STANDARDS TO UPHOLD: Stewart still pushing 3-1 Temple entering homecoming duel vs. Rogers, 2-0 Bryan
Updated: Oct 23, 2020
NO TIME TO RELAX: Temple head coach Scott Stewart greets defensive linemen Cody Little (44), Dion Saunders and Tommy Torres as they run off the field during the Wildcats' 55-21 win at Copperas Cove in last Friday's District 12-6A opener. Stewart's Wildcats (3-1) seek to improve to 2-0 in district when they play their homecoming game against coach Ross Rogers' Bryan Vikings (2-0, 1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium. It's the first Temple-Bryan clash since the host Wildcats won 42-7 in 2017. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
On the surface, things are going well for the Temple Wildcats this football season. They've won three of four games, including a 55-21 victory at Copperas Cove last Friday in their District 12-6A opener. Temple is averaging 37 points per game while spreading the ball around on offense, and the Wildcats haven't allowed any second-half points in wins over Longview, Magnolia West and Cove, all away from home.
But behind the scenes, fifth-year head coach Scott Stewart is doing all he can to keep his team focused and on track – whether that means doling out discipline to some of his top players when they fall short of his off-the-field requirements or constantly reminding the Wildcats that no matter who they're playing or what the score is, the standard of what's expected from Temple football does not change.
So after the Wildcats impressively raced out to a 24-0 lead with only 9 minutes gone at Cove but then allowed the Bulldawgs to score 21 second-quarter points and cut their deficit to 31-21, Stewart had to sternly remind them with a spirited halftime speech that Temple's second-period swoon was, using his postgame word, “unacceptable.”
As the Wildcats (3-1, 1-0) move into their 12-6A home opener and homecoming game against coach Ross Rogers' unbeaten Bryan Vikings (2-0, 1-0) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Wildcat Stadium, Stewart is steadfast about getting the most out of this team and he knows that means some hard lessons must be learned along the way.
“With a young team, that's what we're trying to get them out of. We play the way we play because of who we are, not because of what's going on in the game,” said Stewart, whose squad responded to its second-quarter struggles and his halftime pep talk by outscoring Cove 24-0 in the second half. That was the challenge at halftime. The brand of football and the expectation in Temple, Texas is that you go play with everything you've got on every snap and turn the scoreboard off. The middle schools hear that every year.”
Two touchdown runs and three 2-point conversions by junior running back Samari Howard plus senior wide receiver AJ McDuffy's 46-yard TD reception from senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi staked Temple to a commanding 24-0 first-quarter lead, but two costly turnovers by the Wildcats revived the Bulldawgs.
Cove intercepted an Arizmendi pass and returned it 66 yards to the 1-yard line to set up its first touchdown 2 minutes into the second quarter, then 4½ minutes later Temple had moved into scoring range before Tyrese Carter picked off an Arizmendi pass and returned it 90 yards for another TD.
Although the Wildcats came back with Arizmendi's 24-yard touchdown pass to McDuffy, the Bulldawgs put together a sharp drive to end the half and used a 23-yard TD pass with only 16 seconds remaining to trim Temple's once-overwhelming advantage to 31-21.
“I've said it a thousand times, but momentum is a finicky mistress. If you don't stop her when she's going against you, then it can get ugly in a hurry,” Stewart said. “The deal here is that there's a standard and an expectation, and if we're not meeting it, that's my job to do everything I can to fix it. And I don't care what the score is. I couldn't care less what the score is. We can have our third-stringers out there and I'm going to be coaching my tail off.
“I realize that you may not be a starter and you may not even be a backup, but when you go out there there's a certain standard and the standard is that you play with every fiber of your being and you do everything you can. I'm not asking you to always be successful. I'm asking you to play at a certain level. There's teams out there that are good enough to just beat us. (But) if we play our tails off, I usually don't get squawky.”
After Temple's defense recorded its third second-half shutout in four games, the final numbers were impressive. Howard ran for three touchdowns and produced 142 of the Wildcats' 321 rushing yards, and Arizmendi threw for 191 yards and three TDs – including a 41-yarder to sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot – as Temple's offense finished with 512 yards.
“They played better. They're getting better and better,” Stewart said of the Wildcats' offensive line. “This week is going to be a huge test, because Bryan's big and physical. It's hard rock mining against those guys. We'll see where we're at. But we have improved week to week, and that's what needs to happen and we need to continue to do that. I don't think we've played the best football we could, especially in the run game, but we are getting better and that's the trend you want to follow. Hopefully there's some continuity.”
Meanwhile, the Wildcats' defense – which played the first half at Cove without sophomore linebacker and leading tackler Taurean York and starting junior free safety O'Tarian Peoples because of suspensions for violating team rules – permitted only 68 yards in the second half and 179 overall.
As for Temple playing its annual homecoming game, Stewart – whose Wildcats have four of their final six district games at home – said he doesn't put any extra emphasis on it to his players because he wants them to focus on the task at hand rather than try to do anything out of the ordinary.
“I think it's great for the people who have graduated. If we treat it like anything different . . . what I've said (to players) my entire career is, 'This ain't for you. This is for the guys who have already done their time,'” said Stewart, whose Wildcats won last year's homecoming game 57-13 against Waco. “If we play the way we play because of who's in the stands, we're not doing this the right way. I couldn't care less if we played in a parking lot. The external factors can only be a distraction if you allow them to be.”
Bryan making positive strides at 2-0 despite
missing two games due to COVID-19 factors
Ross Rogers has been a head coach in Texas high school football since 1977, with stops at Hempstead, Waller, Giddings, College Station A&M Consolidated, Harker Heights and the last nine seasons at Bryan. He's compiled 252 wins and captured a state championship at A&M Consolidated in 1991.
He's seen a lot of things through the decades, but nothing quite like the COVID-19 pandemic that has hit Bryan High School particularly hard. The Vikings opened their season Sept. 25 with a 31-20 win over Waller, but then they had to cancel their next two non-district games – against The Woodlands College Park and Montgomery Lake Creek – because of COVID-19 factors at Bryan.
Rogers said the Vikings were without 23 players for a two-week period because of the need to quarantine and perform contact tracing. Bryan was cleared to play its 12-6A opener last Friday at home and edged Harker Heights 28-21 to improve to 2-0, three weeks after its season-opening win.
“Every day you just cross your fingers. We've been fighting it and our volleyball team's been fighting it,” Rogers said regarding COVID-19. “We're proud of (last week's) victory. That's a testament to our kids, because they continued to condition (during the two-week hiatus).
“We're happy with our 2-0 start and we're excited to have a chance to play Temple this week. It's going to be a tough game for us.”
Rogers said there's plenty of things about facing Temple that concern him.
“Well, they're very athletic and they play with a lot of moxie,” Rogers said. “They really threaten the whole field, and it's not just one guy. The wide receivers are dangerous and it's a good offensive line. The running back Howard really has a chance to be special. And their linebackers and defensive backs look they could run on our 4x100 relay.”
Last week was the first time for Rogers to play against Harker Heights, whose football program he started from scratch in 2000. In seven seasons with Rogers, the Knights were 52-27 with five playoff berths and two seasons of 10-plus wins. He left the coaching profession after 2006 but returned in 2012 to take the top job at Bryan.
Stewart has only two games' worth of video to study Bryan and said the Vikings made a lot of personnel changes between their first and second games, but he's seen enough to know that they will be formidable foes for the Wildcats.
“If Ross Rogers has any druthers about it, they're going to come play our tails off. That's what they've shown,” said Stewart, whose 2016 team – the eventual 5A Division I state runner-up – needed a late defensive stand to edge host Bryan 37-34 before the Wildcats dominated the visiting Vikings 42-7 a year later.
What's jumped off the screen at Stewart as he's watched Bryan on video is the strength and quality of its front seven players on defense.
“They're big and they're physical. Their defensive front seven, they've kind of got a bully mentality,” Stewart said. “They try to re-establish the line of scrimmage behind the original line of scrimmage. They come downhill and they're a physical football team. I'm telling you, their defensive line flat running gets after it. They play the game the way it's supposed to be played. They're physical up front and they play with technique. They make stuff happen.”
The Vikings struggled to a 2-8 record in 2019 and finished in seventh place in District 14-6A at 1-7, but Rogers made sure to give playing time to a slew of sophomores to help get them ready for this year.
Among them are current junior defensive linemen Tanner Allen (6-foot-3, 250 pounds), Jaylin Morris (5-11, 255) and Jon Tavion Workman (5-11, 255) and junior linebacker Nic Caraway (6-3, 240).
“All of them played four or five games last year as sophomores,” Rogers said.
Bryan also has thrown a pair of sophomore defenders into the proverbial fire this season: lineman Jayrin Jackson (5-11, 280) and linebacker Andrew Walker (6-0, 220).
“They play physical,” Rogers said. “That's going to be our strength and needs to be our strength right now.”
Senior cornerback Kenny Collins (6-1, 185) is a three-year starter who leads the Viking secondary, with help from junior free safety Du'wayne Paulhill and senior safety Jack Blackburn and senior cornerback Me'Kye Kao. The 5-7, 160-pound Kao sealed Bryan's close win over Harker Heights by breaking up a fourth-and-goal pass intended for Terrance Carter – a much larger receiver – with one minute remaining.
Bryan sophomore quarterback Malcom Gooden is an emerging dual-threat playmaker. The 5-10, 185-pound Gooden is 14-of-19 passing for 223 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions and has rushed 33 times for 217 yards and three TDs. He split playing time with senior and returning starter Nico Bulhof (also Bryan's kicker and punter) in the season opener against Waller but has become the Vikings' top option at QB.
“He's just maturing in our offense,” Rogers said. “He trained all summer and the receivers worked with him. Malcom gives us the ability to be balanced.”
Stewart said Gooden is especially dangerous because his mobility allows him to not only test defenses with designed running plays but also to throw well while moving outside the pocket.
“He can roll. They implement the quarterback run game, which is obviously another facet that you've got to try to stop. He's a really talented kid and throws the ball pretty well,” Stewart said. “He moves around and they extend the pocket with bootlegs and stuff like that. Their offense is predicated on pound the ball, pound the ball, play-action and bootleg-type stuff, because you also have that run option off the bootleg.”
Junior running backs Tason Devault and Paulhill have rushed for a combined 215 yards and two touchdowns for Bryan. The Vikings' leading receiver is junior Hunter Vivaldi (5-8, 145), who's made 10 catches for 179 yards and two TDs and also happens to be the grandson of Rogers, Bryan's head coach.
“He's really quick and a really good route runner,” Stewart said of Vivaldi. “He's not a huge kid, but very effective.”
Both of Bryan's coordinators have roots in the greater Temple area. Offensive coordinator Nelson Kortis is a Rogers graduate who played receiver for the Eagles' 1997 state runner-up team. Defensive coordinator Bret Page was a standout linebacker for Mary Hardin-Baylor in Belton.
In the three-season span from 2014-16, Rogers guided Bryan to a 25-12 record and the Vikings advanced to at least the second round of the playoffs each year. However, the 2017-19 stretch – the last two years in 6A – saw them skid to a 9-21 mark with no postseason berths.
But Bryan, which hosts Belton next Friday, believes that playing so many sophomores last season and another group of six or seven sophomores this year will lead to a dramatic turnaround for the program.
“We certainly hope so. We've had a run of two or three classes that are good classes,” Rogers said. “When you're in 6A, it's tough for a school of our size or Temple's size. We think our better days are ahead in the next three to four years.”