QUEST FOR CONSISTENCY: After Temple seizes first win, Wildcats aim to attack problems for 12-6A play
TAKE IT AWAY NOW: Temple junior middle linebacker Taurean York (5) celebrates with senior cornerback Triston Cohorn (middle) and senior safety Jaden Jackson after York recovered a Hutto fumble during the Wildcats' 60-53 win over the Hippos last Friday at Wildcat Stadium. York has made a team-leading 39 tackles for Temple (1-2), which after its open week will begin defense of its District 12-6A championship against the Bryan Vikings (0-3) at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Merrill Green Stadium. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
After Temple lost its first two games of this football season, head coach Scott Stewart certainly is glad that his team has a 1-2 record instead of an 0-3 mark. But even if the Wildcats were 3-0 or 2-1 following the conclusion of their non-district schedule, Stewart has thoughts, concerns and goals that go well beyond just a record.
So after Temple made plenty of explosive plays but also several major mistakes in its 60-53 victory over pesky Hutto last Friday night at Wildcat Stadium, Stewart took stock of the Wildcats’ overall situation as they entered their open week in advance of the District 12-6A opener at Bryan (0-3) on Sept. 24.
“I can’t stand not putting the best product that we can put on the field. It’s very important to me, the product that we put on the field. So when it’s not what it should be, that’s the heat I feel,” Stewart said Tuesday, taking a break from watching film of Bryan’s 29-14 loss at Brenham. “Last year against Arlington Martin (in Temple’s 43-25 home loss, its only regular-season defeat), we played our guts out. We didn’t play well at times, but I thought we played well (overall). That’s what you can build on, and you can build on any of it.
“At the end of the day, I’d rather have an ugly win than a pretty loss. But again, are we putting the (desired) product on the field? Obviously you get into this to win football games, but when the product is what you want it to be, a lot of times (winning) takes care of itself.”
None of Temple’s first three games – a mistake-plagued 54-13 home loss to top-ranked powerhouse Austin Westlake (3-0), a 27-14 home defeat against improved Magnolia West (3-0) and then the marathon win over Hutto (1-2) – has any direct impact on whether the Wildcats will earn their ninth consecutive playoff berth or win at least a share of their third straight district championship.
However, what Stewart is emphasizing to his team during its open week is that absorbing all the experiences and lessons – both positive and negative – from the non-district season is a crucial element in Temple playing its best football in the seven district games that will determine whether the Wildcats can maximize their talent and earn an 11th game.
“We got that (0-2 start) off our back, and we also start a second season now (in district play),” said Stewart, whose next win will be his 50th in six seasons as Temple’s head coach. “Now is when it counts for real, so let’s take what we’ve learned and apply what we’ve learned. Let’s tweak the mindset that we had going into Week 1, because now this is a different season. So let’s take it and approach it like it’s a separate season. Once it starts counting, it is what it is.”
Temple’s seven-point win over Hutto was, to use a well-worn sports cliché, not nearly as close as the final score indicated. The game was tied 14-14 after the first quarter, but the Wildcats scored three touchdowns in a 6-minute span in the second period as they built a 35-21 halftime lead. Temple then scored the second half’s first 17 points to seize a commanding 52-21 advantage through three quarters.
After the Wildcats inserted their reserve players on defense, effective Hutto backup quarterback William Hammond threw four touchdown passes in the final 5:04 and two TDs in the final 14 seconds – aided by Temple mishandling a kickoff – to help the Hippos slice the final margin to seven points in a game that lasted 3½ hours.
Despite the Wildcats finally breaking into the win column in their third game, the late-game struggles by their backup defenders left a sour taste in Stewart’s mouth.
“We had two knucklehead busts at the end of the game. (Playing defensive reserves) doesn’t mean we have to bust a coverage. I mean, those kids practice, too,” Stewart said. “If they were better than our 1s, then obviously they wouldn’t be a 2. I know there’s going to be some mismatches there, but cutting somebody loose on the last two touchdown passes were just busted coverages. If we’re not going to be technically sound and schematically sound, then don’t put them out there. We’ve talked about some of those breakdowns.”
Temple’s starting offense didn’t score a touchdown against Westlake’s stubborn defense and produced only two TDs against rugged Magnolia West. However, the Wildcats broke through in a big way against Hutto.
Sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield fired touchdown passes of 52 yards to senior Andre Anderson and 57 yards to senior Devan Williams in the first 3 minutes of the game, staking Temple to a 14-0 lead. Rumfield (13-of-19, 302 yards) also connected with Williams (three catches, 133 yards) on a 65-yard touchdown strike early in the third, giving the first-year starter who transferred to Temple in mid-May five TD passes in the last two games after his difficult debut against two-time defending state champion Westlake.
“Devan Williams is special. I think our receiving corps could be pretty scary if we can stay with what we’re doing there,” Stewart said. “And I’m going to tell you, Reese Rumfield . . . I’ve said it from jump street that the kid’s got all the tools in the world. He saw the game a little differently the other night, and that builds confidence. He can throw the ball. He works hard and it means a lot to him. I guess that comes with being a Rumfield.”
Four years ago, Temple senior TJ Rumfield – Reese’s cousin – passed for 3,384 yards and 35 touchdowns in his only season as the starting quarterback to help the 10-4 Wildcats reach the Class 5A Division I Region III final. Reese’s father, former Belton multi-sport standout Brock Rumfield, is in his first season as a Temple assistant coach.
Against Hutto, the Wildcats also got a 31-yard touchdown run and a 2-point conversion from senior Samari Howard, a 6-yard TD run from junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot, a 52-yard punt return for a TD from senior Tr’Darius Taylor and TD runs of 5 and 4 yards from senior Tavaris Sullivan. Senior kicker Danis Bajric made a 31-yard field goal and seven extra points.
Stewart said he’s been pleased with the improvement and emergence of Temple’s offensive line, whose only returning starter from last year’s 10-2 12-6A championship team is senior left tackle Colby Rice. The other starters are sophomore left guard Endrei Sauls, senior center Jose Faz, junior right guard Agustin Silva and junior right tackle Jeremiah Mungia.
With the strong blocking of senior tight end KeAndre Smith helping the cause, the Wildcats compiled 516 total yards against Hutto – 319 through the air and 197 on the ground.
“I see the O-line getting steadily better. I’ve been pleased with them week to week,” Stewart said. “I thought they kind of held their own against Westlake. I didn’t think we improved greatly against Magnolia West, but we’re starting to try to play a little bit nastier. Faz anchors that and I’ve been pleased with his effort.”
If there’s one thing that frustrated Stewart during the Hutto game, it was Temple’s inconsistency. Rumfield’s back-to-back long touchdown passes to Anderson and Williams – wrapped around a fumble recovery by junior safety Naeten Mitchell – gave the Wildcats a quick 14-0 lead, but that advantage evaporated by the end of the first quarter.
Hippos wide receiver Jairiez Lambert outdueled Temple senior cornerback LeMichael Thompson to make a 45-yard touchdown reception from Grayson Doggett with 1:20 remaining in the opening period, then Hutto forced and recovered a Howard fumble on the Wildcats’ ensuing possession. Hammond came in at quarterback on the quarter’s final play and slashed through a gap in the line before sprinting untouched for a 76-yard touchdown and a 14-14 deadlock.
“That’s kind of the M.O. of our defense right now. We’re not bad; I just think we’ve got to find ourselves,” Stewart said. “That’s going to be a big emphasis this week, is playing with confidence.”
That sequence of events left Stewart searching for one thing that’s been elusive.
“Consistency. That’s something you look at year in and year out, week in and week out,” he said. “When you see (the defense allowing) big plays, that’s (a matter of) kids understanding schematics and usually there’s a breakdown.
“That first touchdown Hutto had on that long pass, LeMichael was in great position. I mean, (Lambert) made an unbelievable play. It was pretty good coverage and it was just a really good ball and a really good play by the receiver. So we’ve got to finish that play, and that’s what we talked about. The long run by the quarterback, we just completely misfit that. That’s where the consistency has to increase.”
Stewart had special praise for the Wildcats’ group of receivers, particularly their work as blockers. Anderson hadn’t caught a pass through two games, but on Temple’s third offensive snap against Hutto the senior alertly snared a Rumfield pass that sailed through Smith’s hands and raced in for a 52-yard touchdown. Seven Wildcats caught at least one pass.
“Andre took advantage of an opportunity. That kid was in the right place at the right time and took advantage of a ‘lucky’ situation. He works his absolute tail off, so it’s great to see that,” Stewart said. “(Senior receiver) Nyles Moreland did a good job. It would be nice to keep fresh legs out there all the time, because in this offense we’re going to try to establish the run.
“We’ve got a sign in the receivers’ (meeting) room that says, ‘No block, no rock.’ That’s the mantra they try to carry with them: ‘Look, we’re going to be nasty when we’re blocking, too. We’re going to go after the ball when it’s in the air, but we’re also going to go after you when the ball’s not in the air.’”
Temple’s fatigued defense had to play 91 and 86 plays, respectively, in the first two games, and that amount of wear and tear was evident during last week's workouts.
“At one point we had five starters out during practice,” Stewart said, mentioning senior defensive end Eric Shorter, senior defensive tackle Tommy Torres, junior middle linebacker Taurean York, safety/receiver Harrison-Pilot (five catches, 70 yards vs. Hutto) and sophomore defensive tackle Ayden Brown.
The 16-year-old York leads all area 6A players with 39 tackles, but his coach said the three-year starter and reigning 12-6A Defensive MVP wasn’t exactly in peak physical form after battling Magnolia West’s hard-running offense.
“Last Tuesday he looked like an old man walking around,” Stewart joked.
With Temple not beginning its district schedule until next Friday night at Bryan’s Merrill Green Stadium, Stewart said the Wildcats’ practices this week have had a back-to-basics, no-nonsense approach.
“We’re just going back to fundamentals. In this game there’s a bunch of different schemes and a bunch of stuff you can do, but on defense it boils down to block destruction, tackle and cover, and on offense it’s about blocking, running throwing and catching,” he said. “So we’re organizing practice where we’re going to bang on each other and continue to practice a physical style. We’ll be smart, because we’ve got quite a few kids maybe not out but banged up. We don’t need to be slinging people around.
“We’ll just focus on physicality. We’ll lift weights a little bit differently. We’ll go offense vs. defense on several drills, just working on game speed. We need to practice full speed and we need to see full speed."
And as always in Temple’s program, consistent competition remains vital.
“I think anything can be won or lost. I mean, production rules the world. I want there to be a battle at every position every day,” Stewart said. “If you come out and outwardly say that the competition’s over, you’re not going to get as much out of the guy that won it and you’re not going to get as much out of the guy who’s backing him up.
“Not to beat a dead horse, but you can be a 2 on the depth chart and have a five-star mindset. And the 1s, we’ve had some kids get fussy because they miss a practice and come back and have to run with the 2s. Well, a guy with a one-star mindset is going to act like somebody owes him something. Go earn it back.”
A Temple team that hung 60 points on Hutto now prepares to take on a Bryan squad that’s scored only 14 points in each of its first three games. Junior starting QB Malcom Gooden suffered a serious leg injury as the Vikings of veteran head coach Ross Rogers lost their opener 44-14 to Lucas Lovejoy.
“I think Bryan’s still kind of finding themselves and what they can do. Their quarterback, who’s a heck of an athlete, I guess he broke his leg in the Lovejoy game,” Stewart said. “They are stupid good on defense. They’re big and they’ve got everybody back.
“They’re going into the off week with the premise that this restart gives you a fresh start and you get a chance to fix everything that’s not going well. I know they play our ever-loving butts off down there.”
For Temple, the duel at Bryan kicks off a seven-game 12-6A grind that features the Wildcats’ Oct. 1 home clash with Harker Heights (3-0), which has outscored opponents 169-70 and led Temple 20-0 last year in Killeen before the Wildcats charged back and prevailed 38-36.
“Apparently there’s some pretty good football teams (in 12-6A). Harker Heights is apparently scary. Shoemaker’s always going to be athletic,” Stewart said. “Killeen’s lighting it up. Ellison’s just stoning people. Belton’s huge. There’s a lot of parity. It’s been like that since we got back into this (6A) district."