• Greg Wille

RECORD-SETTING NIGHT: Howard eclipses scoring, TD records as 12-6A champ Temple dominates Cove 77-12


IN THE HISTORY BOOKS: Temple senior running back Samari Howard reacts as he scores on a 3-yard rush against Copperas Cove in the second quarter Friday night for his 53rd career touchdown, breaking the Wildcats program record of 52 TDs that Lache Seastrunk set from 2007-09. On the first of his four first-half touchdown runs in Temple's 77-12 victory, Howard broke out of a tie with Seastrunk for the most points in Wildcats history at 312. Howard now has 336 points in his three-season varsity career. Temple (8-2) won its eighth straight game and finished 7-0 in District 12-6A for the second consecutive season. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)





By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


Running back Tavaris Sullivan charged through the defense, helped by his linemen opening large holes. Quarterback Damarion Willis dashed for a long touchdown run. Defensive lineman Ka’Morion Carter and safety Jaden Jackson delivered punishing hits.

And that’s just talking about the Temple Wildcats’ backup players.

With the Class 6A Division II state playoffs on the horizon, the ruthlessly efficient Wildcats produced a dominant all-around performance against Copperas Cove on a record-setting, feel-good Friday night at chilly Wildcat Stadium.

Senior running back Samari Howard rushed for four first-half touchdowns while becoming Temple’s all-time leader in scoring and touchdowns, Reese Rumfield threw two TD passes to Mikal Harrison-Pilot and ran for his first score and a smothering defense allowed only 156 yards as the Wildcats blasted the overmatched Bulldawgs 77-12 to complete their second consecutive 7-0 march to the District 12-6A championship.

“We were trying to put together a complete game in all three phases – offense, defense, special teams – and I think tonight we did a great job of that,” said Temple junior linebacker and leading tackler Taurean York, whose defense didn’t allow seventh-place Copperas Cove (1-9, 1-6) to advance past the Wildcats’ 43-yard line in the first half, which ended with a 56-0 score.

Temple (8-2) compiled 528 yards on offense and extended its winning streak to eight games entering its bi-district clash with the Waxahachie Indians (6-4) at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium. It’s a rematch of the Wildcats’ 38-0 first-round home victory last December.

“This week we knew we had to play playoff football before we got to Waxahachie, so going into Waxahachie next week is going to be great,” said Howard, whose team has averaged 55 points during its eight-game winning streak. “We’ve still got a few things to clean up with our 1s and our backups. It’s never as good as we think and it’s never as bad as we think, so we’re going to come in (Saturday) and evaluate ourselves and get ready for the playoffs.”

The coming weeks will tell how far Temple can go in the playoffs after it was eliminated in the second round by Rockwall-Heath last year, but the Wildcats certainly are carrying a full head of steam into their ninth straight postseason trip.

“How long the playoff run is . . . we’ve got a lot of work to do in front of us. But you need to be playing your best football at the end of the season before you get into the playoffs, and I’m pretty pleased,” Temple sixth-year head coach Scott Stewart said. “I’m sure we’ll find some stuff we need to fix, because the biggest room in the house (is the room for improvement), right? But we’re going in hot and we played like our hair was on fire. I’m proud of them.”


NOWHERE TO GO: Temple senior defensive end Eric Shorter (13) and junior safety Zion Moore combine to tackle a Copperas Cove ball carrier during the Wildcats' 77-12 win over the Bulldawgs in Friday night's District 12-6A finale at Wildcat Stadium. Moore also made an interception and Temple's defense allowed only 156 total yards. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Spoecial to TempleBeltonSports.com)



For Stewart, one of the best things about the district finale was that the stellar performance by Temple’s starting units allowed them to exit the game early and gave the Wildcats’ reserve players plenty of time and opportunities to shine.

“That’s exactly what we were looking for. It gets fun because everybody gets to take part in that,” Stewart said. “Our reserves and every person who was wearing the blue-front, white-back pants tonight, they work their tail off and they probably don’t get as much playing time as they deserve or want. But when you get nights like tonight when the starters set them up where they can come in and finish up and do a pretty good job doing it, it’s just a really cool experience.

“To me, that’s the kind of stuff that brings the family together. Everybody gets a place at the table, and I’m just so glad for those kids.”

While his teammates passed around and posed for pictures with the gold football trophy that signifies Temple’s third straight 12-6A championship, Howard savored the moment. His touchdown run a week earlier at Killeen left him tied with running back Lache Seastrunk for Temple’s all-time scoring lead at 312 points, giving the Air Force commitment a shot to break the record at home in front of the Wildcats’ fans.

Howard eclipsed the scoring record with his 1-yard touchdown rush midway through the first quarter, but he wasn’t finished. Last year’s 12-6A Co-Most Valuable Player added second-quarter scoring runs of 15, 8 and 3 yards to push his career total to 53 touchdowns, surpassing Temple’s program record of 52 that Seastrunk scored from 2007-09.

Howard was embraced by teammates and coaches and received hearty applause from the crowd after the public-address system announced the three-year standout’s record-breaking achievements.

“It’s a crazy night. I mean, I didn’t really come in worried about (the records). I wasn’t necessarily worried about it,” said Howard, who rushed nine times for 106 yards, all in the first half, to push his season rushing total to a career-high 1,369 yards. “I’m lost for words. It’s crazy being recognized as one of the ‘greats.’ I’ve got to put that in quotation marks, because I’m not great yet. You know, I’m humble, so I wouldn’t say that, but it’s just a great experience.”

With 18 total touchdowns and four 2-point conversions this season, the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Howard – who’s rushed for 3,596 career yards – extended his newly established Temple scoring record to 336 points.

Stewart said it simply was an unintended bonus that Howard got to break both of Seastrunk’s program records at home on a celebratory kind of evening.

“That wasn’t intentional. I think he had 25 carries last week (in the 44-6 win at Killeen), so we don’t do anything records-wise intentionally. But to have a young man who works as hard as he does . . . there’s not anybody I’ve ever coached that I can say works harder than he does and is more competitive and all the X-factors,” Stewart said. “To actually coach a kid and be blessed enough to know him and his family and watch him walk out of here with these records, I don’t think it could happen to a better person. I’m just proud to be a part of it.”

York, on his way to leading Temple in tackles for the third straight season, has admiration for Howard and what the versatile, durable running back has accomplished as a Wildcat.

“It’s crazy, man. We’ve been playing together since we were 6 years old. We came into this high school thing together as well – our first year on varsity was his sophomore year and my freshman year, so I’m just extremely proud of him,” York said. “We have a secret handshake and all that. He’s one of my best friends for sure.”

Having scored 60 points in home wins against Hutto and Killeen Shoemaker, Temple raced past that mark for a season-high 77. It’s the most points Temple has scored in more than a decade, surpassing the 76 it recorded in a 41-point win over Leander Vandegrift in a 5A Division I state semifinal in 2014.


CLOSELY CONTESTED CATCH: Temple junior wide receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot beats tight defense by Copperas Cove's Jaylen Donnell to catch Reese Rumfield's pass for a 30-yard touchdown during the second quarter of the Wildcats' 77-12 win over the Bulldawgs on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Harrison-Pilot also caught a 19-yard TD from Rumfield and had a 4-yard scoring run as Temple finished 7-0 in District 12-6A. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Junior star Harrison-Pilot opened the onslaught with a 4-yard touchdown run a minute into the game and caught second-quarter TD passes of 30 and 19 yards from sophomore quarterback Rumfield, who was 8-of-8 passing for 197 yards and ran for a 25-yard touchdown late in the first quarter.

Senior reserve Sullivan rushed for 91 yards, with TDs of 5 yards in the third period and 11 in the fourth. Sophomore backup QB Willis added a 31-yard scoring burst late in the fourth. Danis Bajric kicked eight extra points and fellow senior Nicolas Scopac made the final three PATs.

Temple earned its 15th straight district win dating to 2019 and is 21-1 in 12-6A play in the last three seasons with three-year standouts Harrison-Pilot, Howard and York.

Considering that the Wildcats had to overcome second-quarter deficits against Harker Heights of 20-0 last year and 21-0 this season to prevail in both games, York said he and his teammates take a lot of pride of their consistent success and resilience.

“It’s taken a lot of focus and a lot of perseverance, man. We’ve been down in a lot of these games. We’ve fought back and persevered through it all,” said York, last year’s 12-6A Defensive MVP. “It’s not an easy district at all. It’s a lot of speed and a lot of people who are going to big places (for college). That’s a great testament to our team and how we performed tonight and this whole year.”

Meanwhile, Copperas Cove concluded its second consecutive one-win season with head coach Jason Hammett. The Bulldawgs, whose lone victory was 56-33 over last-place Killeen on Oct. 8, were outscored 547-245 and allowed a combined 141 points in back-to-back losses to district runner-up Harker Heights and Temple.

Providing Cove’s scoring against Temple were senior Malcom Roberts with an 8-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter and junior Trey Fossett with a 15-yard TD rush late in the fourth.

Wildcats senior tackle Tommy Torres, who had two of Temple's five sacks, blocked the extra-point kick after Cove’s first score, and junior safety Zion Moore made an interception.

A 28-yard return by senior Devan Williams on the opening kickoff got the Wildcats started at their 49-yard line, then on the first offensive play Rumfield lofted an across-the-field pass that senior speedster Tr’Darius Taylor caught near the left sideline for a 39-yard gain to the Cove 12. From the 4, Howard moved to quarterback and handed off to Harrison-Pilot, who rushed off right tackle and scored with ease with only 1:14 gone. The first of Bajric’s eight extra points gave Temple a 7-0 lead.

The Wildcats got the ball back after Torres sacked Cove senior quarterback Shane Richey for a 5-yard loss, and on third-and-19 senior receiver Kobe Smith made a diving catch of Rumfield’s pass for a 22-yard gain. Howard then went off left tackle and exploded for 47 yards to the 9. His 8-yard rush moved it to the 1 before Howard ran straight ahead for his first touchdown of the night, overtaking Seastrunk’s 12-year-old Temple scoring record with 318 points.

After holding on the extra point for a 14-0 advantage midway through the opening period, Howard was hugged by Stewart, offensive coordinator Josh Sadler and teammates as he returned to the Wildcats’ sideline while the crowd cheered upon the announcement of Howard’s record.

Cove absorbed a major setback on its ensuing possession when quarterback Richey, who entered with eight TD runs, suffered an apparent leg injury on his 7-yard rush toward Temple’s sideline. After remaining on the turf for a few minutes, the multiple-season starter walked off on his own power but did not return to the game.

Junior backup Blaine Butler came in at QB for the Bulldawgs, who reached the Wildcats’ 44 before a surge by the middle of Temple’s defense stopped Bra’Dyn Brooks-Smith inches short on fourth-and-1, prompting a Wildcats celebration after the turnover on downs.


RUNNIN' RUMMY: Temple sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield runs down the right sideline past a diving Copperas Cove defender for a 25-yard touchdown during the first quarter of the Wildcats' 77-12 victory over the Bulldawgs on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. It was the first career rushing touchdown for Rumfield, who threw TD passes of 30 and 19 yards to junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot and was 8-for-8 passing for 197 yards. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Rumfield then passed to Taylor for 12 yards and Howard rushed for 20 to move to Cove’s 25 before first-year starter Rumfield, who entered with 15 carries for minus-7 yards and zero touchdowns, faked a handoff to the man in motion, scampered to the right side and sprinted past defenders along the sideline to score his first TD in a Wildcats uniform for a 21-0 lead with a minute left in the first quarter.

Going against Temple’s aggressive, hard-hitting defense, the Bulldawgs’ offense struggled to gain any traction with Butler, who was 6-for-11 passing for 36 yards with an interception and rushed four times for minus-20 yards.

On fourth-and-7 from the Cove 22, Butler got into punt formaton but took only a 10-yard drop, the snap was slow to arrive and he kicked the ball off the backside of his protector, setting Temple up at the Bulldawgs 15 a minute into the second period.

Playing quarterback, Howard dashed straight through the middle for the 15-yard touchdown and a commanding 28-0 lead.

Moore then intercepted Butler’s off-target pass near the Cove sideline at the Temple 35. With 10 touchdown catches this season, Williams surprisingly didn’t get into the scoring column against the Bulldawgs, but the fleet-footed senior caught Rumfield’s pass on a middle slant and tore through the defense for a 57-yard gain to the 8.

Howard then ran off left tackle and barreled into the end zone for his third touchdown of the night and the 52nd TD of his career, tying Seastrunk’s program record as the Wildcats expanded their advantage to 35-0 8:56 before halftime.

Refusing to let up, Temple still found enough time to produce three more touchdowns in the second quarter.

Senior Jalen Robinson had a 15-yard run to the Cove 30, then against tight coverage Harrison-Pilot made a skillful catch of Rumfield’s pass at the goal line for a 30-yard touchdown and a 42-0 lead. Taylor took a toss on a reverse play and shredded along the right side for a 32-yard run to the 22. Robinson then charged for 19 yards but suffered an arm injury while being tackled and did not return to the game.

Howard went straight ahead on the next play for a 3-yard score and a 49-0 lead 3:45 before halftime, surpassing Seastrunk’s record with his 53rd career touchdown before again being congratulated by the Wildcats and cheered by the crowd.

Another short punt plus a 15-year penalty gave the ball back to Temple at Cove’s 22 with 51 seconds remaining. From the 19, Harrison-Pilot caught Rumfield’s crisp pass to the left side, quickly spun away from his defender at the 12 and ran in to score his third touchdown of the night for a 56-0 advantage 20 seconds before the break.

“We preach, ‘We’ve got to have a good Monday.’ Every time we’ve have a good Monday . . . like this week, we had a good Monday and it extended through the week,” Howard said. “So it’s just good vibes and get ready for next Friday. We’ve got to come out and score fast like we did tonight.”

With the huge lead entering the second half, Stewart elected to keep many of his top players on the sideline and give Temple’s reserves a stage to show what they can do.

The third quarter began with Bajric’s angled, popped-up kickoff toward the Wildcats sideline that junior Teryon Williams-Echols caught on the run at the Cove 43. Sullivan, who rushed 12 times in the second half for 88 yards, fought through defenders for a 5-yard touchdown and a 63-0 game 2 minutes into the third.

The Bulldawgs then finally got past the Wildcats’ 43 for the first time on Brooks-Smith’s 38-yard rush to the 29. Cove ended Temple’s shutout quest midway through the third when Roberts rushed for an 8-yard touchdown, although the 6-5 Torres broke through the line and blocked the extra-point kick to keep the score 63-6.

Willis then took over for Rumfield at quarterback and directed a 69-yard drive that featured Sullivan’s hard running and culminated with Sullivan’s 11-yard touchdown rush off left tackle on the final period’s first play, making it 70-6.

“It was our guys’ time to shine,” York said. “Coach Stewart put it in a great way. He said, ‘We don’t have a second string or third string. We come in waves.’ We just have to keep our foot on the gas at all times.”

After Fossett’s 15-yard touchdown rush against Temple’s backup defenders made it 70-12 with 3:45 remaining, junior Naeten Mitchell returned the kickoff 40 yards and Sullivan ran for 14 yards before the quick, elusive Willis bounced out to the right side and raced in for his 31-yard touchdown with 1:18 left to complete the Wildcats’ dizzying scoring barrage.

THAT WINNING FEELING: Temple defensive linemen Jaylon Jackson (left), Ayden Brown and Tommy Torres display the District 12-6A championship trophy after the Wildcats defeated Copperas Cove 77-12 on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium, where Temple (8-2) will host Waxahachie (6-4) in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game at 7:30 p.m. next Friday. The host Wildcats beat the Indians 38-0 in the first round last year. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Temple now turns its attention toward its first-round matchup with Waxahachie, which finished fourth in top-heavy 11-6A at 4-3 behind No. 4-ranked Dunvanville, DeSoto and Cedar Hill. The Indians of first-year head coach Shane Tolleson won two straight games before their offense was denied late in a 31-25 home loss to No. 22 DeSoto (8-2) on Thursday.

Although Temple controlled Waxahachie 38-0 in last year’s bi-district duel, York insisted that the Wildcats won’t overlook the Indians or get caught looking ahead to a potential area-round rematch clash with 10-6A champion Rockwall-Heath (9-1). The high-scoring Hawks, guided by former Temple coach Mike Spradlin, eliminated the Wildcats 56-28 last December in Waco.

“They’re no slouches at all. They’re a great team and we’re going to have to take them very seriously. It’s not last year’s team at all,” York said about Waxahachie. “We’re going to get right, watch the film tomorrow morning and then we’ll start working on Waxahachie.

“I’ll tell (my teammates) we’ve got to focus on Waxahachie. We’re not playing those (Rockwall-Heath) guys yet. Hopefully we get a chance to play them, but right now Waxahachie’s the main focus. We have to keep what’s in front of us first.”

Afterward, Stewart said he drew inspiration for Temple’s outstanding performance from his grandfather Frank Valenta, who lived in Jarrell and died Thursday night.

“He absolutely was (on my mind). He was 100 years old and lived a great life. He was a big part of my life for a long time,” Stewart said. “Just having him and watching him model himself as a man and the way he did things and the way he loved Christ and the way he did a bunch of stuff . . . I’ll get choked up if I talk too long, but he’s a big part of this.

“He’s been on my mind all day long, I’ve been talking to him all day long and he’s watching down right now. Just the experiences and the time I had with him is a blessing from God. You know, they don’t make many like that, so God got a good one yesterday about 10:30 p.m."


DISTRICT 12-6A FOOTBALL


TEMPLE 77, COPPERAS COVE 12

Cove 0 0 6 6 – 12

Temple 21 35 7 14 – 77

First quarter

Temple – Mikal Harrison-Pilot 4 run (Danis Bajric kick), 10:44.

Temple – Samari Howard 1 run (Bajric kick), 5:41.

Temple – Reese Rumfield 25 run (Bajric kick), 0:56.

Second quarter

Temple – Howard 15 run (Bajric kick), 11:02.

Temple – Howard 8 run (Bajric kick), 8:56.

Temple – Harrison-Pilot 30 pass from Rumfield (Bajric kick), 6:25.

Temple – Howard 3 run (Bajric kick), 3:45.

Temple – Harrison-Pilot 19 pass from Rumfield (Bajric kick), 0:20.

Third quarter

Temple – Tavaris Sullivan 5 run (Nicolas Scopac kick), 10:15.

Copperas Cove – Malcom Roberts 8 run (kick blocked), 6:08.

Fourth quarter

Temple – Sullivan 11 run (Scopac kick), 11:38.

Copperas Cove – Trey Fossett 15 run (kick failed), 3:22.

Temple – Damarion Willis 31 run (Scopac kick), 1:18.


TEAM STATISTICS

Rushes-yards: Copperas Cove 36-97; Temple 31-333.

Passing yards: Copperas Cove 59; Temple 195.

Completions-attempts-interceptions: Copperas Cove 8-14-1; Temple 9-10-0.

Total plays-offensive yards: Copperas Cove 50-156; Temple 41-528.


INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing – Copperas Cove: Bra’Dyn Brooks-Smith 6-43, Fossett 9-42, Roberts 12-30, Shane Richey 3-4, Craig Brown 2-(-2), Blaine Butler 4-(-20); Temple: Howard 9-106, Sullivan 13-91, Willis 2-46, Jalen Robinson 2-34, Tr’Darius Taylor 1-32, Rumfield 3-20, Harrison-Pilot 1-4.

Passing – Copperas Cove: Butler 6-11-1-36, Richey 2-3-0-23; Temple: Rumfield 8-8-0-197, Willis 1-2-0-(-2).

Receiving – Copperas Cove: Trishstin Glass 2-23, Demetrius Pearce 3-21, Roberts 1-8, Wyatt Nelson 1-7, Ezekiel Kaleopa-Lynn 1-0; Temple: Devan Williams 2-57, Taylor 2-51, Harrison-Pilot 2-49, Kobe Smith 2-31, Nyles Moreland 1-9, Joseph Bates 1-(-2).

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