MIXED BAG: QB Arizmendi sharp in scrimmage but Temple defense bitten by College Station's big plays
Competing for Temple's starting quarterback position along with sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot, senior Humberto Arizmendi threw touchdown passes to fellow seniors A.J. McDuffy and Luke Allen in the Wildcats' scrimmage against College Station on Thursday night at Wildcat Stadium. Junior Samari Howard added a 68-yard TD run for Temple, which begins its regular season against Class 5A Division I No. 3-ranked Longview at 8 p.m. next Friday at Arlington's AT&T Stadium in a rematch of their 6A D-II bi-district playoff game in 2019. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Torrential rain swept across Wildcat Stadium early Thursday evening but eventually gave way to a relatively clear and mostly cool night for Temple's football scrimmage against an always-challenging College Station program.
Also becoming more clear was that the Wildcats' defense, most notably an inexperienced secondary, will have to find a way to limit its opponents' explosive plays entering Temple's season opener against Class 5A Division I No. 3-ranked Longview at 8 p.m. next Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
As for whether head coach Scott Stewart and Temple gained any clarity in the search for their next starting quarterback, Humberto Arizmendi threw touchdown passes to fellow seniors A.J. McDuffy and Luke Allen – a third was negated by McDuffy's taunting penalty – and showed that he's at the very least deserving of an opportunity to play regular-season snaps as he continues to compete with strong-armed sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot, the dual-threat talent who had an inconsistent performance in the scrimmage.
After familiar opponent College Station outscored Temple 28-14 during the two timed quarters of action, Stewart – whose Wildcats also got a 68-yard, tackle-breaking touchdown run from junior Samari Howard – took stock of the mixed-bag output that preseason scrimmages tend to produce.
“Probably the thing that stands out is it's nice to see the lights on in Temple, Texas,” said Stewart, who enters his fifth season as Temple's coach with a 38-14 record and four playoff berths. “The kids had a lot of energy. I didn't like where we focused our energy at times. We got into a trash-talking contest, and that's not who we are and that's not who we are going to be, I can promise you that. The leaders we do have, they have to lead by example. They can't get suckered into that kind of stuff.
“We've got one guy (senior tackle Alex Rodriguez) on our offensive line who played last year,” he added. “College Station's defense is fast and well-coached, and it looked awful (for Temple's offense) early in the scrimmage. I'm really proud of our defensive front seven. Our secondary is brand-new, and it showed.”
Arizmendi split the first- and second-team snaps with Harrison-Pilot, with the senior taking the field first. Arizmendi accounted for Temple's only score during the scrimmage's controlled portion, connecting with junior receiver Tr'darius Taylor for a 45-yard gain before lofting a fade pass that McDuffy caught for a 14-yard touchdown. Arizmendi fired a 25-yard TD strike to Allen during the first quarter of timed action.
That came one play after the 6-foot, 180-pound Arizmendi sprinted up the middle for what likely would have been a 35-yard TD rush but was limited to a 10-yard gain because the whistles were quick whenever enemy contact threatened Temple's red-jersey-wearing quarterbacks.
“I think so,” Arizmendi replied when asked if he would have scored if not for the quick whistles that ended the play. “I don't like that.”
Midway through the same quarter, Arizmendi threw a long pass down the right sideline that McDuffy hauled in despite a flag being thrown against his defender for pass interference. But as McDuffy sprinted in for an apparent 45-yard touchdown, he was penalized for taunting the trailing defender, nullifying the score and eventually leading to a punt.
Although some observers have expected Harrison-Pilot to win the starting quarterback position after he started every game at free safety as a freshman last season for Temple's 8-3 playoff team, Arizmendi's play both in practices and the College Station scrimmage is giving Stewart and offensive coordinator Josh Sadler plenty to think about.
“This is my first varsity look, so I felt like I handled it well,” said Arizmendi, who quarterbacked the Wildcats' top junior varsity team last year as a junior. “JV to varsity is different, but I feel like I handled it well. It felt good, because in practice we're going against our own team and I'm used to it. It felt nice to finally get a different look and different coverages. There was just a couple missed reads (tonight), but it happens and we'll fix it.”
Asked if he believes he's earned the right to get playing time in next Friday's televised opener against Longview in the Dallas Cowboys' home stadium, Arizmendi said he does.
“I mean, yes, but it's not up to me. It's up to the coaches,” he said. “I feel really good.”
Meanwhile, Harrison-Pilot regularly showed off his strong right arm during the scrimmage but often missed his receivers long and/or wide on deep attempts before his accuracy improved as the two timed quarters went on. The scrimmage format's quick whistles, agreed upon by the coaches, limited his ability to produce long gains as a runner.
“I think Mikal was really excited, and he looked like a sophomore quarterback at times,” Stewart said. “But you saw some of the (accurate) throws he made at the end. It's just going to be a comfortability thing. It's a different ball and those receivers have to make an adjustment. We'll take a good, hard look at it and see.”
Stewart had high marks for how Arizmendi operated the offense and threw the ball.
“I was really impressed with Arizmendi,” he said. “He's got a little bit more touch on the ball right now, and Mikal's just excited. The film is going to tell a lot – grading percentage and stuff like that.”
Stewart plans to have his depth chart solidified by Saturday and confirmed that Harrison-Pilot's ability to play other positions – whether on offense or defense – could factor into what Temple's staff decides to do with the quarterback spot. Stewart hasn't employed any kind of QB rotation as the Wildcats' head coach, but he said he wouldn't necessarily rule out playing both Arizmendi and Harrison-Pilot this season.
After the heavy rain finally blew through, the delayed scrimmage began approximately one hour later than scheduled. During the controlled portion that featured 12-play series between the teams' starting units and then the second-string groups, College Station scored one touchdown against Temple's top defense – junior quarterback Jett Huff's 24-yard pass to Dalton Carnes – and two TDs against the Wildcats' second-unit defenders.
Right after the touchdown by College Station's starting offense, Temple's top defense came up with a big play as sophomore linebacker Taurean York – District 12-6A's Co-Defensive Newcomer of the Year last season – deflected a pass that junior safety Jaden Jackson grabbed for an interception at midfield.
College Station head coach Steve Huff, whose team edged Temple in memorable showdowns for the District 18-5A championship in 2016 and '17, said the Wildcats gave his Cougars the desired look and test to help prepare them for next Friday's season opener against Hutto in College Station.
“Absolutely, because (Temple's) squad always has speed and you just can't practice against it every day,” said Steve Huff, who coached the Cougars to the Class 5A Division II state championship in 2017. “We've got some kids who can run, but you can't see it every day. To go scrimmage a team like this is great. I love this scrimmage for our kids.”
After Jett Huff – the coach's son – found Houston Thomas for an 18-yard touchdown pass on College Station's opening possession of the first timed quarter, Arizmendi led a drive from Temple's 25-yard line to the Cougars 25 before his perfectly timed pass hit Allen in stride for the tying TD.
But the Wildcats' defense then broke down as a running back took advantage of a coverage bust along the left sideline to catch Huff's pass and turn it into a 71-yard touchdown and a 14-7 lead.
After Temple got a 60-yard punt from senior Aaron Wagaman and recovered a College Station fumble at the Cougars 45, the Wildcats appeared to get the tying score when McDuffy fought through contact to catch Arizmendi's pass and dashed in for a 45-yard touchdown. However, McDuffy turned back toward his beaten defender before crossing the goal line, resulting in a taunting penalty that wiped out the TD.
College Station made Temple pay when Carnes caught Huff's crossing pass and outran the secondary for a 57-yard touchdown to make it 21-7. The Wildcats remained within striking distance when Howard, last season's 12-6A Offensive Newcomer of the Year, busted loose on the second quarter's first play and broke a tackle at the 15 on a 68-yard TD for a 21-14 game.
But the Cougars had yet another response, as speedy receiver Traylon Sewel caught Huff's pass for 30 yards on fourth-and-6 before Huff found Sewel open for a 1-yard TD on the next play.
“We finally got into a little bit of a rhythm,” Steve Huff said. “Once the rain moved out, during the (controlled) part I didn't think we were very sharp. But once you get into the (timed) game situation it kind of changes things, and I thought the kids got into a pretty good rhythm."