s vital for the Wildcats to play with maximum effort and vary how they deploy to prevent Klubnik from getting too comfortable in the pocket.
“Obviously you know he’s going to do what a guy committed to Clemson is capable of doing,” Knox said. “We’ve got to execute well, play hard and get to the football. I don’t think we did a good job of that last week. And then we have to mix up some looks on him. He’s very intelligent. If he knows where you’re at all the time, it’s going to be easier for him.”
The 58-year-old Dodge, whose head coaching career began at Yoe in the mid-1990s, famously guided Southlake Carroll’s dynasty to a 79-1 record with four 5A state championships from 2002-06 before he left to try the college level as head coach at North Texas, struggling to a 6-37 record from 2007-10.
Dodge was hired by Westlake in 2014 and has coached the Chaps to six straight seasons of 11-plus wins, highlighted by their second and third state championships in program history. Westlake hadn’t won a state title since future Pro Football Hall of Famer Drew Brees quarterbacked the 1996 Chaps to a 16-0 record and the 5A Division II crown.
When Westlake defeated Carroll 52-34 in last January’s 6A D-I title game, Dodge’s son, Riley, was on the opposite sideline as head coach of the Dragons, whom he quarterbacked while playing for his father's powerhouse at Carroll.
Todd Dodge announced in late July that he will retire at the end of Westlake’s season, and Salazar is thought to be his likely successor as the Chaps’ head coach.
“I could’ve retired with full benefits two years ago. (But) when that state championship was over in 2019, I felt like there still was some work to be done,” Dodge said in a recent interview with FOX 7 Austin. “Once again, I was kind of motivated by that young quarterback (Klubnik) and the passion that he has for the game.”
Said Klubnik to FOX 7 Austin about Westlake’s quest for a state championship three-peat in Dodge’s final season: “It’s crazy to be out here for one last ride. We’re calling it ‘The Last Dance,’ so let’s have some fun with it.”
Stewart also wants his Wildcats to have some fun, realizing that producing a stellar performance against a marquee program such as Westlake can create a boost in confidence.
“It’s not all about individual goals, but it’s OK to have individual goals. Go have a good game here against these guys and put your name on the map,” he said.
Of course, Temple’s coach wants the Wildcats to be focused on playing as well as they possibly can, regardless of the high-profile opponent.
“My big message has been and will be, ‘It doesn’t matter who’s on the other sideline. If we change the way we play because of who’s on the other sideline, then we’re never going to be what we’re supposed to be,’” said Stewart, who’s 48-16 with five playoff berths in as many seasons as head coach of a Temple program that seeks its ninth straight postseason appearance. “They’re the No. 1 team in the state and (a top-five team) in the nation, but it is what it is. We’re not going to change our approach.”
York, Temple’s leading tackler the last two seasons, said the clash with Westlake's heavyweight program is exactly what the Wildcats need to kick off their season.
“The champions set the standard, and people play the champions to measure where they’re at. They’re like, ‘If we can beat the champions, then we have a chance,’” York said. “So I feel like this is definitely going to show us where we’re at as a team – our mental state, our physical state and what we need to work on. It’s an awesome opportunity to play on the big stage.”
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