- Greg Wille
NOT QUITE ENOUGH: Hoover, Evans, key turnover deny Temple as No. 5 Rockwall-Heath wins rematch 45-33
Updated: Nov 20, 2021
PHYSICAL BATTLE: Temple junior linebacker Taurean York tries to tackle Rockwall-Heath senior running back Zach Evans during a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game Friday night at Burleson ISD Stadium. Evans carried 38 times for 207 yards and scored two touchdowns as the fifth-ranked Hawks (11-1) recorded a 45-33 victory that stopped a nine-game winning streak for the District 12-6A champion Wildcats (9-3). Rockwall-Heath, guided by former Temple head coach Mike Spradlin, had 515 yards total yards a year after it posted 661 total yards in the Hawks' 56-28 second-round win over Temple. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BURLESON – Eleven months after high-powered Rockwall-Heath pulled away to beat Temple 56-28 in a second-round playoff game, defeating the fifth-ranked Hawks was within the Wildcats’ grasp in the Class 6A Division II area-round rematch on a cool Friday night at Burleson ISD Stadium.
Right up until it wasn’t.
After cutting Rockwall-Heath’s lead to two points twice in the third quarter, Temple trailed by nine entering the fourth. The Wildcats then lost a fumble – their only turnover – at their 35-yard line after a mishandled snap, and the potent Hawks made them pay for the mistake when star quarterback Josh Hoover fired a 33-yard touchdown pass to Fletcher Fierro for a 42-26 lead.
Temple couldn’t overcome that costly sequence of events, and Rockwall-Heath rode Hoover’s precise passing and the rugged rushing of Zach Evans to a 45-33 victory that stopped the Wildcats’ nine-game winning streak and ended the unbeaten District 12-6A champions’ season at 9-3.
“We fumbled the ball on our end of the field, and they capitalized off that. I mean, you just can’t do that against good football teams,” Temple sixth-year head coach Scott Stewart said as emotional Wildcats players hugged each other nearby. “I thought these kids played their guts out. First thing (Rockwall-Heath head coach Mike) Spradlin said to me after the game was, ‘We have not been hit that hard.’
“They outweighed us and they’re bigger than us, and everybody is. When you’re going against somebody that outmatches you that much, you’ve almost got to play perfect, and there’s only one man that ever walked the earth who was perfect and he got nailed to a cross for it. We made a critical mistake at a critical time, turning the ball over. Our kids played hard, but it just wasn’t good enough tonight.”
Spradlin had a successful run as Temple’s head coach from 2011-15, going 44-17 and guiding the Wildcats to the 5A Division I state championship game in 2014 – Stewart’s first of two seasons as Temple’s defensive coordinator – before leaving to become Magnolia ISD’s athletic director. Now in his third year as Rockwall-Heath’s head coach, Spradlin felt fortunate to advance past a feisty, determined Temple squad that gave his Hawks (11-1) a stern challenge in their 10th consecutive win.
“That was a tough, physical game – very physical, and I thought it would be. It was two good teams,” said Spradlin, who coached 10-4 Rockwall-Heath to the Division II Region II final last year. “Golly, I really think Temple’s better than they were a year ago. I think we’re better than we were a year ago, as well. We’re different.
“It’s hard (to play against Temple). I want to win, I want our kids to win and I want to keep playing. But I’ve just got a real affinity for Scott and all those coaches. I love those guys and I love Temple. It’s a hard one, but they want to beat me and I want to beat them.”
RISE TO THE OCCASION: Temple senior tight end KeAndre Smith makes a jumping catch for an 11-yard touchdown from junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot in the third quarter as Rockwall-Heath sophomore Bryce President defends. Smith's TD cut the Wildcats' deficit to 21-19 one minute into the third quarter, but the fifth-ranked Hawks won 45-33 in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game Friday night at Burleson ISD Stadium. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Record-setting Temple senior Samari Howard rushed for 166 yards and two touchdowns on 29 carries, junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot threw TD passes of 11 yards to senior KeAndre Smith and 7 yards to senior Devan Williams, and senior Danis Bajric kicked field goals of 25 and 34 yards.
However, that production wasn’t nearly enough to counter the relentless, fast-tempo offense of unbeaten 10-6A champion Rockwall-Heath, which earned a matchup with Tomball (9-3) in a Region II semifinal next Saturday night in San Antonio’s Alamodome.
“The object right now in the playoffs is just win. Style points don’t matter, yardages don’t matter. The only thing that matters is the W. I thought we answered the bell, and we’ve done that before," Spradlin said. "We got into some shootouts with Rockwall and Southlake (Carroll), so I knew we might have to do that tonight and our guys knew that. They’re not shirking that task. I was proud of the fact that we answered when we had to.
“We’ve got a great bunch kids. I have 21 seniors that were on varsity as sophomores, and we started 11 or 12 of them. This has been a deal in the making."
Josh Hoover passed for five touchdowns 446 of the Hawks’ 661 total yards in their 28-point win over Temple last December at Baylor’s McLane Stadium in Waco, and the Indiana-committed senior delivered another stellar performance against the Wildcats’ defense in the rematch.
Hoover was 22-of-30 passing for 289 yards and four touchdowns – two to sophomore Fierro and one each to Caleb Hoover and Jay Fair. Temple junior safety Naeten Mitchell intercepted a Hoover pass 3 minutes before halftime, but the Wildcats got only a field goal out of Rockwall-Heath’s lone turnover.
Hoover hit Fierro seven times for 100 yards and effective senior tight end Lance Mason six times for 82 yards, consistently converting in crucial situations.
Meanwhile, the strong, shifty Evans put together a workmanlike rushing performance against a Temple defense that chose to pay extra attention to fast, dangerous senior wideouts Fair (Auburn) and Jordan Nabors (Baylor). Running behind a tall, burly line, the Minnesota-committed Evans carried 38 times for 207 yards, including a 5-yard touchdown 2 minutes into the game and his fumble that he recovered for a TD late in the third to push the Hawks’ advantage to 35-26.
“Hoover, I don’t know if he missed. That kid’s just unbelievable, on a level that you don’t see very often. We had a light box (on defense) all night and dared them to run the ball, and they ran the ball,” said Stewart, whose defense allowed 515 total yards on 78 snaps. "We knew that. We were going to have to bleed out slowly. In the first half I felt we were in position a lot of times but didn’t make plays, and hat’s off to them. We tried to change up some looks on them, and they’re as good as advertised. They’re a great football team and they’ll play for a while.”
Said Hoover: “Temple tried to shut down the RPO (run/pass option) game and force us to run the ball. Obviously they’re very good up front, so it was a physical game and they played pretty well. They were really competitive and a great football team, so hat’s off to those guys and what they’ve done this year.”
Starting receiver Harrison-Pilot replaced sophomore starter Reese Rumfield at quarterback on Temple’s third possession. He completed only one pass in the first half but finished 8-of-13 for 78 yards, highlighted by the TD tosses to Smith and Williams that twice sliced the Wildcats’ deficit to two points in the third quarter.
But on the final period's second play, Temple put the ball on the turf as Harrison-Pilot fumbled while trying to give it to Howard. Linebacker Justice Rider recovered the ball on the Wildcats’ 35, Fierro then caught Hoover’s 33-yard scoring strike and Rockwall-Heath never looked back.
Afterward, the teary-eyed Harrison-Pilot knew how pivotal Temple’s only giveaway proved to be.
“It was just that turnover that gave them all the momentum. When we gave them the momentum off our turnover, that’s what really set us back right there,” Harrison-Pilot said. “As you could see, it was a dogfight. We kept playing and fighting. We came up short, but we’ve got fight in us always.”
Evans suffered a torn ACL last year against Temple after rushing for 61 first-half yards. Fully recovered this season, he entered the rematch with 1,644 yards and 23 touchdowns and tested the Wildcats’ defenders early and often.
Rockwall-Heath had the game’s first possession and used Evans’ 20-yard burst and a 15-yard facemask penalty to quickly march into Temple territory before Evans cut back for a 5-yard touchdown run and a 7-0 lead with 2:15 gone.
The Wildcats’ defense stuffed the Hawks’ second possession, but Temple sputtered to three-and-out series on its first two possessions against a sturdy Rockwall-Heath defense that smothered Garland Naaman Forest in a 35-6 first-round victory.
Consecutive Evans rushes of 15 and 40 yards helped the Hawks drive to the Temple 11 before Josh Hoover rolled to his right and passed to sophomore Caleb Hoover – his younger brother and teammate on Rockwall-Heath’s 6A state championship baseball team last spring – for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead with 4 minutes remaining in the first quarter.
“Josh is a special kid. He worked really, really hard in the offseason on extending plays and getting out of the pocket, and he’s done that this year more than a year ago,” Spradlin said about Hoover, who’s thrown for more than 9,000 yards and 100 touchdowns in three years. “I think he’s been sacked twice all year, and that’s not all the offensive line. That’s him, too.”
Down 14-0 against a formidable foe, Temple came up with the response it needed. Howard’s rushing and Harrison-Pilot’s 17-yard pass to Smith drove the Wildcats inside the Hawks’ 20, then Howard took the direct snap and dashed off left tackle for a 17-yard touchdown. Rockwall-Heath denied Howard’s 2-point run, keeping the score 14-6 with 32 seconds left in the opening period.
The Hawks then answered, marching inside the Wildcats’ 20. After junior linebacker Taurean York tackled Malachi Tuesno for a 3-yard loss to the 14, Hoover escaped the pocket, rolled right and fired an accurate pass in between two defenders that Fair caught near the front-right pylon for a touchdown and a 21-6 lead 7:45 before halftime.
EXPLOSIVE PERFORMER: Senior Devan Williams (right) returns a kickoff for a long gain as teammates Mikal Harrison-Pilot (middle) and Samari Howard block for him during the Wildcats' 45-33 loss to fifth-ranked Rockwall-Heath in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game Friday night in Burleson. Williams, who scored on a 75-yard kickoff return against Waxahachie last week, caught a 7-yard touchdown pass from Harrison-Pilot against Rockwall-Heath and finished the season with 37 receptions for 777 yards and 11 TDs. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
One week after Williams returned a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown that sparked Temple’s 28-14 first-round home win over Waxahachie, the dynamic senior was back at it as he returned the short ensuing kickoff 54 yards to the Rockwall-Heath 26. However, the Wildcats bogged down just inside the 10 and settled for Bajric’s 25-yard field goal for a 21-9 game with 5:09 left.
Temple’s defense then forced Josh Hoover into his only major mistake. His pass across the middle sailed high and Mitchell made his team-best third interception, returning it from his 34 to the Rockwall-Heath 45. A penalty helped the Wildcats advance to the 17, but again the Hawks defense stiffened before Bajric kicked a 34-yard field goal to trim Temple’s deficit to 21-12 with 1:14 left until halftime.
“The thing I’ve been pleased with is our defensive guys play really hard. And of course so does Temple, so you’ve got to match that physicality and match that effort,” said Spradlin, whose defense limited Temple to 270 total yards on 54 plays after the Wildcats gashed the Hawks for 503 yards last year. “We saw that tonight – two teams that are strong physically and play very, very hard and don’t quit. That’s what I want to see, and that’s what we got."
On the first half’s final play, Nabors gained 17 yards on a reception from Josh Hoover before flicking a lateral to Fierro, who was tackled at the Wildcats 17 after picking up 2 yards.
Williams produced another huge return to begin the second half, scooping up the skidding kickoff at the 9 and sprinting along the left side for 49 yards to the Rockwall-Heath 42. Following Howard’s 22-yard burst, tight end Smith found open space in the middle and jumped to easily catch Harrison-Pilot’s soft pass for the touchdown that cut Temple’s deficit to 21-19 a minute into the third quarter.
Although the Wildcats were charged up and in prime contention, they could not produce the defensive stop they needed to get.
Hoover made key completions to Mason, Fierro and Nabors as the Hawks reached Temple’s 25, then Fierro beat his defender on the left side and made a diving catch of Hoover’s pass for a touchdown and a 28-19 lead 3½ minutes into the third.
Howard’s 23-yard dash on fourth-and-2 moved the Wildcats to the Rockwall-Heath 21, then they got to the 7 before Harrison-Pilot rolled left and threw to the sliding Williams (six receptions, 50 yards) for the senior’s 11th touchdown catch this season, again bringing Temple within two at 28-26 with 3:38 left in the third.
UPENDED: Temple defensive backs Jaden Jackson (left) and LeMichael Thompson combine to tackle Rockwall-Heath tight end senior Lance Mason during the Wildcats' 45-33 loss to the fifth-ranked Hawks in Friday night's Class 6A Division II area-round playoff in Burleson. Indiana-committed senior quarterback Josh Hoover completed six passes to the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Mason for 82 yards and threw for 289 yards and four touchdowns overall. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
With the Wildcats defense once again needing a stop, the Hawks’ Hoover-to-Mason connection prevented that from happening. Hoover passed to his 6-foot-3, 240-pound tight end for 22 yards on third-and-5 and for 16 yards on fourth-and-7 to reach the Temple 17.
“You can’t double-cover them all. They’ve got five Division I athletes out there running routes, so we tried to pick our poison,” Stewart said. “We didn’t want Fair and Nabors to beat us, because their stats are absolutely ridiculous with the number of yards and catches they have. We did a good job against those guys. They didn’t catch any down the field. The tight end hurt us a little bit. We were trying to man him up, and he’s a good football player.”
Said Spradlin about Mason: “Lance is unbelievable. He’s done that all year long and he’s got over 1,000 yards receiving in two years. He’s just a real special guy.”
Added Hoover, whose quarterback coach is Chad President, the QB of Temple's 13-2 state runner-up team in 2014: “Lance is that reliable guy who’s going to run good routes and catch everything. I’m proud of him.”
From the 9, Evans fumbled at the 2 as he extended the ball toward the goal line, but he kept moving forward and easily recovered it in the end zone for a touchdown as Rockwall-Heath again made it a two-possession game at 35-26 with 5 seconds remaining in the third.
Temple still had sufficient time and resources for a season-saving comeback, but disaster then struck. From the Wildcats 37, Harrison-Pilot took the shotgun snap but bobbled the ball while trying to give it to Howard. It fell to the ground and Navy-committed linebacker Rider pounced on it at the 35.
Temple’s only turnover became a back-breaker when speedy sophomore Fierro again got behind his defender on the left side to catch Hoover’s 33-yard touchdown pass that expanded Rockwall-Heath’s lead to a commanding 42-26 with 10:42 left.
The Wildcats then were stopped on fourth down at midfield before the Hawks added Sam Spencer’s 31-yard field goal for a 45-26 game with 3 minutes remaining, essentially sealing the outcome.
ONE MORE TRIP TO THE END ZONE: Temple senior running back Samari Howard rushes for a 4-yard touchdown late in the fourth quarter of the Wildcats' 45-33 loss to No. 5 Rockwall-Heath in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game Friday night in Burleson. Howard carried 29 times for 166 yards and two touchdowns and finished the season with 1,728 yards on the ground and 22 TDs overall for Temple (9-3). The Air Force commitment rushed for 3,955 yards in his three-year varsity career and departs as Temple's all-time leader in points scored (360) and touchdowns (57). (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple had enough time to generate one more highlight. Harrison-Pilot threw to Williams for 21 yards before Howard raced off right tackle for a 4-yard touchdown with 1:49 left to make it 45-33.
Two weeks after Howard surpassed Lache Seastrunk to become the Wildcats’ all-time leader in points and touchdowns, the versatile Air Force commitment finished his senior season with 22 total touchdowns and 140 points to complete his outstanding three-year career with 360 points and 57 touchdowns. Howard rushed for 1,728 yards this season and finished his career with 3,955, among the best totals in Temple's history.
Three-year starter Harrison-Pilot said it was painful to see the season end for a senior group that compiled 27 wins and three straight district championships.
“I’m always proud, especially for the seniors. I want to thank them all the time, just because it’s their last year. We do it for them,” said Harrison-Pilot, who scored 14 touchdowns this season (eight rushing, six receiving). “And next year I’ll be a senior, so hopefully they do the same for me. Offseason’s going to be long, but we’re going to rebuild and come back stronger.”
Temple improved by leaps and bounds after beginning the season with back-to-back home losses to No. 1-ranked two-time reigning state champion Austin Westlake (12-0) and Magnolia West, which was finished 10-2 after a 28-20 loss Saturday to defending 5A Division I state champion Denton Ryan. As players and coaches consoled each other after an exhausting game the Wildcats believed they could have won, Stewart was appreciative of the team they became during the last three months.
“We’ll talk about next year next year. Right now it’s all about the seniors, because their hearts are broken – and some of the underclassmen, too, because they’re in the moment,” Stewart said. “There’s nothing like the finality that hits you in the face when you walk off that field for the last time in high school. You can talk about it and watch your teammates before you go through it, but you can’t prepare a young man for that. There’s some hearts shattered, but I can’t be more proud of their effort. We just didn’t execute at times, and again, they were good.
“What I see is a bunch of kids who are willing to get into a dogfight,” he added. “It’s been a long season and we’re banged up, but it’s hard to measure heart. Again, I’d still rather be on this sideline. These kids have fought their guts out. If it meant anything to them, their hearts are broken, so I’m going to go hug some necks and tell them how much I love them. It’s not fun right now, but the lessons that they’ve learned this season are going to help them through life.”
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
CLASS 6A DIVISION II AREA
No. 5 ROCKWALL-HEATH 45,
R-Heath 14 7 14 10 – 45
Temple 6 6 14 7 – 33
Rockwall-Heath – Zach Evans 5 run (Sam Spencer kick), 9:45.
Rockwall-Heath – Caleb Hoover 11 pass from Josh Hoover (Spencer kick), 4:01.
Temple – Samari Howard 17 run (run failed), 0:32.
Rockwall-Heath – Jay Fair 14 pass from J. Hoover (Spencer kick), 7:45.
Temple – Danis Bajric 25 field goal, 5:09.
Temple – Bajric 34 field goal, 1:14.
Temple – KeAndre Smith 11 pass from Mikal Harrison-Pilot (Bajric kick), 10:56.
Rockwall-Heath – Fletcher Fierro 25 pass from J. Hoover (Spencer kick), 8:34.
Temple – Devan Williams 7 pass from Harrison-Pilot (Bajric kick), 3:38.
Rockwall-Heath – Evans fumble recovery in end zone (Spencer kick), 0:05.
Rockwall-Heath – Fierro 33 pass from J. Hoover (Spencer kick), 10:42.
Rockwall-Heath – Spencer 31 field goal, 2:58.
Temple – Howard 4 run (Bajric kick), 1:49.
Rushes-yards: Rockwall-Heath: 48-226; Temple 38-192.
Passing yards: Rockwall-Heath 289; Temple 78.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Rockwall-Heath 22-30-1; Temple 8-16-0.
Total plays-offensive yards: Rockwall-Heath 78-515; Temple 54-270.
Rushing – Rockwall-Heath: Evans 38-207, Malachi Tuesno 8-27, team 2-(-8); Temple: Howard 29-166, Harrison-Pilot 9-26.
Passing – Rockwall-Heath: J. Hoover 22-30-1-289; Temple: Harrison-Pilot 8-13-0-78, Reese Rumfield 0-3-0-0.
Receiving – Rockwall-Heath: Fierro 7-100, Lance Mason 6-82, Jordan Nabors 4-54, Fair 4-42, C. Hoover 1-11; Temple: Williams 6-50, Smith 2-28.
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