SPECIAL TEAMS STRUGGLE: Crucial breakdowns sink Temple in home opener as Arlington Martin wins 43-25
INTO THE OPEN: Temple junior running back Samari Howard surges ahead after taking a handoff from senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi (10) as junior tackle Colby Rice (53) blocks during the Wildcats' 43-25 loss to Arlington Martin in their home opener Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Howard rushed 26 times for 173 yards and a 14-yard touchdown and also threw a 2-point pass to senior kicker Aaron Wagaman. After its first loss of the season, Temple (2-1) will begin its seven-game District 12-6A schedule next Friday at Copperas Cove (1-2). (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
During the week leading up to Friday night's home opener for 2-0 Temple, Wildcats head coach Scott Stewart said Arlington Martin would be the best team that his squad will have played.
He certainly was right.
After the game, Martin head coach Bob Wager said his Warriors spend a large amount of their practice time working on special teams.
That definitely showed.
Martin left the Wildcats with a bitter taste in their mouths, and not just because a guy named Lemons – Warriors senior Lenard Lemons, to be exact – sprinted through Temple's kickoff coverage unit for touchdown returns of 96 and 100-plus yards to help transform a back-and-forth battle into a runaway.
Four crucial mistakes by Temple – three of them on special teams – turned into a combined 30 points for Martin and that was far too much for the Wildcats to overcome as the Warriors grabbed a 43-25 victory at Wildcat Stadium.
“It was a combination of things, really. As a team we made big mistakes in things we've been practicing on,” said Temple senior wide receiver AJ McDuffy, who caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi in the second quarter to tie the score at 15 – only for Martin to seize control by scoring the next 28 points. “We've just got to know the concepts, basically more on special teams. It's easy to get fixed and handle. It's little things on both sides that we can fix.”
Temple has moved into the Class 6A state rankings at No. 23 after wins of 15-plus points away from home against state-ranked Longview and then Magnolia West, but the Wildcats (2-1) now must lick their wounds as they prepare to begin defense of last year's District 12-6A championship with next Friday's 12-6A opener at Copperas Cove (1-2), which won 41-22 at Granbury on Friday.
Temple trailed 8-0 only 1:14 into the game after Martin's Zaire Barrow recovered its errant punt snap in the end zone for a touchdown, and the Warriors (2-1) outscored the Wildcats 28-0 from 3 minutes into the second quarter to one second into the fourth. Temple scored 10 points in the game's last 4:02 to narrow the final margin.
“Our kids are fighters. You know, that's three weeks in a row that our defense has given up 13 points. We were just atrocious on special teams tonight, so we've got to take a look at personnel and take a look at some scheme stuff,” Stewart said. “We've been pretty solid (on special teams). Again, hat's off to (Martin). They're a big reason for that.
“Looking here, it's still kind of like, 'What the heck just happened?' I felt like we played hard against a team that probably has discernibly more talent, so we've just got to learn from the mistakes.”
Although Temple finished with 411 yards total offense and 20 first downs to Martin's 286 yards and 10 first downs, the Wildcats never gained the upper hand in large part because of their numerous breakdowns, including an interception that set up another Warriors touchdown.
“It was just a bad night to have a bad night,” Stewart said. “It's the weirdest game I've ever seen. Our defense goes out there and (Martin's) punting the ball all over the field, but you look up and you're down by 25 points. It takes you out of rhythm offensively. They kind of changed the way they played defense. It was funky.”
Temple junior running back Samari Howard rushed 26 times for 173 yards and a 14-yard touchdown in the first quarter, after which he threw a 2-point pass to senior kicker Aaron Wagaman, who tacked on a late 34-yard field goal. The Wildcats' longest play of the night was sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot's 73-yard TD pass to senior Jonah Walker with 7 seconds remaining in the fourth.
SEA OF HUMANITY: Temple senior AJ McDuffy (3) battles for yardage on a kickoff return as teammates Cydric Smith (38) and Tr'Darius Taylor join the fray and Arlington Martin's Jakob Hayes (25) and Zaire Barrow attempt to bring McDuffy down during the host Wildcats' 43-25 loss to the Warriors on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Having endured an extremely rough season opener in a 47-24 loss to 5A Division I No. 1-ranked Denton Ryan two weeks ago, Wager could empathize with the manner in which Temple struggled in losing its home opener to Martin's athletic, opportunistic crew.
“I thought it had a big-game atmosphere the moment we walked in the stadium, to be honest. This place is phenomenal. There's a lot of ghosts in this place right here, and we're happy and thankful to be able to come in here and get a win,” said Wager, whose squad produced 23 points directly off Temple's bad punt snap and Lemons' two kickoff returns for touchdowns.
“We spend a lot of time and we invest a lot of time on special teams, and when you spend a lot of time on special teams you expect to reap the rewards of it and expect for that time to pay dividends to you. And thankfully it did in several phases tonight.”
After throwing for 418 yards and six touchdowns in his first two varsity starts, Arizmendi was 12-of-21 passing for 135 yards and the TD to McDuffy. His one interception was vital, as Duke-committed safety Placide Djungu-Sungu picked off a long, floating pass near midfield early in the second quarter and returned it to Temple's 1-yard line before Army-committed quarterback Zach Mundell crashed in for a touchdown run and a 15-8 Martin lead.
Arizmendi limped off the field with an apparent lower-leg injury after being tackled on a short run with 4 minutes left in the third quarter, and Harrison-Pilot replaced him for the remainder of the game.
Finally back home for their first game at Wildcat Stadium in 11 months, the Wildcats got off to a disastrous start.
Temple's game-opening possession produced just 7 yards, and from the Wildcats' 29-yard line their punt snap sailed well over Wagaman's head. Wagaman retreated and attempted to fall on the ball in the end zone for a would-be safety, but speedy sophomore Barrow beat him to the spot and pounced on it for the touchdown with 1:14 gone. Javien Toviano then threw a 2-point pass to Ernest Cooper IV for an 8-0 Martin advantage.
However, the Wildcats made a strong response. Howard's running and Arizmendi's passing to Luke Allen and McDuffy helped Temple march to Martin's 14-yard line before Howard used stellar blocking to dash off left tackle untouched for the 14-yard touchdown. Howard then tossed a 2-point pass to an open Wagaman out of a strange conversion formation for an 8-8 deadlock midway through the first quarter.
Mundell's rolling punt pinned Temple at its 1 a minute into the second. Howard's 12-yard run gave the Wildcats some breathing room, but Djungu-Sungu then picked off Arizmendi's bomb and ran it back to the Wildcats 1 to set up Mundell's TD keeper for a 15-8 Warriors lead.
Temple senior wide receiver AJ McDuffy caught a 21-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi 3 minutes into the second quarter to move the Wildcats into a 15-15 tie with Arlington Martin, but the Warriors then scored the next 28 points on their way to a 43-25 win Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. McDuffy has two touchdown receptions in the first three games for Temple (2-1), which begins District 12-6A play next Friday night at Copperas Cove. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
Again, Temple had an answer. Arizmendi hit a slanting Harrison-Pilot in stride and the versatile sophomore gained 39 yards to the Martin 21. McDuffy then got behind the secondary and slowed down to keep his feet in bounds as he hauled in Arizmendi's well-thrown pass under the right upright for a 21-yard touchdown and another tie at 15-15, 8:54 before halftime.
“We've been running that play, and when our coach called that play I just knew I had to execute what was there,” McDuffy said. “I just ran the route hard, and the quarterback and I made a connection.”
But only 11 seconds later, the game changed drastically in Martin's favor and Temple never really recovered. Lemons fielded Wagaman's kickoff at the 4 near the left sideline and encountered sparse resistance as he ripped through the Wildcats en route to a well-blocked 96-yard touchdown. Toviano added a 2-point run and the Warriors went ahead for good at 23-15.
The first of two 49-yard field goals by left-footed senior kicker Calum Davidson staked Martin to a 26-15 halftime lead.
Wagaman's kickoff to begin the second half sailed 5 yards deep into the end zone, but instead of settling for a touchback, Lemons again made lemonade – and the Wildcats pucker. The speedy senior ran through Temple's coverage unit for the second time for what officially was a 100-yard touchdown return, giving Martin its first multiple-TD lead at 33-15.
“I'm going to plead the fifth. We have a plan; I'm just not willing to share it,” Wager deadpanned when asked whether Lemons had his coach's approval to return a kickoff from 5 yards deep into the end zone.
Even though the elusive Mundell had his 94-yard touchdown run nullified by a penalty on Martin's next possession, the Warriors still scored another TD on that drive. On fourth-and-4 at Martin's 27, the Warriors – whose offense employed late and major shifts throughout the night – eschewed a punt and snapped the ball to Barrow, who raced around the left edge for 35 yards. Mundell then passed to Cydd Ford for 30 yards before Ford grabbed an end-around toss and threw a touch pass to Nick Panella for a 4-yard touchdown and a 40-15 game with 6:35 left in the third.
“We're trying to get better, and this Temple team, especially up front, was a perfect tool for us,” said Wager, who's guided Martin to the playoffs in all 14 of his previous seasons as its head coach, including last year's 11-2 run to the 6A Division I Region I semifinals before a loss to eventual state runner-up Duncanville in which QB Mundell broke his thumb early.
“They're a really good defensive front. We knew we'd have our hands full. There's no doubt that we did, and I hope Coach Stewart would say the same (about Martin's front). We're proud of our defensive line. I think we made each other better tonight, and this time of year I think that's what it's all about.”
Arizmendi's 25-yard pass to Harrison-Pilot on the ensuing possession helped Temple eventually get inside Martin's 10, but Howard – at QB the play after after Arizmendi limped off – was stopped a yard short on his fourth-and-3 rush to the left side.
After Davidson's second 49-yard field goal to begin the fourth capped the Warriors' scoring, Howard exploded for a 51-yard run that led to Wagaman's 34-yard field goal with 4:04 left.
“He's a grown man. That kid will literally put the team on his back and say, 'Let's go,'” Stewart said of Howard. “I can't tell you how valuable that attitude is.”
Temple produced one more big highlight as Harrison-Pilot showed off his arm strength with a long pass to backup receiver Walker, who caught it in stride and sprinted in for a 73-yard touchdown with 7 seconds remaining.
ARLINGTON MARTIN 43,
No. 23 TEMPLE 25
Martin 8 18 14 3 – 43
Temple 8 7 0 10 – 25
Martin – Zaire Barrow recovered punt snap in end zone (Ernest Cooper IV pass from Javien Toviano), 10:46.
Temple – Samari Howard 14 run (Aaron Wagaman pass from Howard), 5:52.
Martin – Zach Mundell 1 run (Calum Davidson kick), 9:59.
Temple – AJ McDuffy 21 pass from Humberto Arizmendi (Wagaman kick), 8:54.
Martin – Lenard Lemons 96 kickoff return (Toviano run), 8:43.
Martin – Davidson 49 field goal, 4:08.
Martin – Lemons 100 kickoff return (Davidson kick), 11:46.
Martin – Nick Panella 4 pass from Cydd Ford (Davidson kick), 6:35.
Martin – Davidson 49 field goal, 11:59.
Temple – Wagaman 34 field goal, 4:02.
Temple – Jonah Walker 73 pass from Mikal Harrison-Pilot (Wagaman kick), 0:07.
First downs: Martin 10; Temple 20.
Rushes-yards: Martin 27-139; Temple 43-203.
Passing yards: Martin 147; Temple 208.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Martin 11-20-0; Temple 13-26-1.
Punts-average: Martin 5-48.6; Temple 5-41.6.
Fumbles-lost: Martin 0; Temple 1-0.
Penalties-yards: Martin 11-83; Temple 7-51.
Rushing – Martin: Barrow 7-65, Mundell 11-63, DK Smittick 4-20, Cal Robinson 2-8, Amiel Brooks 1-0, Ford 2-(-17); Temple: Howard 26-173, Jalen Robinson 3-27, Harrison-Pilot 4-15, Wagaman 1-12, Thomas McVade 1-5, Arizmendi 7-0, team 1-(-29).
Passing – Martin: Mundell 9-18-0-128, Ford 2-2-0-19; Temple: Arizmendi 12-22-1-135, Harrison-Pilot 1-4-0-73.
Receiving – Martin: Angel Merida 3-68, Ford 3-43, Mundell 1-15, Smittick 1-8, Barrow 1-6, Panella 1-4, Kyron Askey 1-3; Temple: Walker 1-73, Harrison-Pilot 2-64, McDuffy 3-37, Luke Allen 4-33, Howard 1-2, Ke'Andre Smith 1-2, Tr'Darius Taylor 1-(-3).