ONE THAT GOT AWAY: Temple comeback stalls as mistakes cost Wildcats in 45-35 loss at College Station
Updated: Sep 11, 2022
COOL UNDER PRESSURE: Temple senior defenders Taurean York (5) and Julian White (28) close in on College Station junior quarterback Arrington Maiden during the Wildcats' 45-35 loss to the host Cougars on Friday night. First-year starter Maiden threw touchdown passes of 35 and 60 yards and had TD rushes of 28 and 1 yards at Cougar Field as Class 5A Division I ninth-ranked College Station (2-1) staved off a second-half comeback attempt by 6A No. 22 Temple (2-1). (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
COLLEGE STATION – During Scott Stewart’s first two seasons as Temple’s head football coach, his Wildcats lost two heartbreaker games to College Station in tooth-and-nail showdowns that settled the District 18-5A championship.
To illustrate the strength of both programs, Temple’s 2016 team went on to reach the Class 5A Division I state championship game and College Station’s 2017 squad eventually captured the 5A Division II state title.
Coming into Friday night’s non-district clash at Cougar Field, Stewart was adamant that 6A No. 22-ranked Temple had to beat 5A Division I No. 9 College Station, emphasizing that the battle-tested Cougars – 15-1 state runners-up last year – were not going to beat themselves.
Unfortunately for the Wildcats, Stewart’s words were prophetic.
Sophomore Christian Tutson scored three touchdowns and senior Mikal Harrison-Pilot made back-to-back touchdown receptions from junior Reese Rumfield late in the third quarter to cut Temple’s deficit to 31-28, but those highlights still weren't enough for the Wildcats to record their first win against familiar foe and nemesis College Station.
A crucial, controversial penalty negated Harrison-Pilot’s would-be go-ahead 65-yard touchdown sprint to end the third, then the Cougars got a 1-yard scoring run from quarterback Arrington Maiden and a 37-yard interception return for a TD from Chantz Johnson as they pulled away from the mistake-plagued Wildcats to secure a riveting 45-35 victory.
After Temple was denied its first 3-0 start since 2018, its seventh-year head coach lamented the Wildcats’ inability to overcome adversity as well as they needed to in a pressurized road environment – and also offered a big-picture perspective.
“We’re moving the ball, we’ve got some momentum going and we get a touchdown called back (on Harrison-Pilot’s long run). It was obviously a very questionable call. And the wheels fell off after that,” Stewart said after Temple dropped to 2-1. “That shows some of the maturity stuff we need to work on. We can’t let the wheels fall off because something (bad happens). I don’t know that this group is the most immature, but I do know human psychology and when your maturity level is not where it needs to be, any injustice toward you . . . you can’t let it go. There were kids and coaches . . . we’ve got to grow up as a coaching staff.
“Bad stuff is going to happen to you in this life. If the only thing we do is teach these boys football, then we’re failures, right?” he added. “So what are you going to do when something bad happens in real life? Are you going to shut it down, go to the house, lock up the doors and hide inside? That’s not who we are, what we are and how we are. So that’s going to be my biggest message. I challenged them to look in the mirror and challenge themselves.”
Harrison-Pilot (10 receptions for 225 yards) and all-state linebacker Taurean York are four-year starters, but the College Station duel showed that Temple’s less-experienced players still need to learn how to stay poised and execute well in the game’s most stressful moments.
“It was foolish penalties and some people got down in the moment. We have a young team. Mikal and I have been here for years, but it’s a lot of inexperience and they’ve never been in this position before,” said Baylor commitment York, the two-time 12-6A Defensive MVP. “(We had some) not very football-savvy plays. You have to understand the situation, and I don’t think we understood the situation. But that’s on all of us.
“We need to be our biggest critic. We can’t be riding on our high horse. We could be bragging about the sacks or tackles for loss or the touchdowns, but when you look at the scoreboard and we’re down 10 points when it hit all zeroes, that’s all that matters. The biggest room in the house is the room for improvement. We didn’t play our worst game, but we have to clean up who we are on the inside. The physical part was there, but the penalties and all that, that has to go away for sure.”
In a back-and-forth contest that featured four non-offensive touchdowns, two by each team, College Station first-year head coach Stoney Pryor was both excited and relieved after the Cougars (2-1) prevailed in their non-district finale.
“Obviously I’m pleased we won, but man, what a game. Both teams have a lot to learn from this game. I know Temple made us a lot better tonight, and I hope we also made them better,” said Pryor, who was College Station’s longtime offensive coordinator and then succeeded Steve Huff as head coach after Huff departed for Decatur. “We’ve had great battles with Temple. Those were great games (in 2016 and ’17). We give each other a great look. I told Scott, they’re so athletic and have a lot of talent. They’re coming together and I think they have a great season ahead of them.”
Rumfield passed for 318 yards and three second-half touchdowns for Temple, which was limited to 39 rushing yards on 19 attempts. The Wildcats will complete their non-district schedule at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium against another always-tough opponent: 6A No. 9 Arlington Martin (2-1), which lost 27-16 to No. 23 Allen on Friday.
Neither team’s offense mustered much production early, with College Station’s active defense making progress difficult for Temple senior running back Deshaun Brundage (11 carries for 32 yards) after he rushed for 168 yards in a 34-20 home win over Willis a week earlier. After the Wildcats’ defense stiffened on College Station’s second possession, Conner Young’s 30-yard field goal gave the Cougars their first lead at 3-0 late in the first.
BIG-PLAY GUYS: Temple sophomores Christian Tutson (11) and Lezlie Jackson celebrate after Jackson blocked a first-quarter punt by College Station and Tutson returned it 31 yards for a touchdown Friday night. Tutson also returned a second-half kickoff 94 yards for a touchdown and added an 18-yard TD catch from Reese Rumfield in the final minute of the Wildcats' 45-35 non-district loss. Tutson has scored five touchdowns in the last two games. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
College Station’s next possession ended with a punt, and Temple sophomore Lezlie Jackson crashed through the middle to block the kick. Tutson scooped up the ball at the Cougars’ 31-yard line and raced in for the touchdown. The first of five extra points by junior Marcos Garcia gave the Wildcats a 7-3 lead with 12 seconds remaining in the opening period.
However, that proved to be Temple’s only advantage of the evening.
Four minutes into the second, College Station went for it on fourth-and-3 from the Wildcats’ 28. Maiden was pressured by multiple defenders in the backfield, but he broke free from their grasp and dashed ahead for a 28-yard touchdown to give the Cougars the lead for good at 10-7.
Temple had to punt again on its ensuing possession, then one of its defenders was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct on fourth-and-5 at midfield, giving the Cougars new life.
On fourth-and-9 from the Temple 35, Anthony Tisdell Jr. ran past the secondary and caught Maiden’s well-timed pass in the middle of the end zone for a touchdown and a 17-7 game 3:33 before halftime.
“It didn’t surprise me at all,” Stewart said about the stellar performance of Maiden, the 6-foot-3, 175-pound junior quarterback who entered with only 1½ games of varsity experience. “I’ve seen him run. I’ve seen him throw. He doesn’t make a whole lot of mistakes. He’s very intelligent and owns the tempo. You can tell he’s the field general. It’s impressive and well-coached.”
Said York about Maiden: “Tonight he came out and balled and played his butt off. On film, he’s a big guy but he was shaky when it came to contact. He was hesitant to embrace the contact. Tonight he did not care. He came ready to play, so hat’s off to Arrington Maiden. He did a great job with his team tonight.”
ONE-ON-ONE BATTLE: Temple junior quarterback Reese Rumfield tries to run through a tackle attempt by College Station senior linebacker Kolton Griswold during the first quarter of the Wildcats' 45-35 loss to the Cougars in non-district action Friday night at Cougar Field. Rumfield passed for 318 yards with three touchdowns and two interceptions. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple made a bid to score right before halftime, as Rumfield’s deep pass to Harrison-Pilot gained 63 yards to the 26. But on fourth-and-1 from the 17, Rumfield’s pass toward Harrison-Pilot was low and broken up.
“The first half, I thought the defense played lights-out and the offense was inept. Again, we’ve got to find ways to start faster and get the momentum going earlier,” Stewart said. “If something bad happens when we’ve got momentum, we’ve got to flush it and go. And that’s a lot easier said than done.”
It was apparent that Temple’s defense needed to stop College Station on the second half’s first possession, but the Cougars didn’t even let it get to that point. Tisdell fielded the kickoff at the 1, followed his blockers’ lanes and sprinted through the Wildcats’ coverage unit for a 99-yard touchdown return and a 24-7 lead.
Temple needed to respond in a hurry and did, courtesy of Tutson. Playing in only his third varsity game, the sophomore speedster caught the ensuing kickoff at his 6 and used a series of quick-shifting moves to carve through the Cougars for a 94-yard touchdown that revived the Wildcats and cut the deficit to 24-14.
After making touchdown catches of 65 and 32 yards from Rumfield against Willis, Tutson demonstrated his versatility by producing two TDs on special teams at College Station.
“I couldn’t be more proud of Christian Tutson. He works his butt off,” York said. “He dropped some balls (in the season-opening 17-10 win) against McKinney, but he came back last week and worked his tail off and you saw the product he put out with two touchdowns. Then tonight he scores three touchdowns, two on special teams. That’s a guy who gets it. On our leadership council, we have one 2025 kid and it’s Christian Tutson. He definitely understands it, and if he puts his mind all the way to it, he’s going to be something special, for sure.”
Tutson’s long TD gave Temple a spark, but it was short-lived. On third-and-6 from the College Station 40, Maiden fired a pass to the right sideline for big sophomore receiver Jackson Verdugo, who dodged his defender and sprinted in for a 60-yard touchdown and a 31-14 lead 2 minutes into the third quarter.
“He was our JV quarterback last year, and he had a game and a half under his belt at the varsity level coming in here,” Pryor said about Maiden. “Temple’s defensive front is angry and they do a great job, so what I was pleased with was Arrington controlled what he was trying to do with lots of pressure around him. Even when he’s having to step up in the pocket or get flushed out, he’s still looking for something to happen while a giant is trying to crush him. His poise was good in those situations.”
Temple put together a good drive on its next possession, but it bogged down and Garcia missed a 41-yard field goal attempt.
After the Wildcat defense delivered a stop, Temple’s offense finally made its move. The Wildcats drove from their 35 to the Cougars’ 38 before Harrison-Pilot ran a post pattern and caught Rumfield’s pass in stride for a touchdown to cut Temple’s deficit to 31-21 with 3:41 left in the third.
After another three-and-out series for the Temple defense, Rumfield (23-for-47 passing) and Harrison-Pilot struck again. College Station’s defense inexplicably let Harrison-Pilot get wide-open in the middle of the field and the four-star national recruit made the Cougars pay, catching Rumfield’s pass and outrunning everyone for a 62-yard touchdown. Their two TD connections in a span of 1:25 put the Wildcats right back in the game, trailing 31-28 with 2:16 remaining in the third.
“We were trying to calm the guys down. The feeling may have been that Temple was getting some momentum, and what we said was, ‘We’re winning the game. They may have some momentum, but we’re winning the game,’” Pryor said. “Basically we talked to our kids a lot this week about, ‘Temple is a talented, athletic, fast team and they’re going to do good things. Let’s not panic when they do good things. Let’s try to not let them.’ We had to overcome that.”
Temple’s momentum continued when its defense forced another punt, giving the Wildcats possession at their 35 in the quarter’s final seconds.
Inserted at quarterback, Harrison-Pilot took a shotgun snap, ran off left tackle and raced through College Station’s defense for an apparent 65-yard touchdown to propel Temple back into the lead. The only problem was that the Wildcats were penalized for having five players in the backfield, a flag that Stewart vehemently disagreed with.
PIVOTAL PLAY: Temple senior Mikal Harrison-Pilot charges through College Station's defense for an apparent 65-yard go-ahead touchdown run late in the third quarter Friday night at Cougar Field. However, the score that would have been Harrison-Pilot's third TD in less than 4 minutes was nullified when the Wildcats were penalized for having five players in the backfield, and College Station went on to win 45-35. Harrison-Pilot caught 10 passes from junior quarterback Reese Rumfield for 225 yards, highlighted by third-quarter touchdown connections of 38 and 62 yards. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Whether it was the disappointment of having that potential go-ahead score taken away or a combination of factors, Temple never was the same after that play.
Kolton Griswold sacked Rumfield on third down to force a punt, then College Station swiftly drove from its 37 to the Wildcats’ 2 as Maiden hit effective running back Anthony Trevino with a 26-yard pass before Maiden followed his linemen for a 1-yard touchdown run and a 38-28 Cougars lead with 8:35 remaining.
“These kids are predisposed sometimes to react to certain situations in a certain way, and when that’s not the right way, we’ve got to get that out of them,” Stewart said about that game-altering sequence. “And these kids are great and they’re fun to coach. I’d rather be on this sideline than that sideline. They’ve got to believe in themselves, and I challenged them to do that. I don’t want to see any bottom lips dragging on the ground.
“This is a game, and we’ve got to play the game better. But it’s a game, and this is not life and death, and I want them to understand that we’re trying to get them ready for life and bad stuff that’s going to happen to them. And tonight we fell apart a little bit when bad stuff happened to us, especially with the perception of an injustice. It was like, ‘Oh, my god, the world’s coming to an end because somebody made the wrong call.’ You can’t function like that.”
A miscommunication on Temple’s next possession led to Rumfield throwing his first interception of the season, a deep pass that Tisdell easily grabbed at his 22 before returning it to his 42. The turnover didn’t lead to any points, but the Wildcats couldn’t produce anything on their next possession as Tutson was unable to make a difficult over-the-shoulder catch on Rumfield’s long-range pass.
Trailing by 10, Temple needed to drive 85 yards and score quickly when it took over with 3:41 remaining. But after hitting Harrison-Pilot for 11 yards, the defense flushed Rumfield out to the right side and his pressured pass was picked off at the 37 by Johnson, who ran along the sideline for the game-sealing touchdown and a 45-28 lead with 3:12 left.
Temple responded as Tutson caught Rumfield’s crossing pass for an 18-yard touchdown with 51 seconds remaining, but it was too little and too late for the Wildcats in a winnable game that got away against a top-quality opponent they’ve never defeated.
“In the first half, we had one of the most ridiculous penalties I’ve ever seen, which was a legitimate penalty, on fourth down and that (College Station drive) ended up being a touchdown, and we missed a sack right here on the 50-yard line that (led to) a touchdown,” Stewart said. “I mean, that’s 14 points right there. I wasn’t a math major, but I don’t walk off this field going, ‘Oh, my god, we just got our teeth kicked in.’ We did not play well at inopportune times against a state championship-caliber football team that’s less than a year removed (from losing in the state final to Katy Paetow in overtime).
“A lot of their seniors left, but a lot of these guys played in that game. I told our kids at halftime, ‘They don’t care about that T on the side of your helmet. That’s not going to blow their skirt up. They’re not worried about that. You’re going to have to go beat these people.’ And I was pleased with our effort in the second half. Our kids are always going to play their guts out. I was glad to see the offense get to clicking. We didn’t invent a new offense, just executed better. That’s going to be the message: ‘How do we get more consistent and how do we get more focused?’ I love this game, because it will humble the greatest people on the planet in a hurry.”
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