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  • Greg Wille

NO TIME TO RELAX: Temple's momentum growing in 12-6A, but dynamic QB Hammond makes Hutto dangerous


FULL STEAM AHEAD: Temple senior tight end Landon Halvorson (right) tries to run past Waco Midway defender Landon Whisenton after catching a Reese Rumfield pass during the Wildcats' 44-10 victory last Friday at Panther Stadium. Halvorson made his first career touchdown reception, a 3-yarder from senior Mikal Harrison-Pilot with 8 seconds left in the first half. District 12-6A co-leader Temple (5-2, 3-0) plays its homecoming game against the Hutto Hippos (3-3, 0-2) at 7:30 tonight at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)





By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


The Temple Wildcats are riding a wave of momentum after they dominated previous nemesis Waco Midway for a 44-10 road win last Friday, their 18th consecutive victory against District 12-6A competition.

Meanwhile, the Hutto Hippos are one of two 12-6A teams still without a league win.

So as district co-leader Temple (5-2 overall, 3-0 in 12-6A) prepares for its homecoming game against hungry Hutto (3-3, 0-2) at 7:30 tonight at Wildcat Stadium, it would be simple for the casual observer to consider this matchup a mismatch.

After all, the Hippos have allowed a combined 90 points in district losses to Midway (48-37) and co-leader Harker Heights (42-24).

But remember this comment a coach sometimes will make about an opposing player: “He’s better than you want him to be.”

Well, Hutto dual-threat junior quarterback Will Hammond is better than Temple wants him to be, which in turn makes the Hippos better than the Wildcats want them to be.

Thirteen months ago at Wildcat Stadium, Hammond came off the bench in Temple’s non-district finale at Wildcat Stadium. He sprinted 76 yards for a touchdown late in the first quarter and then threw four fourth-quarter TD passes – two in the final 14 seconds – against the Wildcats’ defensive reserves in a 60-53 Temple win.

Now the full-time starter for Hutto, the 6-foot-3, 197-pound Hammond has produced a stellar junior season. He’s 101-of-167 passing for 1,516 yards and 18 touchdowns and hasn’t thrown any interceptions. The athletic, mobile Hammond also leads the Hippos in rushing with 439 yards and five TDs on 69 carries.

If Hammond performs well in the rematch against the Wildcats, it won’t be because he catches them by surprise.

“He’s good. You can tell he’s got a lot of savvy about him,” Temple head coach Scott Stewart said about Hammond, who’s received scholarship offers from Texas Tech, Texas-San Antonio, Tarleton State and Incarnate Word. “I don’t like playing against them, but I love quarterbacks who are like, ‘You’re not touching the ball tonight.’ Eighteen touchdowns to zero interceptions . . . he’s very comfortable throwing into tight spaces.

“He’s real poised and doesn’t panic. He owns it. He reminds me of (Texas quarterback) Quinn Ewers. He’s seeing it, taking what they give him and very patient. He’s got a good release and hits those windows. He doesn’t miss. He’s got every tangible thing.”

Of course, many of those same things were said about Willis junior quarterback Derek Lagway entering Temple’s home opener in early September, and the Wildcats’ aggressive, sure-tackling defense rendered the blue-chip recruit mostly ineffective before knocking him out of the game with a leg injury in the second half of Temple’s 34-20 win.

Therefore, what must the Wildcats’ defense – allowing only 16 points per game in district play – do to make things difficult for Hammond and the Hippos of first-year head coach Will Compton, who averaged 42 points per game in non-district wins against San Marcos, Liberty Hill and Converse Judson?

“He’s obviously a mobile quarterback and very efficient throwing on the run. The deal with a kid like this is if he gets in a rhythm it’s going to be impossible to get him out of it. So you’ve got to get him off his launching pad,” Stewart said. “With a four-man (defensive) front, in theory you’re guaranteed at least three 1-on-1s. If we can (pressure Hammond) with four, that makes life easier. If we can do it with three, I’ll drop eight (into pass coverage), because that kid hits small windows.”

Hutto features six players who have at least 160 receiving yards, paced by junior Alex Green’s 20 catches for 417 yards and five touchdowns, small-but-speedy senior Gary Choice (20-309-2) and senior Carson Forrest (19-195-4). Hutto senior JJ Banks is a versatile running back, having rushed for 247 yards and made 16 catches for 160 yards.

Temple defensive coordinator Dexter Knox said it’s important for his players to execute their gameplan and make the dynamic Hammond and the Hippos earn everything they get.

“The quarterback is very good and throws the ball really well. He can sling it. I think he’s a little faster than he was last year. He’s efficient, and if (the pass is) not there he’ll tuck it, because he can run,” said Knox, whose defense got a safety from senior Jaylon Jackson and allowed 241 total yards at Midway. “Their scheme’s good, so they can put you in a bind. We’re going to have to play well on defense.

“We’re going to have to cover well, that’s for sure. They do a lot of read stuff, so we’ll have to be sound up front with our assignments and fits. We’re going to have to make it happen in front of us. They’re very good at the big play and their receivers are fast, so we’ll try to eliminate big plays and make them drive down the field and earn it.”

Said Temple senior defensive end Kevin Stockton about guarding against Hut's Hammond-powered offense: “Just contain him in the pocket. He’s probably going to get what he gets just because he’s so good and athletic, but just contain him as much as you can and do what we do best.”

Hutto hired Compton in early June after head coach Brad LaPlante decided to concentrate on his athletic director duties. The Hippos went 29-14 in LaPlante's four seasons at the helm, including 20-3 in his first two. Hutto was 5-6 last year and lost 38-9 to eventual state champion Austin Westlake in the first round of the Class 6A Division II playoffs.

Stewart still sounded frustrated when he discussed Temple’s high-scoring home win over Hutto last year. The Wildcats entered that game 0-2, but their offense exploded – Reese Rumfield threw three touchdown passes of 50-plus yards – to build a 52-21 third-quarter lead. Hammond and Hutto produced a scoring barrage in the final period after Temple inserted its backup defenders.

Although the Wildcats' once-huge lead never was seriously threatened, allowing two TDs in the final 14 seconds left a sour taste in Stewart’s mouth.

“You’ve got them doubled up with 5 minutes and 20 seconds left in the game, then we run the 2s out there and they give up a two-play drive for a touchdown. Hutto gets an onside kick and three plays later scores a touchdown. We fumble a snap with our second offense, they get the ball and score two plays later,” an incredulous Stewart recalled, shaking his head. “It was literally 21 points in less than a minute on the game clock, so it was just a comedy of errors.”

As for Hutto’s defense, the Hippos have struggled to contain two of 12-6A’s best players in two league setbacks. Midway junior quarterback Junior Thornton – who missed the Temple game with an upper-body injury – ran for 210 yards and three touchdowns and passed for 161 yards and two TDs against Hutto. Last week, Harker Heights senior running back and reigning 12-6A MVP Re’Shaun Sanford II gashed the Hippos for 272 rushing yards and three touchdowns.

Hutto’s defense certainly will have its hands full against a well-rounded Temple attack that made big plays on the ground and through the air in the Wildcats’ long-awaited breakthrough win a week ago at Midway, which had been 6-0 against Temple dating to 2012.

Junior quarterback Rumfield passed for 200 yards and a touchdown and ran for his fourth TD of the season, and senior Deshaun Brundage rushed 13 times for 159 yards as Temple’s improving offensive line wore out the Panthers’ front seven.

Versatile Wildcats senior Mikal Harrison-Pilot was a force in many facets against Midway. He caught Rumfield’s 31-yard touchdown pass, rushed for two TDs and tossed a short TD pass to senior tight end Landon Halvorson as Temple built a commanding 36-10 halftime lead.

“You better know where he’s at. Talk about a once-in-a-career talent,” Stewart said about the physical Harrison-Pilot, a four-star national recruit who’s made 31 catches for 616 yards and six TDs. “He can throw, catch, play defensive back and return kicks. He’s special. I’m glad he’s a Temple Wildcat, I promise you that.”

Offensive coordinator Robby Case said he’s placing a high priority on giving the 6-foot, 196-pound Harrison-Pilot, a four-year starter, plentiful opportunities to do damage.

“I’m trying to do my best every week to get Mikal the ball as many times as possible. That’s the moral of the story,” Case said. “Sometimes teams make it harder on me than others because they’re going to double him. I’m just trying to find ways to get the ball in the kid’s hands, whether it’s snapping it to him or throwing it. He’s a weapon, and I think he’s having a better year because his confidence is growing more and more.”

Temple had sophomore Christian Tutson back in the lineup against Midway after the big-play wide receiver missed the 32-19 home win over Pflugerville Weiss because of an upper-body injury. Cleared to play right before the Midway game, Tutson (six touchdown catches) played limited snaps but contributed two receptions for 102 yards.

Stewart said a missed call by an officiating crew that Temple’s coaches had issues with all night cost Tutson a second-quarter touchdown catch.

“He caught a touchdown pass that they said was incomplete out of bounds, and we’ve got a still picture of his toe, foot, shin and knee inside the end zone. It was atrocious,” said Stewart, who was assessed an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after arguing another call. “One official came back by me and said, ‘Coach, that was a touchdown.’ I was like, ‘Don’t tell me! Tell the other guy!’”

Big, physical senior linebacker Brody Bujnoch (6-3, 220) leads Hutto with 91 tackles, while senior safety/outside linebacker Kenny Settles has collected 58 tackles and three interceptions. The Hippos’ other top defenders include senior cornerback/safety Theodore Anderson (53 tackles), senior linebacker Tre Pitre (50 stops) and senior Jordan Parkinson (45 tackles, 2½ sacks).

Temple is closing in on its 10th consecutive playoff berth, a feat the Wildcats last achieved when legendary coach Bob McQueen guided them to 10 straight postseason trips from 1976-85.

Temple also is gunning for its fourth consecutive 12-6A championship, and next Friday’s clash against surging Harker Heights (6-1, 3-0) at Killeen’s Leo Buckley Stadium will go a long way toward settling the league crown. The Knights built three-touchdown leads in the first half against the Wildcats in 2020 and 2021 before Temple charged back to earn dramatic victories.

However, that long-anticipated showdown won’t arrive until next week. Against Hutto, Stewart wants to see Temple play a cleaner all-around game after key penalties and other mistakes hindered the Wildcats' progress at times against Midway.

“It’s not that we have anything figured out. That’s my biggest fear, when people start thinking they’ve got this game figured out, because that usually doesn’t work out. So I think there’s a balance there,” Stewart said. “I don’t want to be like nothing’s ever good enough, because I’ve been around that nightmare. But also, just because you do well doesn’t mean you rest on your laurels. The other part is, we’ve got to clean it up. I mean, it’s just way too many penalties and some of them were absolute head-scratchers.

“We’re getting better at celebrating all wins," he added. "I told the players, ‘You’ve got a chance to be a decent ballclub when you start putting four quarters together.’ Even sitting here today, I don’t think we’ve played our best four quarters. But at least that was some semblance of four quarters."

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