SPEEDY SHOWDOWN: 12-6A leader Temple hosts fast Shoemaker; Howard seeks Wildcats career scoring mark
NEARING A MAJOR MILESTONE: After rushing for three touchdowns in Temple's 50-15 win at rival Belton last Friday, senior running back Samari Howard needs 15 more points to break Lache Seastrunk's Wildcats career scoring record of 312 points. Howard and District 12-6A leader Temple (5-2, 4-0) play their homecoming game against Killeen Shoemaker (3-3, 2-2) at 7:30 tonight at Wildcat Stadium. Mikal Harrison-Pilot scored a touchdown in the final 2 minutes as the Wildcats overtook the host Grey Wolves 27-24 last year at Leo Buckley Stadium to clinch the outright 12-6A championship. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Going into Temple’s homecoming football game against Killeen Shoemaker at 7:30 tonight at Wildcat Stadium, senior running back Samari Howard is 15 points away from becoming the Wildcats’ all-time leading scorer.
And considering how strongly Shoemaker has challenged Temple in the teams’ last two meetings, the Wildcats might need for the Air Force-committed Howard to produce 15 or more points to make sure they get past the speedy Grey Wolves and remain alone at the top of the District 12-6A standings.
After using a dominant all-around performance to beat rival Belton 50-15 last Friday at Tiger Field, Temple (5-2, 4-0) is riding a five-game winning streak – averaging 51.8 points in those victories – and has won its last 12 district games dating to 2019.
But although Shoemaker’s record doesn’t pop off the page at 3-3 overall and 2-2 in 12-6A, the impressive speed of Penn State-committed quarterback Omari Evans and head coach Toby Foreman’s Grey Wolves – who seek to bounce back after a 57-56 overtime loss to Harker Heights – certainly does.
“It’s anybody with a single-digit number. If you wear a single digit at Shoe, you are a dude,” Temple sixth-year head coach Scott Stewart said with a laugh, pointing out that Evans sports the No. 7 jersey.
Two years ago at Wildcat Stadium, Shoemaker used its explosive rushing attack to control most of the game, but the Wildcats' defense came up with a must-have turnover on downs deep in its territory and Temple scored 21 points in the fourth quarter to rally for a hard-earned 38-28 win behind Howard’s four touchdown runs.
Last Nov. 19 at Killeen’s Leo Buckley Stadium, the Grey Wolves took a 24-20 lead into the final minutes, but Temple inserted then-sophomore receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot at quarterback and he scored the go-ahead 8-yard touchdown run for a 27-24 lead before the Wildcats’ defense delivered a fourth-down stand to secure a dramatic victory, clinching the outright 12-6A championship.
So as Temple strives to seize its ninth consecutive playoff berth with a win tonight, Stewart is fully aware of how dangerous fleet-footed Shoemaker can be based on the Wildcats’ recent battles with the Grey Wolves.
“Speed, speed and more speed. They’re salty and can flat-out play. They’ve got effective schemes and they play sound football,” Stewart said about Shoemaker, which reached the playoffs last season and finished 8-3. “Coach Foreman, I have as much respect for him as I have for anybody. I watched Shoemaker play before he got there (in 2017), and it ain’t even close. He’s done a great job.
“He’s got them thinking the right way as far as the discipline and reacting. It used to be where something bad would happen and they would just implode. And that’s just not the case.”
A win against Shoemaker would move Temple to 5-0 in district, ensuring that only second-place Harker Heights (6-1, 3-1) could potentially overtake the Wildcats for first in the unlikely event that Temple – a 44-34 home winner against Heights on Oct. 1 – loses its final two league games to Killeen and Copperas Cove. Every other 12-6A team already has at least two league losses.
With wins in at least two of their final three games, the Wildcats can clinch at least a share of their third straight 12-6A championship and the district’s No. 1 seed for the Class 6A Division II playoffs.
With 78 points scored this season and 298 in his stellar three-year varsity career, Howard needs 14 more points to tie the Temple career record of 312, set by running back Lache Seastrunk from 2007-09.
With 979 rushing yards this year, Howard is on the verge of his second straight 1,000-yard season and has compiled 3,206 rushing yards. Last year’s 12-6A co-MVP also displayed his versatility by completing a 2-point pass to senior defensive tackle Tommy Torres in consecutive wins over Killeen Ellison and Belton.
Wildcats senior slot receiver and kick returner Tr’Darius Taylor said he’s been impressed by various aspects of Howard’s game, from his attitude to his athleticism.
“It’s how much fun Samari has doing it, and he stays disciplined and humble,” Taylor said. “What I enjoy watching him run the ball a lot is the way he waits patiently on the hole to open up, then he just hits it. The acceleration he hits it with, it’s like, ‘Oh, my God.’ And his leaping ability, I’ve been watching him jump over guys since our freshman year.”
Taylor provided the tone-setting, highlight-reel play in Temple’s ninth straight victory over Belton, catching a 75-yard touchdown pass from sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield (13-of-20 passing, 200 yards, no interceptions) on the game’s first offensive snap as the Wildcats went against a strong wind.
“I think No. 1 was handling the emotional situation, and No. 2 was handling the elements, because that’s the first time (this season) that it’s really, really blown. The wind was blowing all day long, so we made some adjustments in pregame,” Stewart said. “Part of that is we try to be intentional.
"I said, ‘Guys, in pregame we’re literally going to split it in half. We’re going to throw the ball this way, then we’re going to throw the ball the other way. Quarterbacks, you’re going to have to see how it comes out of your hand and see what the wind is doing.’”
Jalen Robinson blocked two punts and fellow senior O’Tarian Peoples easily returned one of them for a short touchdown as the Wildcats raced out to a 28-2 lead with less than 8 minutes gone on their way to a 35-point win.
“It was great. It was a lot of fun. We just came in prepared like it was any other game,” Taylor said. “Like Coach always says, the next week matters, because it’s the next week. So we just came ready.”
Stewart was impressed by the way his team removed emotion as much as possible in a rivalry matchup and focused on executing the gameplan.
“I was pleased just how they handled a potentially rough situation. Show me somebody that’s emotionally at a 10 (for a football game), and then show be somebody that’s at a 10 emotionally that’s productive anywhere else in their life,” Stewart said. “I told them, ‘I’m going to be a lot harder on you in games like that, because I can’t have you emotionally at a 10, or even a 9 or even an 8. I want you at a 10 physically, I want you at a 10 focused, I want you at a 10 spiritually, I want you at a 10 mindset. You can’t do all that and be high on the emotional scale. You need to be at a 5.
“I don’t believe in ‘trap games,’ but potentially there are games where emotionally – especially when you start throwing the word ‘rivalry’ around – you can fall into that trap," he added. "If this game means more to (the opponent) than it does to us, great. I just don’t want a game to mean a lot emotionally to us.”
WHATEVER IT TAKES: Temple's Mikal Harrison-Pilot dives through Killeen Shoemaker defenders for an 8-yard touchdown run with less than 2 minutes remaining, the deciding score in the Wildcats' 27-24 win over the host Grey Wolves last Nov. 19 at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen. Then-sophomore Harrison-Pilot also made a 22-yard TD reception for Temple, whose comeback victory clinched the outright District 12-6A championship. (File photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
As for Shoemaker, the Grey Wolves certainly are trying to rebound from an emotional defeat against Harker Heights a week ago.
In a high-scoring, back-and-forth affair, Shoemaker scored 14 points in the final 71 seconds on a pair of long touchdown passes by Evans to produce a 49-49 deadlock, then used an interception to create an opportunity to kick a 21-yard field goal for the win in the seconds. However, the Knights blocked the kick to force the shootout into overtime.
A 14-yard touchdown run by senior QB Evans, his fourth scoring rush of the night, plus the extra point gave the Grey Wolves a 56-49 lead to begin OT, but Harker Heights answered with a 2-yard TD rush by hulking senior Terrance Carter. The Knights then opted to go for the 2-point conversion and the win, and the 240-pound Carter ran it in on the left side to help Heights prevail in a 57-56 thriller.
Heights junior star running back Re’Shaun Sanford II had a monstrous game against Shoemaker’s defense, breaking his own school record with 368 rushing yards while scoring three touchdowns on 41 carries.
Despite that, Stewart said it’s not a given that Howard can get the 15 points he needs to break Temple’s scoring record.
“Especially against these guys, because statistically they’re the best defense in the district,” Stewart said about Shoemaker, which allows 296.8 yards per game. “It’s their team speed, and they’re big up front. They attack the line of scrimmage.”
Senior defensive back Kobe Burgess lead Shoemaker with 46 tackles, and he and 6-foot-5, 180-pound Khamari Terrell – a high-level 400-meter runner – have two interceptions apiece. Junior lineman Zavian Tibbs (6-3, 265) has seven tackles for loss among his 29 stops.
After playing primarily on defense at cornerback as a junior, Evans moved to quarterback this season and has sparked Shoemaker’s speed-based offense. The three-star recruit has rushed for 740 yards and seven touchdowns and passed for 671 yards and seven TDs.
“The Evans kid who’s going to Penn State, he’s electric. He’s going there as a cornerback, and he’s as good as advertised there, too. He can absolutely roll,” Stewart said. “Getting in his gears is the only chance you’ve got. If he hits third gear, the only thing that’s going to stop him is if we throw a wire across the field and hold it about 4 feet in the air.
“They don’t (throw it) as much, because their identity is they’re going to run the football. He’s not going to college to play quarterback, but he’s better than you want him to be. He is not one-dimensional.”
Senior Jamarius Stewart is another potent threat with 631 yards and four touchdowns on 73 carries. Sophomore Jerrod Hicks has run for 562 yards and eight TDs on only 40 carries, but he missed the Harker Heights game with his arm in a sling and it’s unclear whether he’ll play at Temple. Terrell also is the Grey Wolves’ leading receiver with 14 catches for 228 yards and three TDs and has returned three kicks for scores, and senior Joseph McCray has 169 yards on 13 receptions.
“It’s rinse and repeat,” Stewart said. “They’ve got a really big offensive line. They’re not as tall as some kids we’ve played, but they’re 6-2, 285 and 6-3, 290. They’re not lacking size.”
A decorated track standout himself who knows several of those burners from Shoemaker, Temple’s Taylor said it will be about football – not simply speed – when the Grey Wolves come to Wildcat Stadium.
Said Taylor: “Shoemaker is fast, but we’re playing football, so it’s not a track meet.”