NIGHT TO REMEMBER: Harrison-Pilot, Howard, York help Temple overcome 21-0 deficit, top Heights 44-34
Updated: Oct 3
GAME-CHANGING PLAY: Temple junior linebacker Taurean York sprints for a 76-yard touchdown return after recovering a fumbled handoff by Harker Heights with 1:11 left, helping the Wildcats earn a 44-34 victory in a District 12-6A battle at Wildcat Stadium. A year after Temple overcame a 20-0 deficit to edge Heights 38-36 in Killeen, head coach Scott Stewart's Wildcats (3-2, 2-0) charged back from being down 21-0 to the Knights early in the second quarter and also erased two second-half deficits as they recorded their 10th straight district win. York's 12 tackles tied junior safety Naeten Mitchell for the team lead. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Before Temple hosted Harker Heights in a high-stakes District 12-6A game Friday night at Wildcat Stadium, Temple ISD retired the No. 75 jersey of Dunbar High School graduate “Mean” Joe Greene, the Pro Football Hall of Fame defensive lineman from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
In itself, that emotional ceremony at midfield made it an evening that all in attendance surely will remember. However, the events that proceeded to occur in the game certainly will become embedded in people’s memory banks as well.
For the second consecutive season, Temple trailed Harker Heights by three touchdowns early in the second quarter. But because the Wildcats rallied from a 20-0 deficit to seize a 38-36 victory over the Knights late last October in Killeen, they knew that another such comeback was possible if they could respond and stay the course.
Temple’s defense limited explosive Heights to 13 points in the final 2½ quarters, and Samari Howard’s 55-yard touchdown sprint and 2-point run gave the Wildcats a 37-34 lead with 7:36 remaining before Taurean York scooped up a fumble on a botched handoff and raced 76 yards for the clinching TD with 1:11 left as Temple secured an exhilarating 44-34 victory over the previously unbeaten Knights.
“When we got down 21-0, I was reminding them on the sideline, ‘Man, we’ve got to get right. We’ve been here before. This is nothing new to us. We fight the good fight and we can handle this,’” junior linebacker York said after the Wildcats (3-2 overall, 2-0 in 12-6A) recorded their 10th straight district win dating to 2019.
Those sentiments were shared by York’s friend and fellow junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot, who switched from wide receiver to quarterback in the second quarter with Temple trailing 21-0 and sparked the Wildcats with a 25-yard touchdown pass to senior Devan Williams and TD runs of 7 and 5 yards to give his team its first lead early in the third.
“We don’t give up. We’re never going to give up. We’re Wildcats,” said the battle-tested Harrison-Pilot, who like York has been a varsity starter since the beginning of his freshman season. “We’ve been there before. It was nothing new. We got down, but we came out and played a great second half and got the win.”
SPECIAL EVENING: Joined by his family, Temple head coach Scott Stewart (blue hat) and Temple ISD superintendent Dr. Bobby Ott (blue jacket), Dunbar High School graduate "Mean" Joe Greene (gold jacket) becomes emotional as his No. 75 jersey is retired by Temple ISD in a midfield ceremony prior to the Wildcats' game Friday night against Harker Heights at Wildcat Stadium. Greene, 75, received a standing ovation. He starred at defensive tackle for the Pittsburgh Steelers from 1969-81 and helped lead them to four Super Bowl championships. Greene was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1987. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple head coach Scott Stewart wasn’t exactly a big fan of falling three touchdowns behind Harker Heights for the second straight season, but he also knew that the Wildcats would be challenged by a talented, experienced Knights squad that had outscored its first four opponents 218-78.
“They’re a good football team. I mean, they’re well-coached, they play hard and you obviously saw the talent on the field, so it should take everything you’ve got,” Stewart said after Temple outscored Heights 44-13 in the final 2½ quarters. “That was a fun ballgame. They got their money’s worth tonight.”
The major production of dynamic junior running back Re’Shaun Sanford II (205 rushing yards) and hulking senior wide receiver Terrance Carter (five catches, 102 yards) helped Harker Heights compile 437 yards total offense, 98 more than the 339 yards that Temple generated. However, the Wildcats recorded a turnover-free performance and took advantage of four turnovers by the Knights (4-1, 1-1), including three fumbles in the final 6 minutes.
After emerging from a spirited postgame huddle with his team, Stewart explained why the win seemed to take on even more importance than usual.
“This game meant a little more because it was the next one. The reason it meant more in that (postgame) huddle was that my message to them was, ‘Good teams find a way,’” Stewart said. “It was ugly at times. We’ve got a lot of stuff to work on. But at the end of the day, good, bad or ugly, good teams find a way to at least put themselves in position to be there.
“We can go back and look at 10 or 12 plays where we hurt ourselves, but there was a bunch of plays in that second half that are the reason that scoreboard says what it says.”
Howard, last season’s 12-6A Co-MVP, said the memory of Temple’s large comeback at Harker Heights gave the Wildcats confidence that they could do it again in the rematch, even though having to overcome another three-TD deficit was far from ideal.
“This was just like last year. It was almost like déjà vu. We saw it coming. But we can’t come in slow like that. We’ve got to come in with our heads on fire,” said Howard, the Air Force commitment who rushed for 130 yards plus a pair of 2-point conversions. “We’re going to come in (Saturday) and fix our mistakes, then we’ve got the short week for (playing at Killeen) Ellison on Thursday, so we’ll be ready. It definitely gives us some momentum going into the next game.”
ATTACKING THE GAP: Temple senior running back Samari Howard blasts through a hole opened by his linemen on his way to scoring the go-ahead 55-yard touchdown run with 7:36 remaining during the Wildcats' 44-34 victory over Harker Heights on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Air Force commitment Howard, Co-MVP of District 12-6A last season, rushed for 130 yards and scored two 2-point conversions as defending district champion Temple overcame a 21-0 deficit. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Williams (six receptions, 113 yards) also caught a go-ahead 20-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield with 10 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, giving him six TD receptions in Temple’s last four games. Williams also played cornerback and made a first-quarter interception.
Harker Heights sophomore QB Dylan Plake threw first-half touchdown passes of 19 and 38 yards to the hulking Carter and a 26-yard TD toss to speedster Marcus Maple midway through the third quarter, but Plake also was part of two bad handoffs that resulted in fumble recoveries by Dion Saunders and then York late in the game.
“You’ve got to be opportunistic, especially as explosive as they are. If my math is right, either three of the last four or two of the last three series we caused a turnover,” said Stewart, whose squad got another fumble recovery from senior KeAndre Smith to seal the win after Heights couldn't catch Danis Bajric’s short, line-drive kickoff following York’s touchdown return. “Again, that gives you a chance, and then obviously the offense came out and executed when they needed to.”
Thirteen months after Harker Heights raced out to a 20-0 lead over a lethargic Temple team early in the second quarter at Leo Buckley Stadium, the Knights of ninth-year head coach Jerry Edwards followed a similar blueprint on the Wildcats’ home turf at Bob McQueen Field.
Plake hit a slanting Carter for a 19-yard touchdown pass 2½ minutes into the game, and Temple’s sluggish offense didn’t produce a first down on its opening three possessions. Heights then extended its lead to 14-0 2 minutes into the second quarter when the 6-foot-4, 237-pound Carter ran a post pattern, tipped Plake’s deep pass to himself with his left hand and secured it for a 38-yard TD.
After Temple’s fourth consecutive fruitless possession and punt, Sanford blasted off left tackle, broke a tackle in open space and blazed down the sideline for a 76-yard touchdown and a 21-0 advantage 8:36 before halftime, leaving the Wildcats stunned – but not panicked.
“I would prefer not (to fall behind by three touchdowns), but they’re a good football team,” Stewart said. “I told (Temple’s players) all week long, ‘There’s nothing we can show you to replicate the speed that you’re going to see.’ And they came off after the first series and it was like, ‘Oh, wow.’ And I was like, ‘I told you.’ So you’ve got to make those in-game adjustments and hopefully you don’t fall too far behind doing that.”
First-year starter Rumfield threw nine touchdown passes in Temple’s previous three games, but with the Wildcats' offense struggling to get any production going against a sure-tackling Heights defense, Stewart decided to move the mobile, strong-armed Harrison-Pilot from receiver on their ensuing possession. Harrison-Pilot caught Rumfield touchdown passes of 95 and 42 yards in the district-opening 49-7 win at Bryan, but he's grown up as a quarterback and it's a position he’s played periodically during the last two seasons.
The switch paid immediate dividends. Howard dashed for 25 yards on the first play, then Temple reached the Heights 25-yard line before Williams made a skillful catch of Harrison-Pilot’s well-placed pass in the back-left corner of the end zone for a touchdown. Howard then rushed straight ahead for the 2-point conversion and a 21-8 game with 5:20 remaining before halftime.
“I’ve spent my time there (at quarterback), and I knew I was going to step up and take over the game and just give us a lift on offense and be a leader and make sure we didn’t have our heads down,” said Harrison-Pilot (7-of-9 passing for 118 yards), a four-star recruit who also often plays on defense at safety.
MUCH-NEEDED SPARK: Temple junior quarterback Mikal Harrison-Pilot runs past Harker Heights defender Treyvione Searcy for a 7-yard touchdown during the second quarter of the Wildcats' 44-34 win over the Knights on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Temple trailed 21-0 in the second period when Harrison-Pilot moved from wide receiver to QB. He threw a 25-yard touchdown pass to senior Devan Williams, then recorded TD runs of 7 and 5 yards to help defending District 12-6A champion Temple overcome a three-touchdown deficit against Heights for the second straight season. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
A rejuvenated Temple team then got a turnover on downs from its defense, and Harrison-Pilot’s 19-yard pass to senior Michael Heckstall plus a pass-interference penalty against Heights pushed the Wildcats to the 7. Harrison-Pilot then used Heckstall’s block to dash in on the left side for a touchdown and a 21-15 game with 1:23 left, giving Temple all the momentum going into halftime.
The Wildcats had the second half’s first possession and kept its momentum rolling. Harrison-Pilot passed to Andre Anderson for 30 yards and to Williams for 23 to reach the 5 before Harrison-Pilot cut off right tackle for his second touchdown run, and Bajric’s extra point gave Temple its first lead at 22-21 1:39 into the third period.
That lead was short-lived, however. Sanford’s sharp rushing pushed Heights to the Wildcats’ 26 before Maple caught Plake’s swing pass on the left side and sprinted down the sideline for a touchdown – he barely reached the goal line before he fumbled the ball through the end zone – as the Knights regained the lead at 28-22.
Starting with 6:23 remaining in the third, Heights methodically marched from its 16 to the Temple 15. But the Wildcats’ defense stiffened and on the first play of the fourth quarter 6-5 senior tackle Tommy Torres penetrated through the middle and blocked Jai’den Fletcher’s 31-yard field goal attempt to keep it a one-possession game. Last year Torres blocked an extra point to spark Temple’s large comeback at Heights.
The Wildcats’ ensuing possession fizzled near midfield, but a hard hit by Temple’s defense forced a fumble on Plake’s run and cornerback Jalen Wardale recovered at the Heights 20 with 10 minutes remaining. On the next snap, Rumfield came back in at quarterback and threw to the open Williams on a slant for the 20-yard touchdown before Bajric’s extra point pushed the Wildcats back ahead at 29-28.
But Carter then returned the short kickoff to the Temple 31, and Sanford ran untouched off left tackle for the 23-yard touchdown and a 34-29 Heights advantage with 8:25 remaining before senior linebacker Faylin Lee broke up its 2-point pass.
Facing third-and-1 at its 45, Temple needed a big play and Howard was there to provide it. He found an opening in the line and exploded through it before outrunning the defense for a 55-yard touchdown, followed by his 2-point rush on a direct snap to put the Wildcats ahead for good at 37-34 with 7:36 to play.
“Their defensive end wrong-shouldered it, so I knew I had to bounce it and everything opened like the blue sea,” Howard said. “Our O-line was impeccable all night.”
Saunders pounced on a fumbled handoff at the Heights 41 on the Knights’ next possession, but the Heights defense then rose up by stopping Howard inches short on a fourth-and-1 run at the Knights 32 with 3:39 remaining.
WINNING THE BATTLE: Temple senior wide receiver Devan Williams beats Harker Heights junior cornerback Deaubry Hood to catch a 25-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Mikal Harrison-Pilot during the second quarter for the Wildcats' first score after the Knights had seized a 21-0 lead. Williams also made a 20-yard TD reception from sophomore Reese Rumfield early in the fourth quarter, helping Temple earn a 44-34 win in District 12-6A action. Williams has six touchdowns in the Wildcats' last four games. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Sanford narrowly gained a first down on a fourth-and-1 rush, then Plake passed to Carter for 27 yards to the Temple 29 with 1:35 left. But with Heights needing a field goal to tie and a touchdown to possibly win, Plake and his running back miscommunicated on a handoff and the ball tumbled to the ground.
York, the reigning 12-6A Defensive MVP, invaded the backfield, quickly scooped up the ball at the 24 and sprinted straight ahead for the 76-yard touchdown return, setting off a delirious celebration on Temple’s sideline and in the home stands as the Wildcats seized a 44-34 lead with 1:11 remaining.
“I saw an opportunity and trusted my instincts, and instead of falling on it I just took it and took it to the house,” said York, whose 12 tackles tied junior safety Naeten Mitchell for the Temple lead. “I slowed down and tried to find my family (in the stands), because they’re usually on the visitors’ side. I couldn’t find them, but I know they were watching and I’m glad they’re here.”
Said Stewart about the crucial fourth-quarter plays by Howard and York: “Big-time players make big-time plays in big-time ballgames. That’s since the beginning of time and that’s as consistent as gravity. Those guys did a great job."
Temple finalized its dramatic, exhausting victory when Bajric’s short, line-drive kickoff bounced off a Heights player before Smith pounced on the ball at the Knights 43.
“This win is going to show that we can make this thing actually happen and we can make a deep run if we just stay the course, man,” York said. “It’s nothing new. We shouldn’t be surprised at any speed or skill set or size, because we’ve been there and seen all of that.”
Said Harrison-Pilot after his Wildcats survived yet another strong challenge from the Knights and avoided a third home loss this season: “They’re great players, probably some of the best players in the district. We came out on top, but they have all our respect."
DISTRICT 12-6A FOOTBALL
TEMPLE 44, HARKER HEIGHTS 34
Heights 7 14 7 6 – 34
Temple 0 15 7 22 – 44
Harker Heights – Terrance Carter 19 pass from Dylan Plake (Jai’den Fletcher kick), 9:22.
Harker Heights – Carter 38 pass from Plake (Fletcher kick), 10:24.
Harker Heights – Re’Shaun Sanford II 76 run (Fletcher kick), 8:36.
Temple – Devan Williams 25 pass from Mikal Harrison-Pilot (Samari Howard run), 5:20.
Temple – Harrison-Pilot 7 run (Danis Bajric kick), 1:23.
Temple – Harrison-Pilot 5 run (Bajric kick), 10:21.
Harker Heights – Marcus Maple 26 pass from Plake (Fletcher kick), 8:23.
Temple – Williams 20 pass from Reese Rumfield (Bajric kick), 9:56.
Harker Heights – Sanford 23 run (pass failed), 8:25.
Temple – Howard 55 run (Howard run), 7:36.
Temple – Taurean York 76 fumble return (Bajric kick), 1:11.
Rushes-yards: Harker Heights 49-270; Temple 30-160.
Passing yards: Harker Heights 167; Temple 179.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Harker Heights 10-14-1; Temple 11-21-0.
Total yards: Harker Heights 437; Temple 339.
Rushing – Harker Heights: Sanford 29-205, Aimeer Washington 13-45, Plake 5-16, Maple 1-3, Carter 1-1; Temple: Howard 16-130, Harrison-Pilot 9-27, Tavaris Sullivan 2-18, Rumfield 1-(-5), team 2-(-10).
Passing – Harker Heights: Plake 10-14-1-167; Temple: Harrison-Pilot 7-9-0-118; Rumfield 4-12-0-61.
Receiving – Harker Heights: Carter 5-102, Maple 2-47, Sanford 2-12, Alexander Bailey 1-6; Temple: Williams 6-113, Andre Anderson 2-33, Michael Heckstall 1-19, Tr’Darius Taylor 1-8, Harrison-Pilot 1-6.
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