NO TIME TO RELAX: With opportunity to grab outright 12-6A crown, Temple keeps focus on Copperas Cove
ON THE VERGE OF HISTORY: Senior running back Samari Howard sprints through the Killeen defense as Temple linemen Endrei Sauls (left), Colby Rice and Jose Faz look on during the Wildcats' 44-6 win over the host Kangaroos last Friday at Leo Buckley Stadium. With his 10-yard rushing touchdown, Howard moved into a tie with Lache Seastrunk at 312 career points, the most in Temple program history. Howard can take sole possession of that record when first-place Temple (7-2, 6-0) hosts Copperas Cove (1-8, 1-5) in a District 12-6A finale at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Howard needs three more touchdowns to match Seastrunk's Temple record of 52 from 2007-09. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
When the Temple Wildcats defeated host Killeen 44-6 last Friday at Leo Buckley Stadium, they clinched at least a share of their third consecutive District 12-6A championship and a first-round home game in the Class 6A Division II state playoffs.
For Temple, it’s certainly nice to have those two things secured. But the way head coach Scott Stewart and his Wildcats view their situation, they have so much more to play for when they host the struggling Copperas Cove Bulldawgs in the teams’ regular-season finale at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium.
The facts are the facts: Temple (7-2) has won seven straight games overall and leads 12-6A with a 6-0 record, while seventh-place Cove (1-8, 1-5) again is limping toward the finish line, with a 5-24 mark in the last three seasons. The Wildcats have 14 consecutive district victories dating to 2019; the Bulldawgs are 1-14 in their last 15 league games. In addition, Temple has produced 55 points against Cove in each of the last two meetings.
However, the surging, high-scoring Wildcats – primed for their ninth straight postseason trip – can’t afford to take the Bulldawgs of second-year head coach Jason Hammett lightly.
That’s because Harker Heights came back in the second half and edged Bryan 28-24 in Thursday night's 12-6A finale at Buckley, giving the Knights (9-1) – whose lone loss was 44-34 at Temple in a game they led 21-0 – a final district record of 6-1.
Therefore, for the Wildcats to earn their second consecutive outright 12-6A title, they must beat Cove and go 7-0 in league play for the second straight season.
To hear Stewart tell it, Temple’s sixth-year coach wouldn’t want it any other way.
“I’m going to coach it like it’s a district championship game, because in some ways it is,” Stewart said Tuesday. “We’re going to try to go 1-0, and that’s all we can do. That’s the only thing I care about.”
Another pertinent and noteworthy storyline is that Temple senior running back Samari Howard is poised to break a tie with Lache Seastrunk and become the Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer. Howard’s 10-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter against Killeen pushed his career total to 312 points, the same number Seastrunk totaled from 2007-09. With 49 career touchdowns, Howard is three TDs away from matching Seastrunk’s Temple career record of 52.
Copperas Cove has been outscored 164-34 in consecutive losses to Killeen Ellison, Bryan and Harker Heights since the Bulldawgs’ only win, 56-33 at home over Killeen. However, Cove’s lone victory made a big enough impression on Stewart for him to insist that Temple must bring its competitive edge against the Bulldawgs so that the Wildcats don’t lose any steam before they host bi-district playoff opponent Waxahachie (6-4) at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium.
“There’s always athletes (at Cove). They’re not broke by any means. They beat the dog out of Killeen, and we had our hands full at times against Killeen,” Stewart said. “I’m sure it’s not the season Coach Hammett wanted as far as the record goes, but they’re not broke. It’s not like you’re sitting there going, ‘Let’s just get through this one and move on to the next one.’
“They’re good enough to take (Temple’s) steam away. I watched them kind of have their way with Killeen. That’s not always easy to do, and it wasn’t easy for us.”
With a 20-10 win against Mansfield on Thursday, Cedar Hill (6-4) clinched 11-6A’s No. 1 seed for the Division II playoffs. Waxahachie threatened to upset No. 22-ranked DeSoto on Thursday, but the Eagles made a defensive stand in the final minute and defeated the Indians 31-25.
Waxahachie finished in fourth place in 11-6A behind No. 4 Duncanville (9-1), DeSoto and Cedar Hill and will play its bi-district game at Temple for the second straight season. The host Wildcats thrashed the Indians 38-0 last December before losing 56-28 to area-round opponent Rockwall-Heath to finish at 10-2.
“Our team goal is to go as far as we can until the car stops. You’re going to run into some really good teams,” Temple senior running back and special teams standout Jalen Robinson said Tuesday. “We want to get back at (Rockwall-Heath in the second round). That’s been on the table for a minute.”
After beginning the season with consecutive home losses to No. 1-ranked, defending 6A Division I state champion Austin Westlake (9-0) and 5A Division II No. 10-ranked Magnolia West (9-0), Temple's scoring attack has exploded by racking up 51.9 points per game during its seven-game winning streak.
Three Wildcats have scored 10 touchdowns or more: Howard (1,263 rushing yards) with 14 TDs on 12 rushes and two receptions, senior receiver Devan Williams with 10 scoring catches (two vs. Killeen) and versatile junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot with six TD runs and four scoring receptions. Temple sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield (four TD passes vs. Killeen) has thrown for eight touchdowns and zero interceptions in the last three games.
Coordinator Josh Sadler’s offense has been incredibly balanced this season, rushing for 1,766 yards and passing for 1,778 while averaging 393.8 yards per game.
“It seems to shake out that way a lot. I don’t know if it’s something internal or what, whenever the brain starts tracking toward that. I want to be as balanced as we can,” Sadler said. “That’s the end-all goal, is to be balanced and make people defend the run and the pass equally. It does make it pretty nice when you have the two big boys (Williams and Harrison-Pilot) on the outside. If things get a little hairy (trying to run the ball), you can rear back and chunk it.
“I was telling my wife that over the weekend, that for two years now we’ve been almost right down the middle. I’d like to be that way.”
The Wildcats’ defense allowed a combined 61 points in wins against Harker Heights and Ellison, but Temple has permitted only 12 points and 234 yards per game in its last three victories over Belton, Killeen Shoemaker and Killeen. Junior linebacker Taurean York, the reigning 12-6A defensive MVP, paces coordinator Dexter Knox’s defense with 110 tackles, 13 for losses. Senior linebacker Faylin Lee (51 tackles) caused a fumble and recovered one against Killeen.
Stewart wants to see a more consistent performance from Temple against Copperas Cove than what he witnessed against last-place Killeen, even though the Wildcats led 20-0 at halftime and allowed just 220 yards overall.
“The first half, I don’t think it was bad, but to me this isn’t about bad vs. good. We were very inconsistent, busting stuff that we hadn’t busted,” Stewart said. “Again, it wasn’t catastrophic, obviously. (But) there’s a standard and there’s an expectation on everybody – not just me, not just the kids. It’s not me raining down on the kids. I mean, it’s tough to coach in Temple and it’s tough to play in Temple.
“The beautiful thing is no one has higher expectations than we do for ourselves. It’s hard to meet (outside) expectations here, and those expectations don’t match what we want. It’s important to me to be who you say you are, so if I tell them I don’t care about the scoreboard, then I don’t care about the scoreboard. There was some body language (at halftime) that wasn’t bad, but it was almost a look of confusion.”
Copperas Cove enters its season finale with 12-6A’s second-worst offense at 284.7 yards per game and the league’s most porous defense at 473.7 yards per game, 121 more than any other team.
Senior quarterback Shane Richey is a two-year starter who’s passed for 842 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 370 yards and eight TDs this season. Cove’s leading rusher is 5-foot-8, 150-pound senior Malcom Roberts with 556 yards and 11 touchdowns. Freshman wide receiver Trishstin Glass has 12 catches for 157 yards and one TD.
“I think he's good at what they have him doing and does a good job of running that offense. He’s good out of the pocket and good at extending plays,” Stewart said about Richey. “He’s comfortable doing that stuff, he reads it really well and the ball’s on time.”
The Bulldawgs’ defense has been particularly susceptible against the run, allowing 270.2 ground yards per game. Cove hasn’t been much better against the pass, permitting 203.4 aerial yards per contest. The main defenders include junior linebacker Kevin Pontious (team-high 67 tackles) and senior linebacker Aleczander Patterson (35 stops).
“Cove’s got a pretty decent defensive line. We’re going to have to play well and exploit the mismatches in the secondary,” Sadler said. “That’s kind of our goal we’ve got to get after – find them and work for matchups out there. Our offensive line has a tough one in front of them and they’ve got to do well. That’s the goal, is for them to play playoff football every single time we go on the field.”
Another reason Stewart is leery of Copperas Cove is what transpired in the teams' 12-6A opener last Oct. 16 at Bulldawg Stadium. Temple sprinted out to a 24-0 lead 9 minutes into the game as Howard scored two touchdowns and three 2-point runs, but the resilient Bulldawgs outscored the Wildcats 21-7 during the remainder of the first half for a 31-21 game at halftime.
“Last year we went out there and jumped on them, and then all of a sudden they turned around and made it a game,” Stewart said.
Temple outscored Cove 24-0 in the final two quarters to pull away for a 55-21 win, but afterward Stewart called it “unacceptable” that his team let the Bulldawgs get back into contention. Although the playoff-bound Wildcats are heavily favored to beat Cove again in the regular-season finale, Stewart remains adamant that they can’t let their guard down.
“They're not going to roll over and die. Their coach has a lot of pride and their kids have a lot of pride,” Stewart said. “He’s a dang good coach and a competitive guy and he’s going to do a good job. They can completely change their whole mindset going into the offseason.”
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