• Greg Wille

RIVALS COLLIDE: District-leading Temple seeks ninth straight win over Belton in Bell County showdown


ON THE ATTACK: Senior running back Samari Howard (8) and sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield (10) seek to help lead Temple to its ninth straight win over Belton when the neighboring Bell County rivals collide at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Tiger Field. Coach Scott Stewart's Wildcats (4-2, 3-0) own a four-game winning streak and the outright lead in District 12-6A, while coach Brett Sniffin's Tigers (3-3, 2-1) are tied for second place after losing 57-21 at Harker Heights last week. Belton hasn't defeated Temple since 2010, and the Tigers forfeited the teams' scheduled 2020 matchup in Temple because of COVID-19 factors. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)




By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


BELTON – The last time that Temple lost a varsity football game against neighboring rival Belton was in 2010, when the oldest of the Wildcats’ current players were in first grade.

Since then, Temple has won seven consecutive matchups with Belton on the field and eight straight overall, including the Wildcats’ win last year after the Tigers had to forfeit the scheduled Nov. 13 game at Wildcat Stadium because of COVID-19 factors within their program.

And last week, Temple and Belton had drastically different outcomes at Killeen’s Leo Buckley Stadium. The big-play Wildcats pulled away for a 56-27 victory over Killeen Ellison on Thursday, then one night later the Tigers fell into a 50-7 halftime deficit against Harker Heights on their way to a 57-21 defeat.

Therefore, there are plenty of possible reasons to arrive at the conclusion that Belton doesn’t have much of a chance to beat nemesis Temple when the squads collide in their highly anticipated Bell County showdown at 7:30 Friday night at Tiger Field, which should be full of the Wildcats' blue and the Tigers' red.

However, the District 12-6A-leading Wildcats (4-2 overall, 3-0 district) – who lead the schools’ all-time series 36-8-5 – are determined to not fall into that type of trap. After not getting the opportunity to play on his home field against Belton last season, Temple senior left offensive tackle Colby Rice has looked forward to facing the second-place Tigers (3-3, 2-1) this year with additional zeal and intensity.

“Yeah, it ticked me off just for the simple fact that that was Belton, you know what I’m saying? That right there is the big rival game and it would be crazy to play in that, but I just didn’t get the chance to (in 2020),” Rice said Tuesday, adding that Temple “most definitely” considers Friday evening’s duel to be unfinished business for the Wildcats.

Furthermore, Rice said he and his teammates aren’t putting too much stock in last week’s pair of one-sided results as it pertains to Belton’s ability and potential to give Temple a strong challenge.

“Even though we know what we’re capable of, we can’t go into this game with a high head thinking, ‘Oh, we’re just going to run all over them,’ because it is Belton and they’re not a bad team at all,” said Rice, who was a sophomore lineman on the Wildcats’ 2019 team that broke open a back-and-forth first-half shootout to run away for a 66-34 win against Belton at Tiger Field. “But I feel like if we follow what we can do and execute . . . we just have to go and execute that, really.

“I feel like they hype the game up more than we do," he added. "But I’m not going to walk into this game like it’s easy.”

Temple has scored 52.3 points per game during its four-game winning streak and Belton has averaged 22 points per outing this season, but Wildcats sixth-year head coach Scott Stewart – who’s 5-0 against the Tigers – saw Belton do enough good things as he scouted the Harker Heights game to make sure that his players know they must prepare and play well to earn another victory in the rivalry.

“You tell them what you saw, because I didn’t see one team that just went out there and physically whipped the other team,” Stewart said about the Tigers-Knights game, which came one week after Temple stormed back from a 21-0 second-quarter deficit against Harker Heights to earn a 44-34 home victory.

“You look at the scoreboard and it was 50-7 at halftime. Heights is a really good football team, but Belton moved the ball up and down the field early. They just couldn’t capitalize and there were some mistakes and mishaps. They got a little sideways and had a couple turnovers in the red zone or getting close to the red zone.”

From the perspective of Belton second-year head coach Brett Sniffin, he’s glad that the Tigers seemed to swiftly move past the disappointing loss at Harker Heights and onto their next district test, which just happens to be against the rival they haven’t beaten since a 42-24 home win for coach Rodney Southern’s Tigers over coach Bryce Monsen’s Wildcats 11 years ago.

“It’s like kids can forget about things pretty quickly nowadays. They were back to their same selves by Saturday morning. It’s the adults who dwell on things longer,” Sniffin said Thursday, adding that “we shot ourselves in the foot” against Heights.

Temple has won 11 consecutive 12-6A games and at least a share of the last two league championships, so beating the Wildcats clearly would be a landmark achievement for a Belton team that seeks its first playoff berth since 2018.

But because the Tigers are tied for second place with Heights and Killeen Shoemaker at 2-1, Sniffin insisted that pursuing a key league win takes precedence over any aspect of the rivalry with Temple.

“Yeah, it’s a big deal, but we’re an even-keeled football team,” Sniffin said. “I’m not trying to downplay it, but it’s just another district game and we’re trying to scratch and claw to get Belton back in the playoffs.”


BIG RED, BIG OPPORTUNITY: When Belton hosts rival Temple at 7:30 Friday night at Tiger Field, senior tight end Bryan "Itty" Henry (left) and senior safety/linebacker Wriley Madden will try to help the Tigers achieve something they haven't done since 2010: defeat the Wildcats. The Houston-committed Henry has made 23 catches for 296 yards and two touchdowns, while Madden has collected 32 tackles during his first season playing on Belton's defense. (File photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)



Because last year’s Temple-Belton game was canceled, Stewart and Sniffin haven’t matched wits on the gridiron since 2014, when Stewart was in his first of two seasons as the Wildcats’ defensive coordinator for head coach Mike Spradlin and Sniffin was head coach at Fort Bend Ridge Point in greater Houston.

A Class 5A Division I Region III semifinal pitted the 10-1, fourth-ranked Wildcats against the 12-0, No. 2 Panthers at Berry Center in Cypress. In a classic battle that was deadlocked with 4 seconds remaining, junior kicker Cole Martin made a 42-yard field goal as time expired to give the Wildcats a dramatic 38-35 victory, continuing a journey that took them to their first state championship game since 1992.

“That was a good game,” Stewart recalled of the Ridge Point clash. “They were hyper-talented. It looked like a factory. They walked out and were all 6-3 to 6-5.”

Entering his debut season as Belton’s coach last year, Sniffin remarked that he wouldn’t buy a meal in Temple because he still hadn’t gotten over Ridge Point’s gut-wrenching defeat after his talented 2014 Panthers had allowed only 101 points in their first 12 games.

“That still hurts. It still hurts,” Sniffin said in September 2020. “I don’t eat in Temple or anything because you know I still have a bitter taste in my mouth. I’m joking, by the way.”

Stewart’s first game as Temple’s head coach was a 28-20 road win against coach Bob Shipley’s Belton team in 2016. The Wildcats’ next two meetings with the Tigers were closely contested, as well: a 38-31 Temple victory at Wildcat Stadium in 2017, then a 58-55, triple-overtime triumph for the host Wildcats on Jared Wiley’s game-ending touchdown pass to Quentin Johnston in 2018.

Stewart has a healthy respect for the brand of football that Sniffin’s teams play. The Tigers opened 12-6A play with a 41-14 win at Copperas Cove and followed it by forcing six turnovers in a 21-14 overtime victory against visiting Bryan two weeks ago.

“They’re big, they’re physical and they have a pretty tough scheme. Again, if you looked at the score (vs. Harker Heights), you’re like, ‘Oh, they’re not very good.’ But if you know what you’re talking about and you watch them, they can play this game,” Stewart said. “You turn on the film and they play the game the way (Sniffin) wants them to play it. They play hard.

“He’s pretty personable. I still know a lot of people in Belton and they say the kids there love him, so that’s the tell-tale.”

Asked whether he would want to see the Temple-Belton rivalry series continue if the Tigers drop into 5A in the University Interscholastic League’s upcoming reclassification and realignment in February, Stewart – who’s also Temple’s athletic director – said he’d favor it largely because it generates so much interest among both schools’ fans.

“If you take your coaching hat off and put your AD hat on, that’s going to be a big draw and there’s a lot of people who look forward to that game regardless,” Stewart said. “You’ve got to think there’s going to be a pretty packed house (Friday night at Tiger Field). The last time we did play here (at Wildcat Stadium vs. Belton), it was standing room only. So you can do your athletic program some benefits.

"If you take that (AD) hat off, there’s some years we match up better against people and some years we don’t.”

Belton’s defense allowed an average of 264.2 yards through its first five games, but last Friday the Tigers couldn’t keep up with a talented Harker Heights offense that’s spearheaded by dynamic junior running back Re’Shaun Sanford II.

Sanford rushed 15 times for 248 yards and four touchdowns – 46, 82, 36 and 27 yards – in the first half and the Knights also produced 175 passing yards en route to the stunning 50-7 halftime advantage. Playing only briefly after halftime, Sanford finished with 257 yards and a school-record five TDs on 17 carries.

Sniffin said that Belton’s defense must recapture its form from the first five games for the Tigers to have success against Temple’s explosive offense. The Wildcats are powered by senior running back Samari Howard (878 rushing yards, seven touchdowns), 12-6A’s Co-MVP last season. Senior Devan Williams (448 yards, seven touchdowns) and junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot (323 yards and three TDs, plus three TD runs) have been dangerous while catching passes from sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield (1,081 yards, 14 TDs).

Howard, a recent Air Force commitment, rushed for 208 yards and two touchdowns against Ellison – surpassing 3,100 yards for his three-season varsity career – and added a 29-yard TD reception from Rumfield.

“We have to get back to playing the defense we had played the whole year. We need to read our keys and responsibilities, play hard and try to get some turnovers,” Sniffin said. “When you play a team like Harker Heights or Temple with talented athletes, they can score every time they have the ball.

“Temple is very similar to what we saw last week with Heights. They spread you out and hit you up the middle with the tailback (Howard), who is a really good talent, I think. They’ve got receivers who can go and a young quarterback who can get it to them.”

Junior linebacker Donovan Thompson leads Belton’s defense with 39 tackles, senior safety Aaron Bain has 38 stops and senior outside linebacker/safety Wriley Madden has 32. Senior cornerbacks Kage Carmichael and Connor Whitman have grabbed three interceptions apiece. Senior safety Trent West (24 tackles) is an experienced defender, and Stewart said he’s impressed with rangy senior nose tackle Gabe Kalama.

“On defense they’re hyper-aggressive and they run around. They’re fast-fitting and they make it happen right now,” Stewart said of Belton’s defense.

In district road wins against Bryan and Ellison, Temple’s defense ended up facing quarterbacks it hadn't expected to see. It’s a different story for the Wildcats against Belton’s offense, which has used both junior Slade LeBlanc and sophomore Ty Brown at QB throughout the season.

The 5-foot-11, 193-pound LeBlanc is an athletic, dual-threat performer who’s rushed for 247 yards and two touchdowns and passed for 255 yards and a TD, while the 6-4, 180-pound Brown is a traditional pocket passer who’s thrown for 787 yards with eight touchdowns and eight interceptions but has minus-79 yards as a rusher.

“LeBlanc is a dual-threat guy and I haven’t seen anybody just handle him yet. They use him as the running quarterback, but he can throw the ball good enough,” Stewart said. “And they bring the Ty Brown kid in. I think either one of those guys is tough to deal with. It’s a little bit of a different element because you’ve got to tweak your gameplan based on which one’s in there.”

Whichever quarterback is in there for the Tigers will have two stellar, experienced senior targets to throw the ball to in receiver Seth Morgan and Houston-committed tight end Bryan “Itty” Henry. Morgan leads Belton with 32 receptions, 404 yards and four touchdowns, while the 6-3, 228-pound Henry has caught 23 balls for 296 yards and two TDs.

“You better keep an eye on both of those two. They do a good job, even the other guys,” Stewart said. “(Henry’s) got unbelievable hands for a big kid, and he can move. They’ll do some short game, they’ll play-action it down the field and they’ll take their shots. And then they’re 6-4 and 6-5 across the offensive line, and the smallest one is 6-3, 265.”

Senior running back Elijah Warner leads Belton with 381 rushing yards.

Junior linebacker and third-year starter Taurean York, the reigning 12-6A Defensive MVP, paces Temple’s defense with 66 tackles and returned a late fumble 76 yards for a touchdown to seal the Wildcats’ comeback victory against Harker Heights. Temple has feasted on interceptions and fumble recoveries turnovers in district wins against Bryan, Heights and Ellison.

The Temple defense, which permits 390.5 yards per game, played mostly well against Ellison but did suffer a few breakdowns, allowing first-half touchdown sprints of 75 and 65 yards to unheralded running back Dominick Allison as the Eagles sliced the Wildcats’ lead from 29-7 to 29-21 by halftime, drawing Stewart's ire.

“We gave up two very long touchdown runs, and that was concerning on a couple different levels. We’re obviously not consistent with our fits at the point of attack, but then at some point you’ve got to know that when they pop one, it’s got to get on the deck,” Stewart said. “We’ve got to get that thing down at the second or third level. Good Lord, I’ve never seen anything like it. That’s not taking anything away from (Allison), but I don’t think we have the foot speed that everybody thinks we do.

“He hit it hard and he runs hard, and we’ve got to have somebody there in that B gap. It’s rinse and repeat. You’re not going to play a Killeen school or very many teams in this district that aren’t going to come downhill. They’re all going to have a back who’s going to hit it, and you’ve got to be at the point of attack faster than they are if you want to get in their gears, as I like to call it, and get them to restart.”

Temple’s defense responded well in the second half, getting significant pressure from its four-man front of senior end Eric Shorter, junior end Jaylon Jackson, senior tackle Tommy Torres and sophomore nose tackle Ayden Brown while limiting Ellison to six points in the final two quarters.

“Defensively it’s the same thing with Temple. They twist and try to confuse you,” Sniffin said. “We have to execute, play our game and avoid turnovers.”

Rumfield last week threw four touchdown passes for the second time in three district starts, but he also threw two interceptions against Ellison after being picked off three times at Bryan and being relieved by Harrison-Pilot at QB after Temple’s offense sputtered in the early going against Harker Heights.

Four years after Rumfield’s cousin TJ Rumfield overcame three interceptions to quarterback Temple to a 38-31 home win over Belton, Stewart is seeking a sharper overall performance from his skilled sophomore QB against the rival Tigers.

“(It’s a matter of) when to throw what ball. I don’t think any of Reese’s reads were completely just off-base the other night. It’s just that now you’ve got to deliver whatever ball is required in that situation,” Stewart said. “Is there a high safety? Where he’s got to really focus and what he’s getting better at is reading the middle of the field. First question I asked is, ‘What did you see?’ And he used to be like, ‘Well, Coach, he was open.’ And I’d say, ‘Yeah, he was open, but did you see the DB standing right there?’

“So (it’s about) being able to read the middle of the field and the second defender to the third defender when the play call requires that. He still gets into that, ‘I’m going to throw that 3 ball and lay it up there for him nice.’ Well, the problem is you’re laying it up there for everybody else. But he’s coming off the field seeing that, and he used to not see that.”

By the way, Reese Rumfield spent much of his childhood in Belton and his father, Brock Rumfield, was a productive quarterback for Belton from 1992-93 but now is in his first season at Temple as an assistant coach on defense.

How’s that for some extra intrigue as the Wildcats and the Tigers get ready to add another installment to their spirited rivalry?

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