• Greg Wille

RUNAWAY: Blocked punts, sharp offense, defense power Temple to ninth straight win over Belton, 50-15

Updated: Oct 20


BLOCK PARTY: Temple senior Jalen Robinson blocks a punt by Belton senior William Hayes as Wildcats senior O'Tarian Peoples gets in on the action during the first quarter of Temple's 50-15 win over the rival Tigers in Friday night's District 12-6A game at Tiger Field. Temple's Isaiah Rodriguez recovered the ball at Belton's 18-yard line, setting up senior Samari Howard's 1-yard touchdown run. Robinson blocked another punt deep in Tigers territory later in the first period and Peoples returned it 2 yards for a TD. District-leading Temple (5-2, 4-0) defeated Belton (3-4, 2-2) for the ninth consecutive meeting. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)





By GREG WILLE

TempleBeltonSports.com

gwille2@hot.rr.com


BELTON – During the four-game winning streak that Temple carried into its rivalry showdown with Belton, the Wildcats had enjoyed stretches of being highly explosive on offense and very stingy on defense.

However, the thing that Temple had been missing for the most part was the ability of its special teams to make game-changing plays.

The winds of change certainly blew on a cool, blustery Friday night in front of a large crowd at Tiger Field.

Temple already led 14-2 less than 5 minutes in when Jalen Robinson charged up the middle and blocked two Belton punts in a 3-minute span, with the first setting up a Samari Howard touchdown run and the second being scooped up by O’Tarian Peoples for another score.

Those highlight-reel plays and Reese Rumfield’s 75-yard touchdown pass to Tr’Darius Taylor 9 seconds into the game set the tone for a dominant all-around performance as District 12-6A leader Temple charged to a 50-15 victory over Belton, the Wildcats’ ninth consecutive win in the neighboring schools’ Bell County rivalry series.

Temple junior linebacker Taurean York said the Wildcats (5-2 overall, 4-0 in 12-6A) entered the Belton game hungry – desperate even – to do something big on special teams, and that finally came to fruition at an opportune time, much to the delight of special teams coordinator Robby Case and head coach Scott Stewart.

“We hadn’t blocked a punt since Roman Jackson against Harker Heights at Leo Buckley Stadium in 2019 when we won 37-3. So for Jalen Robinson to block two of them back-to-back, I mean, that’s awesome,” York said. “We talked about that in our special teams meetings. Some things were said. It was like, ‘Guys, we have to block a punt. It’s been two years. It’s about time.’ So for us to get two, I know Coach Case is happy and Coach Stewart is beyond happy.”

Stewart said afterward that Temple practices its special teams far too much not to have them pay off in a major way during games. The Wildcats’ long-awaited breakthrough in the kicking game came at an ideal time against Belton (3-4, 2-2), whose last win against Temple came in 2010.

“I’m so proud of that. I hope it’s a breakthrough, because a breakthrough means bigger things are coming. We work on it so hard (on special teams) and take a lot of pride in it,” Stewart said after improving to 6-0 against Belton in six years as Temple’s head coach. “We work more on it here than anywhere I’ve ever been, and I don’t know what other people do – don’t care. But we put a lot of emphasis on that, and (in previous games) we were just hesitating.

“We weren’t believing in our techniques and we weren’t believing in ourselves. Everybody was kind of tentative back there around the punter. It was like, ‘Look, we teach you how to avoid that. Trust the technique, trust what you work on and just go for it. If we screw it up, we screw it up.’ I don’t like emotional penalties, and we had a couple of those tonight. (But) I’ll take effort penalties.”


CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES: After returning Jalen Robinson's blocked punt 2 yards for a first-quarter touchdown, Temple's O'Tarian Peoples (2) celebrates with fellow senior LeMichael Thompson (6) and juniors Naeten Mitchell (4) and Isaiah Rodriguez (82) during the Wildcats' 50-15 win at rival Belton on Friday night at Tiger Field. It was one of two blocked punts for Robinson as defending District 12-6A champion Temple (5-2, 4-0) built a 28-2 lead less than 8 minutes into the game. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Howard carried 25 times for 101 yards and touchdowns of 3, 1 and 1 yards – his third three-TD output in four district games – in a workmanlike game by the Air Force-committed senior running back, who also completed a 2-point pass to senior Tommy Torres for the second straight week as Temple moved closer to clinching its ninth straight playoff berth.

With 12 touchdowns and 78 total points this season, Howard now is 15 points away from breaking Lache Seastrunk’s Temple program record of 312 career points from 2007-09. Howard has scored 47 touchdowns in his three-year varsity career, six away from surpassing Seastrunk’s all-time Wildcats mark of 52.

Junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot and senior Tavaris Sullivan added short touchdown runs for Temple. Four years after his cousin TJ Rumfield quarterbacked Temple to a 38-31 home win over Belton, sophomore QB Reese Rumfield completed 13 of 20 passes for 200 yards with the long TD strike to Taylor and zero interceptions in a sharp, efficient performance to help the Wildcats' offense rack up 372 yards.

Both Belton touchdowns came on passes by sophomore quarterback Ty Brown – 69 yards to junior Slade LeBlanc late in the first quarter and 46 yards to junior Mason Ramm early in the fourth. The Tigers’ first score came 2:41 into the game when they blocked a Wildcats punt out of the side of the end zone for a safety.

Seniors Kaleb Hill and Faylin Lee each made an interception for Temple, which allowed only 93 rushing yards and 238 yards overall as its physical defensive front put heavy pressure on Brown throughout the night.

Belton seniors Seth Morgan and Bryan “Itty” Henry came in with a combined 55 receptions for 700 yards and six touchdowns, but the Wildcats didn’t allow top receiver Morgan to make a catch and limited Houston-committed tight end Henry to one grab for minus-3 yards.

“We just wanted to impose our will, man. I think it’s time for us to start playing playoff football, and I think tonight was a great step in the right direction,” York, who made a team-best 10 tackles, said after Temple’s 12th straight 12-6A win dating to 2019. “Was it playoff football? Not yet, but I we’re taking great laps toward it and that’s all we can ask for.”

It was the first Temple-Belton game since 2019, when the Wildcats blew open a close game to prevail 66-34 over the host Tigers. Belton forfeited last November’s scheduled game at Wildcat Stadium because of COVID-19 factors in its program.

The Tigers of second-year head coach Brett Sniffin beat Copperas Cove and Bryan for a 2-0 start in 12-6A, but Belton has allowed a combined 107 points in losses to Harker Heights and Temple and now shares third place with Bryan, Killeen Ellison and Killeen Shoemaker. Belton’s next two games are Thursday matchups with Ellison and Shoemaker at Killeen’s Leo Buckley Stadium.

Stewart said he liked the way Temple handled the hype surrounding the rivalry duel and stayed focused on playing its best football in all phases.

“The effort’s there. The intensity’s there. We’ve got to shore up some stuff. I told them before the game, ‘I’m going to be tougher on you in situations like this so your emotions can’t get the best of you,’” Stewart said. “I think these young men did a great job in a tough situation. With all they read and everything, it’s hard to not let that seep in, and these kids did a great job tonight of not letting that seep in.

“(Belton) got some momentum going in the second half and we kind of shut the door on them. I’m so proud of these guys. It was just a good team effort – special teams, defense, offense.”

After scoring a combined 27 points in consecutive home losses to top-ranked Austin Westlake (7-0) and Magnolia West (7-0) to begin the season, Temple has erupted for 259 points during its five-game winning streak.


LONG-DISTANCE CONNECTION: Temple sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield (10) and senior wide receiver Tr'Darius Taylor celebrate in midair after Taylor caught a 75-yard touchdown pass from Rumfield on the game's first offensive snap, sparking the Wildcats to a 50-15 win over rival Belton on Friday night at Tiger Field. Rumfield was 13-of-20 passing for 200 yards with one TD and no interceptions. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



The Wildcats had the game’s first possession, going into a brisk wind coming from the north. The breeze didn’t ruffle Rumfield, whose long pass on the first snap was caught in stride by senior speedster Taylor for a 75-yard touchdown. The first of six extra points by senior kicker Danis Bajric put Temple up 7-0 with 9 seconds gone.

After the Wildcats defense forced a quick three-and-out series on Belton’s opening possession, it actually was a Temple special teams mistake that gave the Tigers their first highlight.

The punt snap sailed well over the head of Bajric, who retreated inside his 10-yard line and retrieved the ball. Facing oncoming pressure, he turned and tried to kick a sidewinding punt but a Belton player blocked it. The Tigers tried to recover the ball for a potential touchdown, but it skidded out of the left side of the end zone for a safety and a 7-2 game 2:41 into it.

Belton got the ball back after the free kick, but safety Hill easily intercepted Brown’s pass in the middle of the field at Temple’s 44-yard line and returned it 41 yards to the Tigers 15. A pass interference penalty moved the ball to the 3 before Howard dragged a defender across the goal line for a touchdown and a 14-2 Wildcats advantage.

Temple stymied Belton’s next possession, then the Wildcats got the impact play they’ve been looking for on special teams. From the Belton 29, Temple’s front shifted just before the punt snap and the Tigers failed to impede Robinson, who barreled through the middle and blocked the punt of William Hayes before the Wildcats’ Isaiah Rodriguez recovered the ball on the 18.

Rumfield’s 12-yard pass to senior Kobe Smith advanced Temple to the 2, and Howard took a direct snap and ran off left tackle for a 1-yard touchdown and a 21-2 lead with 5:05 remaining in the opening period.

After Temple’s defense didn’t allow a yard on Belton’s next possession, the Wildcats again produced a difference-making play in the kicking game. Temple didn’t shift before that snap, but Robinson and Smith invaded Hayes’ personal space up the gut anyway and Robinson was credited with blocking another punt.

The ball bounced toward the end zone before Peoples recovered it around the 2 and catapulted himself across the goal line for a touchdown – igniting a hearty celebration with several teammates – to put the Wildcats in total command at 28-2 with 4:08 left in the first quarter.

“They trusted their technique and you see the light turn on,” Stewart said. “Now they want to go out there (on special teams) and I’ve got people asking if they can be on it. That’s what that creates.”

Belton’s offense finally broke through on its next possession. From the Tigers 31, the fleet-footed LeBlanc – who alternated with Brown at quarterback for the season’s first six games but played primarily running back against Temple – ran past the Wildcats’ secondary to catch Brown’s accurate pass and sprinted in for the 69-yard touchdown for a 28-9 game with 3:23 left in the first quarter.


UNDER PRESSURE: Temple senior defensive tackle Tommy Torres (90) pushes Belton sophomore quarterback Ty Brown to the turf as Wildcats lineman Eric Shorter (13) and Ka'Morion Carter also pursue during Temple's 50-15 victory Friday night at Tiger Field. Brown threw touchdown passes to Slade LeBlanc and Mason Ramm, but Temple limited him to 6-for-17 accuracy and he threw interceptions to seniors Kaleb Hill and Faylin Lee. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Belton linebacker Ke’Aundre Johnson recovered a fumble at the Temple 40 after Taylor’s catch on the next Wildcats drive, but the Tigers couldn’t take capitalize on the takeaway as fierce pressure forced an incomplete fourth-down pass by Brown for a turnover on downs.

“That’s probably one of our more experienced groups. We lost two (starters) from last year, but they’re starting to gel together. I thought they played with good technique against bigger guys,” Stewart said of his starting defensive line of senior end Eric Shorter, junior end Jaylon Jackson, senior tackle Torres and sophomore nose tackle Ayden Brown. “We might as well just record that and play it every week. There’s nothing we’re going to do about that.

“I’m just proud. They play so hard. We’re starting to fit it and they’re trusting their techniques. Because the whole deal is the defense breaks down if the D-line doesn’t do their techniques and if the linebackers don’t trust that the D-line is going to do their techniques. We’ve come a long way and we’re getting better.”

Rumfield’s 15-yard pass to senior Devan Williams and connections of 12 and 8 yards to Harrison-Pilot helped Temple reach the 2 before Harrison-Pilot ran to the left side and bowled over a defender at the goal line for a touchdown. Playing quarterback for the 2-point conversion, Howard rolled right and threw to the 6-foot-5, 255-pound Torres for a 36-9 lead with 7:25 remaining in the second period, a score that held up through halftime.

After Temple’s defense stuffed Belton’s first possession of the second half, the Wildcats put the game away on their opening drive of the third. Starting from their 15, they used Howard’s 18-yard run and Rumfield’s passes of 14 and 12 yards to Harrison-Pilot to march deep into Tigers territory.


POWER PLAY: Temple junior wide receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot runs through Belton senior cornerback Kage Carmichael to score a 2-yard touchdown during the second quarter of the Wildcats' 50-15 victory over the Tigers on Friday night at Tiger Field. Harrison-Pilot also made six receptions for 61 yards from sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield as District 12-6A leader Temple extended its winning streak to five games. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)



Rumfield deftly floated a pass to Harrison-Pilot along the left sideline for a 15-yard gain to the 1, then Howard powered through a defender at the goal line for another 1-yard touchdown and a 43-9 advantage at the 5:20 mark.

Stewart saw major strides by Rumfield, who had thrown eight TD passes but also five interceptions in Temple’s first three district games.

“Reese is growing every week, and we talked about that this week. I mean, he threw a ball down here to Mikal that I’ve never seen him throw,” Stewart said. “He saw the coverage, and we talked about how he’s got to know when to throw what ball. He’s starting to see it. He wouldn’t have thrown that ball two weeks ago. That kid grows every single day, and big things are coming for him.”

On Belton’s ensuing possession, linebacker Lee picked off Brown’s screen pass in the middle at the Tigers 32 and returned it to the 13. Sullivan ran for 7 and 5 yards before pushing behind his line for a 1-yard touchdown and a 50-9 lead with a minute left in the third.

Belton’s second long passing play came 3 minutes into the final period when Ramm caught Brown’s throw in the middle and immediately broke away from two defenders before dashing in for the 46-yard touchdown to complete the scoring at 50-15.

Temple’s aggressive, sure-tackling defense helped limit the tall, lanky Brown to 6-of-17 accuracy for 145 yards with two TDs and two interceptions.

Said three-year starter and leading tackler about the Wildcats’ strong defensive line play: “I see a lot of resiliency, man. I stumbled across this blog where they were talking about how in the first two weeks the D-line wasn’t getting any pressure, they were soft, they were getting pushed back. I feel like they’ve come out and been physical.

“I mean, they make me look good. Without them, I wouldn’t be anything. So for them to take a step in the right direction and just to get better each and every week, that’s all we can ask for. They’ve been doing a great job.”

Next for Temple is its homecoming game at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium against Shoemaker (3-3, 2-2), whose Grey Wolves were edged 57-56 in overtime Friday by Harker Heights. Temple had to overcome strong challenges to defeat Shoemaker the last two seasons, including the Wildcats’ 27-24 road victory last year that clinched their outright 12-6A championship.

“Obviously we’re not going to be as fast as them. They’re one of the fastest schools in the state. I just feel like we have to beat them to where they’re going and play faster than them,” York said about the Grey Wolves. “They’re faster physically, but mentally if we beat them to where they want to be, I think we’re going to have a great shot next Friday night.”


DISTRICT 12-6A FOOTBALL


TEMPLE 50, BELTON 15

Temple 28 8 14 0 – 50

Belton 9 0 0 6 – 15

First quarter

Temple – Tr’Darius Taylor 75 pass from Reese Rumfield (Danis Bajric kick), 11:51.

Belton – Safety; punt blocked out of end zone, 9:19.

Temple – Samari Howard 3 run (Bajric kick), 7:37.

Temple – Howard 1 run (Bajric kick), 5:05.

Temple – O’Tarian Peoples 2 blocked punt return (Bajric kick), 4:08.

Belton – Slade LeBlanc 69 pass from Ty Brown (Zach White kick), 3:23.

Second quarter

Temple – Mikal Harrison-Pilot 2 run (Tommy Torres pass from Howard), 7:25.

Third quarter

Temple – Howard 1 run (Bajric kick), 5:20.

Temple – Tavaris Sullivan 1 run (Bajric kick), 0:52.

Fourth quarter

Belton – Mason Ramm 46 pass from Brown (run failed), 9:25.


TEAM STATISTICS

Rushes-yards: Temple 41-172; Belton 36-93.

Passing yards: Temple 200; Belton 145.

Completions-attempts-interceptions: Temple 13-20-0; Belton 6-17-2.

Total plays-offensive yards: Temple 61-372; Belton 53-238.


INDIVIDUAL STATISTICS

Rushing – Temple: Howard 25-101, Damarion Willis 4-45, Sullivan 5-20, Taylor 1-7, Jalen Robinson 3-7, Harrison-Pilot 1-2, Rumfield 1-(-4), team 1-(-6); Belton: LeBlanc 17-49, Elijah Warner 14-28, Brown 4-14, Seth Morgan 1-2.

Passing – Temple: Rumfield 13-20-0-200; Belton: Brown 6-17-2-145.

Receiving – Temple: Taylor 3-89, Harrison-Pilot 6-62, Devan Williams 2-29, Kobe Smith 1-12, Michael Heckstall 1-8; Belton: LeBlanc 1-69, Ramm 2-66, Garrett Oliveira 1-9, Warner 1-4, Bryan “Itty” Henry 1-(-3).

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