- Greg Wille
REMATCH RUMBLE: Surging Temple shoots to get back at high-scoring Rockwall-Heath in area-round clash
IN HOT PURSUIT: Temple junior linebacker Taurean York (5) chases Waxahachie junior quarterback Roderick Hartsfield Jr. during the Wildcats' 28-14 victory in last Friday's Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game at Wildcat Stadium. District 12-6A champion Temple (9-2) clashes with 10-6A champ and fifth-ranked Rockwall-Heath (10-1) in an area-round battle at 7:30 Friday night at Burleson ISD Stadium. It's a rematch of the Hawks' 56-28 second-round win last December in Waco. Rockwall-Heath's head coach is Mike Spradlin, who had a successful run as Temple's head coach from 2011-15. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
BURLESON – As the Temple football fans who were in Baylor’s McLane Stadium in Waco on the night of Dec. 18, 2020 can attest, Rockwall-Heath was a very good team.
Sparked by prolific quarterback Josh Hoover and big-play wide receivers Jay Fair and Jordan Nabors, the relentless Hawks produced 446 passing yards and compiled 661 total yards against the Temple defense to pull away and defeat the 10-win Wildcats 56-28 in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game.
Eleven months later and coming off a 10-4 season, Rockwall-Heath appears to be even better this year. Hoover, Fair and Nabors are back as seniors for the fifth-ranked Hawks (10-1), unbeaten champions of District 10-6A and winners of nine consecutive games. Standout senior running back Zach Evans has returned after the season-ending knee injury he suffered before halftime against Temple.
Rockwall-Heath still is coached by former successful Temple head coach Mike Spradlin, whose quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator still is former Wildcats star QB Chad President. The Hawks’ coaching staff still includes former Temple head coach Bryce Monsen (inside linebackers) and ex-Wildcats QB and assistant coach Joey Haag (wide receivers).
As for Temple, the surging Wildcats (9-2) of sixth-year head coach Scott Stewart are 7-0 12-6A champions for the second straight season and also are riding a nine-game winning streak after defeating first-round playoff opponent Waxahachie for the second year in a row at Wildcat Stadium, 28-14 last Friday.
So as the two power-packed teams enter their eagerly anticipated rematch in a 6A Division II area-round showdown at 7:30 Friday night at Burleson ISD Stadium, what remains to be seen is whether Temple can play well enough – particularly on defense – to withstand what it knows Rockwall-Heath wants to do with a berth in next week’s Region II semifinals at stake.
“They’re a very, very good football team, and they do a lot of stuff really well, especially on the offensive side of the ball,” Stewart said about Rockwall-Heath, which controlled Garland Naaman Forest 35-6 last Friday at home and has averaged 53.7 points and 563.5 yards total offense per game while outscoring opponents 591-303. “They’re very solid on defense, but I mean, it’s a Mike Spradlin-coached team, so they’re going to have weapons on offense and they’re dangerous.
“They’re very good and they’re the No. 5 team in the state for a reason, but it’s not going to take anything that we can’t do. At this point, there are 32 teams left and I’m going to suggest that most of them have the capacity (to keep advancing).”
MAKING ANOTHER RUN: After three years away from coaching as the athletic director of Magnolia ISD, former successful Temple head coach Mike Spradlin is 25-10 in three seasons as head coach at Rockwall-Heath. His Hawks reached the Class 6A Division II Region II final last season before an overtime loss to Cedar Hill. Fifth-ranked Rockwall-Heath (10-1) takes on Temple (9-2) in an area-round rematch at 7:30 Friday night in Burleson. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Spradlin spearheaded the revival of Temple’s tradition-rich but then-struggling program, coaching the Wildcats to a 44-17 record and three consecutive district championships from 2011-15, highlighted by a trek to the 5A Division I state title game in 2014.
Spradlin’s defensive coordinator for his final two seasons in Temple was Stewart, who’s guided the Wildcats to a 57-18 record, three straight league crowns and a trip to the 5A D-I state championship game in his debut season of 2016.
It’s not surprising, then, that it’s a mutual admiration society between the offensive-minded Spradlin and the defensive-oriented Stewart, who together helped lead Temple to a 25-4 record with eight playoff wins from 2014-15.
“You know the amount of respect I have for Temple and the way they’re doing it there. I’m a big Scott Stewart fan and I know his kids are going to studied up,” said the 66-year-old Spradlin, who’s coached Rockwall-Heath to a 25-10 record in three seasons after leaving coaching to serve as athletic director of Magnolia ISD from 2016-18.
“The two teams have so many similarities with both being undefeated district champions and on nine-game winning streaks, so it’s a marquee matchup, no doubt. This is one of those games where it’s two district champs and someone’s season is going to end, unfortunately.”
Rockwall-Heath’s only loss this season was 36-35 against No. 3 Southlake Carroll (11-0) on Sept. 2 in a non-district game the Hawks led 21-10 at halftime and 35-30 in the fourth quarter. They missed a late 24-yard field goal that would’ve won it.
The winner between unbeaten league champions Temple and Rockwall-Heath will advance to a Region II semifinal next week against the winner of Friday night’s matchup between two teams that finished in fourth place in their respective districts: 8-3 Tomball and 6-5 Willis.
“I don’t know who all’s out there. I don’t really care. There’s one bracket on our wall in the locker room and it says Temple and Rockwall-Heath,” Stewart said. “I’ve had to have some conversations about looking at the next round (for game locations and times), but other than that I don’t know who the next one would be.”
Since Stewart arrived in Temple to join Spradlin’s staff in 2014, this is the eighth time the Wildcats have faced a playoff opponent in consecutive years. Temple is 7-1 in the first matchup, beating Houston Stratford, Richmond George Ranch, Richmond Foster, Corsicana, Port Arthur Memorial, Manvel and Waxahachie and losing only to Rockwall-Heath last year.
Undefeated 5A Division I state champion George Ranch in 2015 and 5A D-I state runner-up Manvel in 2017 were the only teams to defeat Temple in the rematch.
This year’s Wildcats have been on a tear since they began the season with consecutive home losses to top-ranked, two-time reigning 6A state champion Austin Westlake (12-0) and Magnolia West (11-1). Stewart said Temple is eager to get another shot at Rockwall-Heath, even though the path to reaching Round 3 of the playoffs for the first time as a 6A program figures to be quite challenging.
“They’re excited to still be in the dance. I think that’s an accomplishment in and of itself. You’ve got 256 teams (in 6A) that started this journey and there’s 32 left (in the Division II bracket),” said Stewart, whose Wildcats have averaged 52 points during their nine-game win streak. “You have to learn to embrace the finality, because with teenagers, some of them are so fragile that it adds pressure to them.
“So I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about my delivery of every message when I talk to them. Not that I’ve got anything figured out, but I just know you can’t dwell on the finality. You have to address the situation as it is. These kids are not stupid, either. You can’t sugarcoat it. I try not to lace it with negativity. Finality can very easily be twisted into a negative perception.”
PROLIFIC PASSER: Josh Hoover has passed for more than 9,000 yards and 100 touchdowns in three seasons as Rockwall-Heath's starting quarterback, including 446 yards and four TDs in the Hawks' 56-28 win over Temple last year in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game in Waco. This season the Indiana commitment has thrown for 2,789 yards and 34 touchdowns, with senior receivers Jay Fair (Auburn) and Jordan Nabors (Baylor) making a combined 22 TD catches. Former Temple star quarterback Chad President guides Hoover as the Hawks' QBs coach. (Photo courtesy of Rockwall ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple has allowed only 62 points in its last five games, but the Wildcats know they’re facing a different animal in the balanced, big-play juggernaut that is Rockwall-Heath’s shotgun-spread offense, which has generated 3,404 rushing yards and 2,794 yards through the air.
Indiana-committed quarterback Hoover, a 6-foot-2, 205-pound senior, has passed for more than 9,000 yards and 100 touchdowns in three seasons as the starter. Operating behind an experienced group of linemen this year, he’s completed 160 of 252 passes for 2,789 yards and 34 touchdowns against eight interceptions.
“I think he’s one year better. He does process very well and he’s smart enough to know where the pressure’s coming from,” offensive play-caller Spradlin said about Hoover, who had a 13-0 pitching record for Rockwall-Heath’s state championship baseball team last season but will graduate one semester early to enroll at Indiana and join the Hoosiers’ football program.
Hoover passed for 346 yards and four TDs against Naaman Forest, though he was intercepted three times.
“I would say he’s good at what he does. He’s good at trusting his receivers, especially getting the ball out that fast,” Temple junior strong safety Zion Moore said about Hoover. “Most QBs would sit there and wait, but the fact that he gets it out so fast and trusts his receivers to get right to where he puts the ball, that’s pretty good for someone at the high school level. I can’t envision him throwing picks, because he throws the ball so quick and precise.”
Temple’s defense has gotten strong play this season from its active line of senior tackle Tommy Torres (seven sacks), sophomore nose tackle Ayden Brown, senior end Eric Shorter and junior end Jaylon Jackson (six sacks). The question is whether those players will be able to put significant pressure on the savvy, experienced Hoover, who last year was 25-of-33 for 446 yards against the Wildcats and threw three touchdown passes longer than 45 yards.
“It’s going to be hard to make Hoover uncomfortable. It’s going to be tough. I don’t know if we’ll actually be able to. They’ve allowed two sacks all year,” said Temple defensive coordinator Dexter Knox, who’s gotten 128 tackles from junior linebacker Taurean York, the reigning 12-6A Defensive MVP. “I don’t know if you’ll ever get him rattled, per se. I think you can possibly get him to misread some things, but he doesn’t throw very many bad balls, and I don’t know if you can even really confuse him. He doesn’t get rattled. He’s seen it all.”
Said Moore: “I’ve got a lot of confidence in our D-line. Our defense is built around the D-line, and when they get to the quarterback it changes the whole momentum.”
Hoover has two fleet-footed, go-to wide receivers in the Auburn-committed Fair (41 receptions, 806 yards, 12 touchdowns) and Baylor pledge Nabors (44, 935, 10), who made a combined 15 catches for 341 yards and four touchdowns against Temple last season. Senior tight end Lance Mason (6-3, 225) also is a threat in the passing game, with 26 receptions for 453 yards and five TDs.
Meanwhile, Minnesota-committed running back Evans (5-10, 203) has been a force all season, using his blend of size, speed and moves to rush for 1,644 yards and 23 touchdowns. He made a successful recovery from the torn ACL he suffered against Temple after running for 61 yards on 15 first-half carries.
“Zach rehabbed really well and by the summer he was a full go,” said Spradlin, who got 169 rushing yards and three TDs from then-senior Preston Landis against Temple last year. “He’s an ‘extra’ guy – extra work, extra weights.”
In addition, junior Brittan Snider and sophomore Malachi Tuesno have rushed for a combined 1,462 yards and 16 touchdowns in reserve duty.
The Hawks’ skill-position performers benefit greatly from the blocking work of their hulking line that features a trio of senior three-year starters in left tackle Caleb Flores (Incarnate Word), left guard Carson Fichtel (Eastern Illinois) and right guard Sebastian Martinez.
“It all starts up front for us with those three three-year starters. It’s a typical offensive line – very close,” said Spradlin, who played center for the University of Houston and later coached the Cougars’ offensive line.
Having seen Spradlin’s offenses operate up close, Stewart essentially knows what Rockwall-Heath can do and wants to do. The big challenge is devising a way to stop or at least contain a relentless Hawks attack that stretches the field horizontally and vertically.
“That’s exactly what it is. A lot of people try to use that system or at least that philosophy, and Rockwall-Heath does it very, very well,” Stewart said. “I’ve obviously been on the same staff as Mike Spradlin and I learned a lot of football as far as what offenses are trying to do to you from him and sharing notes. They’re going to make you defend the whole field and they’re going to do it with very, very talented athletes.
“The most unsung part is that their O-line is ridiculously good. Everybody wants to say it’s the spread offense and they throw the ball all over the field, but the philosophy is ‘take what they give you.’ Obviously the pass plays tend to be way more explosive, especially when you’re throwing to Auburn and Baylor (commitments) out there. A lot of (defenses) will try to lighten the box and dare them to run it, and so they run it. They’re as good as anybody up front, and they’re as good as anybody at the skill positions. You’ve only got 11 (defenders) and they’ve got 11, so you’ve got to give somewhere.”
MAXIMUM EFFORT: Temple's diving Samari Howard blocks a punt by Rockwall-Heath's Grady Brewer during the Wildcats' 56-28 loss to the Hawks in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game last December at Baylor's McLane Stadium in Waco. Howard rushed for 134 yards and scored a 16-yard touchdown. Air Force commitment Howard and District 12-6A champion Temple (9-2) get a rematch against fifth-ranked Rockwall-Heath (10-1) at 7:30 Friday night at Burleson ISD Stadium. (File photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Meanwhile, Rockwall-Heath’s defense must contend with a well-balanced, productive Temple offense that’s averaged 397.6 yards per game with coordinator Josh Sadler.
The Wildcats are powered by senior running back Samari Howard, the Air Force commitment who’s become Temple’s all-time leader in points (348) and touchdowns (55). He rushed 27 times for 193 yards against Waxahachie, highlighted by fourth-quarter TD runs of 2 and 84 yards to help the Wildcats stave off the athletic Indians.
“I thought our kids did a great job last week of handling the fact that Waxahachie was going to be really good on defense,” Stewart said. “All we’ve talked about since the playoffs have been upon us is, ‘Easy’s over with.’ Teams that we played that we kind of had our way with, they’re not showing up.”
Said Spradlin about Howard, who’s rushed for 1,562 yards and 18 touchdowns this season after running for 134 yards and blocking a punt against Rockwall-Heath in 2020: “To me, he’s obviously great out of the backfield and has good moves, and he tops it all off with speed.”
Temple also will test Rockwall-Heath’s defense with two big-play receivers in senior Devan Williams (31 receptions, 727 yards, 10 touchdowns) – who returned a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown against Waxahachie – and versatile junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot (28, 472, six).
“No. 1 (Williams) is a stud. He’s a really good football player,” Spradlin said.
Harrison-Pilot’s father is Chris Pilot, Temple’s linebackers coach and co-defensive coordinator. Chris Pilot played defense at Houston when Spradlin was coaching there, and Spradlin hired Pilot to join the Wildcats’ staff.
“I remember Mikal as a ball boy for us during all those playoff runs,” Spradlin said. “I’m really proud of him – great kid, great family.”
Harrison-Pilot (eight touchdown runs) and Howard alternated at quarterback after sophomore starter Reese Rumfield (1,831 passing yards, 24 TDs) left the Waxahachie game with a swollen throwing hand after he was tackled while scrambling. Stewart said Rumfield practiced well on Monday and is good to play, though Howard and Harrison-Pilot are ready to step in at QB if needed.
“They’ve forced you to plan for all the contingencies,” Spradlin said.
Rockwall-Heath’s 3-4 defense allowed 503 yards (260 passing) against Temple last year, but Spradlin said the Hawks have played much better on that side since their 79-71, double-overtime victory against rival Rockwall in the district opener.
“We’ve played ourselves into being a pretty good defense,” Spradlin said. “Since the Rockwall game we’ve played pretty consistently, and real good last week.”
Senior cornerback/safety Peyton Williams is committed to South Carolina and is joined in the secondary by sure-tackling senior safety Layne Horak. The crew of linebackers is paced by senior Alan Crawford and sophomore Bryce President (5-11, 225), who is Chad President’s brother and played middle school football in Temple before moving to Rockwall-Heath after Chad graduated from Tulsa and took a job on Spradlin’s staff.
Sadler said he’s impressed with disruptive senior ends Isaac Gutierrez (6-2, 205) and Justice Rider (6-3, 238).
“We better eat our Wheaties. They’re huge up front and they’re very sound. It’s going to be tough to run the ball on them,” Stewart said. “We’re going to have to play well (on offense). We’re going to have to take our shots and take what they give us. Reese is going to have to be really efficient with the football.”
As good and experienced as the coaches on both sides are, neither Stewart nor Spradlin expects the second-round rematch to be decided by coaching.
“It’s going to come down to execution. Temple knows what they’re doing and they’re so sound,” Spradlin said. “My respect level for Temple is very high. They’ve got great coaches, so we’re not going to outcoach them. It’s going to come down to the players on the field.”
Said Stewart: “I would say the exact same thing. I mean, they are as well-coached as any team I’ve ever seen. And I know the guys doing it, so that’s not just fluff. Chad President is one of the smartest high school kids I have ever been around, and you only grow from there. He is one of the most intelligent, game-savvy, scheme-savvy teenagers. He was a senior when I got here (in 2014) and I was astounded at how fast he picked up on stuff. On Day 3 he was telling our (defensive) kids how to line up, and he hadn’t been in meetings none.”
Having experienced the painful feeling of Rockwall-Heath outplaying Temple in Waco last December, strong safety Moore said the Wildcats are determined to make amends in their second shot at the high-scoring Hawks.
“I would say it’s more of the mentality and attitude we’ve got coming into this game,” Moore said. “The thing our coaches have instilled in us the most is the mentality of having a chip on our shoulder and executing the gameplan.”
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