MUST-SEE MATCHUP: One year after Temple comeback victory, Wildcats host explosive Harker Heights
MAJOR CHALLENGE: After senior end Eric Shorter (13) and junior safety Zion Moore (9) helped Temple's defense hold Bryan scoreless in the District 12-6A opener last Friday, the Wildcats (2-2, 1-0) are bracing for a stern test when they host the Harker Heights Knights (4-0, 1-0) at 7:30 tonight at Wildcat Stadium. The explosive Heights offense averages 506.8 yards per game, fueled by junior running back Re'Shaun Sanford II's 720 yards and seven touchdowns on 70 carries. Temple rallied from a 20-0 second-quarter deficit to defeat Heights 38-36 last year in Killeen. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
It’s only the second week out of seven of District 12-6A football competition, so only time will tell whether tonight’s Temple-Harker Heights clash at 7:30 at Wildcat Stadium is the game that eventually will determine the league championship.
But with defending champion Temple scoring 109 points in its last two games and with talented, high-scoring, unbeaten Heights having outscored its four opponents 218-78, their eagerly anticipated duel certainly features all the ingredients of a high-stakes showdown.
Last year the Wildcats fell into an early 20-0 hole against the host Knights at Killeen’s Leo Buckley Stadium, but Temple charged back to earn a 38-36 victory on its way to going undefeated in 12-6A and winning the title by two games.
Temple has what Heights wants, so the Wildcats (2-2 overall, 1-0 in district) know that it will take a strong, focused performance to prevent the red-hot Knights (4-0, 1-0) – fueled by dynamic junior running back Re’Shaun Sanford II – from getting revenge and gaining the early upper hand in the standings.
“It’s really our district championship game already, early on in district. We went down 20-0 last year against them, and I just think we’ll come out with more intensity this time. We’ll come out with some fight,” said Temple senior linebacker Faylin Lee, who’s made eight tackles in each of the Wildcats’ last two wins, against Hutto and Bryan. “We want to go get (the championship) again. People already doubt us, saying this and that. They must have forgot.”
The season opener against defending state champion and No. 1-ranked Austin Westlake was the most anticipated home game on Temple’s schedule, but the battle with Harker Heights clearly is the most important. Defeating the Knights again could put the Wildcats on a path toward repeating as 12-6A champs, but Temple sixth-year head coach Scott Stewart does not expect it to be an easy task.
“It’s a big game. I hope we can make it a good game,” said Stewart, whose squad romped to a 49-7 victory at winless Bryan in a 12-6A opener last Friday despite the Wildcats’ four turnovers. “In theory there should be a home-field advantage. It’s pure conjecture (that Heights is hungry to avenge its 2020 loss to Temple), but I would imagine. I promise you they’re not intimidated.
“(But) if we change the way we play because of who’s on the other sideline, you’re setting yourself up for failure and you’re going to get in trouble.”
Asked about his general impressions of Harker Heights, which thrashed Killeen Ellison 49-8 a week ago, Stewart already was answering the question before it ended.
“Loaded,” he said.
Getting into more detail, Stewart identified what he considers the Knights’ strongest areas.
“Let’s see: the running backs, the quarterback, all the receivers, the offensive line, the defensive line, all the linebackers and the defensive backs,” Stewart said before letting out a hearty laugh. “They’re good and they’ve got a lot of good people in a lot of spots.”
Harker Heights’ three non-district wins came against teams (Pflugerville Weiss, Georgetown East View and Round Rock McNeil) that have a combined 7-7 record compared to the 12-2 mark of Temple’s predistrict foes: Westlake, Magnolia West and Hutto. However, Stewart recognizes that the Knights of ninth-year head coach Jerry Edwards have the firepower and the maturity to pose major problems on the Wildcats’ home turf at Bob McQueen Field.
“I’ll tell you what, good is good, and they’re good,” Stewart said. “It’s the team speed. They’ve got an offensive tackle (junior Jaydon Chatman) who has an offer from Texas. Their whole offensive line is good. They have absolute speed at the skill positions. If you have a hiccup or have a misfit, it’s over before it starts.”
Last season, Heights grabbed 12-6A’s fourth and final playoff berth with a 42-20 win at Belton in the district finale before the Knights lost 60-14 at powerhouse Duncanville in a Class 6A Division I bi-district game.
Temple beat Heights 45-0 in 2018 and 37-3 a year later, but the Knights began to turn the corner in 2020, as evidenced by their jumping out to a 20-0 lead early in the second quarter before the visiting Wildcats snapped out of their slumber and rallied back to seize a 38-36 victory.
“They’re good, and here’s the deal: We played (against) a bunch of sophomores last year,” Stewart said about Heights, which allowed three Humberto Arizmendi-to-AJ McDuffy touchdown passes during Temple’s comeback win.
Said Lee about Temple’s defensive response after falling behind 20-0 at Heights: “We just bowed up together and were like, ‘We’re not letting them score much more.’ Really at the time we said, ‘We’re not letting them score no more.’”
With its supply of skilled players and the fast start this season, Heights certainly has caught the attention of Temple’s coach.
“Sometimes it takes a while to get things rolling. Let’s be honest: We’re all better coaches when we’ve got better players. Jerry Edwards is a good football coach. He and his staff do a great job and they always have,” Stewart said. “They’ve never been unsound. When you’ve got really good coaches and a decent amount of talent comes through, you’re going to be pretty salty. And if I’m not mistaken, they’re undefeated as a program (entering this week).”
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Sanford rushed for 1,444 yards and seven touchdowns as a sophomore, highlighted by a school-record 327 yards at Belton in the must-win finale. He was voted 12-6A's Offensive Newcomer of the Year. Sanford has been even more explosive this season as he’s racked up 720 yards and seven TDs on 70 carries. He’s also totaled 183 yards and two touchdowns on nine receptions.
A successful night for Temple’s defense must begin with containing Sanford, who’s always a long-distance scoring threat.
“He is quick. You’ve got to get in his gears before he gets rolling, because when he hits that gear (you can’t catch him),” Stewart said. “And he’s patient. You’ll see him float. (Former Temple running back) Jeff Carr was a little bit like that. He’ll get out on there on the perimeter and he’ll start floating, and when that crease happens, he’ll go (through it quickly). And if you’re not in his gears, it’s, ‘Katy, bar the door.’ Nobody in blue-and-white pants is going to catch him, so you better not let him get out in front of you.”
Said Lee, the Temple linebacker: “The running back, I think we’re going to set the edge and stop him from running how he wants to.”
Junior running backs Marcus Moultrie (258 rushing yards) and Aimeer Washington (205 rushing yards) complement Sanford to give the Heights ground game great balance. Sanford rushed only five times for 8 yards against Temple last year, but Washington picked up the slack with 108 yards and three touchdowns.
HARD TO HANDLE: Harker Heights' Terrance Carter was voted Co-Offensive MVP of District 12-6A last season after splitting his time between wide receiver and quarterback for the Knights' playoff team. As a senior this season, the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Louisiana commitment has caught eight passes for 92 yards and has scored a touchdown on all five of his carries as Heights' short-yardage quarterback. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
The matchups don’t really get easier when it comes to the Knights’ receivers. Small-but-speedy senior Marcus Maple has 18 catches for 342 yards and five touchdowns, while 6-4, 237-pound senior receiver Terrance Carter (eight catches, 92 yards) is a hulking Louisiana commitment who’s scored touchdowns on all five of his carries this season as the Knights’ short-yardage quarterback.
“(Maple) is an absolute speed demon and they’ve got Big Terrance out there on the edge that they just throw it up to, and then they use him as the Wildcat quarterback,” Stewart said of Carter, who shared 12-6A’s Offensive MVP award last year. “He’s 6-5, 250, something like that. Good Lord. They put (Washington and Moultrie) in front of him and they ain’t trying to fool nobody.”
Stewart said it’s absolutely vital for Temple’s defenders to be physical and sure tacklers – and get plenty of help – to put a dent into Heights’ offensive plans.
“They love the perimeter run game, and they love the perimeter screen game. Again, it’s athletes in space,” Stewart said. “The longer it goes, the worse off it is (for the defense). Our guys have to be not only tacklers, but just tell them a story until help arrives.
“You don’t take that shot against those kids in the open field. There’s some people you play where you just say, ‘You know what? You go through his face, and if you miss, you miss.’ If you miss these kids, it’s three steps and they’re at full speed.”
Sophomore quarterback Dylan Plake has been solid for the Knights, completing 44 of 59 passes (74.6 percent) for 753 yards and 12 touchdowns with three interceptions.
“He’s good and does not play like a sophomore. He’s very similar to Reese,” Stewart said about the 5-10, 190-pound Plake, comparing him to Temple sophomore QB Reese Rumfield (819 yards, nine TDs, five INTs). “He’s a bigger kid. It’s the short stuff (in the passing game), and then he throws an absolutely beautiful deep ball. They don’t use a lot of ‘quarterback run game,’ but he’s decently elusive.”
Paving the way for a Heights attack that averages 506.8 total yards per game is an offensive line led by 6-4, 292-pound junior tackle Chatman and 6-3, 265-pound senior tackle Romeo Taua’a.
Stewart said the overall key for Temple’s defense is to make Heights earn everything.
“It’s got to be (a solid all-around performance),” he said. “We can’t give up any cheap ones. If you get into the charity business against these guys, they’ll roll the scoreboard over and break the damn bulbs.”
On the flip side, a rapidly improving Temple offense that averages 397 yards per game and compiled 520 at Bryan will shoot to keep producing against an athletic, skilled Heights defense that’s permitted 321.8 yards per game.
Senior Tyree Trammell and junior Jeremy Jennings lead Heights in tackles with 42 and 33, respectively, senior Devin Nervis and junior Deaubry Hood have two interceptions apiece from their cornerback spots and junior end Christopher Robinson has collected five sacks.
“They’re super fast, super athletic and they’re really good on the D-line. They’re big, physical and their linebackers are really athletic,” Stewart said. “They’ve got a couple of touchhogs up front. They’re really good at fitting and playing fast. (Robinson) is a stand-up defensive end and you better eat your Wheaties.”
Rumfield had three passes intercepted by Bryan safety Du’Wayne Paulhill last Friday, but the sophomore QB also threw for 341 yards and four touchdowns – 95 and 42 yards to junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot, 76 yards to senior Devan Williams and 30 yards to senior Nyles Moreland.
Temple junior safety Naeten Mitchell set up Temple touchdowns with first-quarter takeaways against Magnolia West and Hutto, but he didn’t play at Bryan because he was in COVID-19 protocol as a close contact, according to Stewart. The coach said Mitchell is “a full go” for the district home opener against Heights.
Running back Samari Howard rushed for 100 yards with touchdowns of 15 and 11 yards in Temple’s comeback win at Heights last year, and the reigning 12-6A Co-MVP ran for 169 yards and three TDs of 18-plus yards in last Friday’s blowout in Bryan.
Stewart had high praise for Howard, his versatile senior who last Thursday committed to attend and play for Air Force beginning next year.
“It’s a testament to his character,” Stewart said. “I’ve said it from jump street that the skeleton in the closet, if you will, for Samari was always handling the passion, but it’s always been there. The commitment’s always been there. The work ethic’s always been there. I don’t think anybody’s ever worked harder in a four-year span than that kid. That’s elite company when you give everything you’ve got, all the time. I don’t know what Air Force has, but they’re getting a good one."