FOR THE WIN: The Temple Wildcats celebrate with their District 12-6A championship trophy after defeating Killeen Shoemaker 27-24 on Thursday night at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen. Temple's Mikal Harrison-Pilot scored the go-ahead touchdown with less than 2 minutes remaining, then its defense stopped the Grey Wolves on a fourth-and-1 run with 57 seconds left. It's the Wildcats' second consecutive district championship but their first outright league title since 2015. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
KILLEEN – With the outright District 12-6A championship within Temple's grasp, heroes were plentiful for the Wildcats in the final 4 minutes of Thursday night's high-stakes showdown against Killeen Shoemaker at Leo Buckley Stadium.
With Temple trailing 24-20, senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi fumbled at the end of his 27-yard run but senior receiver Luke Allen was there to recover the football on the Grey Wolves' 25-yard line.
Then on first-and-goal from the 8, the Wildcats moved receiver Mikal Harrison-Pilot to quarterback in a special package and the athletic sophomore fought through multiple defenders to crash in for the go-ahead touchdown run and a 27-24 advantage with 1:41 remaining.
And after a questionable spot by the officiating crew left Shoemaker facing fourth-and-1 from its 45 with a minute left, Temple linemen Jaylon Jackson, Eric Shorter and Jayven Taylor penetrated the backfield and combined to pull down standout senior running back Devin Brown for a 1-yard loss and a dramatic turnover on downs, followed by junior Samari Howard's 33-yard rush that sealed the outcome.
Pushed to the limit by speedy Shoemaker for the second straight season, the Wildcats needed all of those heroics to earn a back-and-forth, 27-24 comeback victory over the Grey Wolves that clinched Temple's second consecutive 12-6A championship and its first outright league title since 2015.
“It's just a lot of fight,” Wildcats fifth-year head coach Scott Stewart said after his team improved to 8-1 overall and 6-0 in 12-6A going into next Friday's regular-season finale against Killeen at Wildcat Stadium. “I think our kids believe in each other and believe in our system and believe in our approach and believe in our process.
“I'm going to tell you who gets all the credit is these kids and (assistant) coaches. I'm the gatekeeper and I have to make decisions, but I couldn't be prouder of the job these coaches have done with this group. (It's) a bunch of new coaches and a bunch of new faces.”
The feelings that surround Temple's belief in its team were evident during its hearty postgame celebration on the field.
On an evening when they uncharacteristically were limited to a combined three catches for 14 yards, senior receivers Allen and AJ McDuffy didn't seem to care at all as they shared a joyous embrace. Offensive coordinator Josh Sadler apologized for barging into a postgame interview, then gave Stewart a bear hug. Boisterous players hoisted the gold ball trophy they received for capturing the district championship. Many group photographs were taken, and loud music blasted from the Wildcats' jubilant locker room.
In 2019 Temple shared the 12-6A championship with Waco Midway, but the feelings about that league title were more subdued because the Panthers dominated the Wildcats 52-28.
This season, though, Temple doesn't have to share the district crown with anyone else.
NOSE FOR THE END ZONE: Temple sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot goes airborne as he gets through Killeen Shoemaker defenders Darmell Hollins (9), Devin Brown (33) and Adonte Crayton (10) to score the go-ahead 8-yard touchdown run with 1:41 remaining in the Wildcats' 27-24 victory over the Grey Wolves on Thursday night at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen. Harrison-Pilot also caught a 22-yard TD pass from Humberto Arizmendi to help Temple (8-1, 6-0) clinch the outright District 12-6A championship. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
“It feels great,” said Harrison-Pilot, who scored the Wildcats' first and last touchdowns with a 22-yard first-quarter reception from Arizmendi and the acrobatic 8-yard burst for the go-ahead score in the final 2 minutes. “The first one was a tie. It's still a district championship, but this one feels amazing, knowing that we are the district champions.”
With its eighth consecutive postseason berth already secured, Temple clinched a home game for the bi-district round of the Class 6A Division II state playoffs. After an open date following next week's finale against Killeen, the Wildcats will host Waxahachie (3-4) – the Indians come from a star-studded 11-6A that features state powers Duncanville, DeSoto and Cedar Hill – at Wildcat Stadium, likely on Friday, Dec. 11.
On a night when Arizmendi attempted only 12 passes and threw for a season-low 75 yards against Shoemaker's fleet-footed defense, the first-year starting quarterback utilized his legs to carve through the Grey Wolves for a career-best 139 yards on 18 carries. That complemented the workhorse performance of Howard, who compiled 178 yards and two touchdowns on 33 carries, with 21 totes coming in the second half.
“That's our zone-read game and I think Shoemaker (built its defensive plan around) its team speed. I love Humberto and he'll run his guts out, but he's not a speedster,” Stewart said. “You could tell they were going to try to take Samari out of the game, and they did a good job containing him. But you've got to take what they give you and trust your guys to get in there and do it.”
Meanwhile, it was the second crushing defeat in seven days for Shoemaker (6-2, 4-2), which had an opportunity to tie Temple for the district lead. Last Friday the Grey Wolves led Harker Heights 44-29 with less than 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, but the Knights rallied to force overtime and then prevailed 51-50 to hand Shoemaker its first loss.
Fourteen months after Temple charged back from a 21-10 deficit to defeat visiting Shoemaker 38-28, the Wildcats once again delivered the goods in crunch time to prevent the Grey Wolves of fourth-year head coach Toby Foreman from achieving what would have been a breakthrough win.
“Well, we didn't pick up a yard there at the end. There was some confusion (on offense). But bottom line, our kids played great,” said Foreman, whose team now shares second place with Bryan and will seek to secure a second straight playoff berth in the Grey Wolves' finale at Belton next Friday. “Compared to how we played against Harker Heights defensively, we really stepped it up. Temple's the best team we've played this year, and we had an opportunity to beat them. We didn't pull it out.”
Stewart commended the coaching job of Foreman, who's transformed Shoemaker from a program that went 0-10 in 2016 and his debut season of 2017 into a consistent district force that's sternly challenged Temple two straight seasons in ultra-competitive losses.
“I do want to say my hat's off to Coach Foreman and the Grey Wolves. What he's done to turn that program around in four years is unbelievable,” Stewart said.
The Wildcats hadn't played since their 39-15 home victory over Killeen Ellison on Nov. 6. Temple was awarded a win by forfeit when COVID-19 cases and quarantines prevented rival Belton from traveling to Wildcat Stadium for last Friday's scheduled battle, which will not be rescheduled.
After Harrison-Pilot bounced his run outside and powered into the end zone to give Temple a 27-24 lead with 1:41 remaining, Shoemaker still had a prime opportunity to drive for a signature win. On third-and-15 from the Grey Wolves' 31, Ty Bell's pass was caught in the middle by De'Andre Exford, who was thrown forward while being tackled and appeared to get just across the 46, the line needed for a first down.
COMING THROUGH IN THE CLUTCH: Sophomore tackle Jaylon Jackson (left), junior end Eric Shorter and senior nose tackle Jayven Taylor were Temple's defensive linemen who combined to tackle Killeen Shoemaker running back Devin Brown for a 1-yard loss on fourth-and-1 with 57 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter Thursday night, securing the Wildcats' 27-24 victory at Leo Buckley Stadium that clinched the Wildcats' outright District 12-6A championship. Last season at home, Shorter made a game-changing, fourth-and-goal tackle against the Grey Wolves' Brown to spark Temple's 38-28 comeback win. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
However, the officials placed the ball on the 45, leaving Shoemaker in a fourth-and-1 predicament with 1 minute remaining. Foreman chose not to use a timeout to discuss the vital upcoming play, but that meant Temple's defense was caught with its nickel package – one extra defensive back – on the field instead of a unit designed to stop a short-yardage play.
Last year, with Shoemaker outplaying Temple and leading 21-17 late in the third quarter, then-sophomore Shorter shot through from his end position to tackle Brown for a 2-yard loss on fourth-and-goal from the 2, a brilliant, momentum-altering play that sparked the Wildcats to outscore the Grey Wolves 21-7 the rest of the way and seize a 10-point win.
In the highly anticipated rematch 14 months later, Shoemaker again gave the ball to the rugged Brown (19 carries, 111 yards, two touchdowns) in a crucial situation. And once again, Shorter was there to deny him, with Temple's high-energy junior end getting help this time from two of his friends in senior nose tackle Taylor and sophomore tackle Jackson.
Taylor brought pressure straight up the middle and Jackson grabbed ahold of Brown before Shorter pulled the 180-pound running back to the ground for a 1-yard loss, giving the ball back to the Wildcats and giving them reason to celebrate another gold ball for their trophy case.
“They had us in a personnel (disadvantage) and we had to makeshift a little stunt on the fly right there, and the kids executed it well,” Stewart said of the decisive play.
ENCOUNTERING RESISTANCE: Killeen Shoemaker running back Devin Brown is swarmed by Temple's Jayven Taylor (95) and Eric Shorter (13) as other defenders pursue during the Wildcats' 27-24 win over the Grey Wolves on Thursday night at Leo Buckley Stadium. Taylor and Shorter also combined with sophomore lineman Jaylon Jackson to stop Brown for a 1-yard loss on a key fourth-and-1 play late in the fourth quarter. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Said Shorter of stopping Brown: “I was ready for that moment last year and stopped him on the goal line. I knew it was going to come again. I just want to say I'm thankful for playing with my brothers. Temple is a little bit tougher.”
Shoemaker's play call didn't surprise the sturdy, aggressive Taylor.
“We expected it. They had been running it all night,” he said. “We couldn't stop it at first and I guess they thought they could do it again, so we game-planned for it and we stopped it.”
Said Jackson about coming through for Temple in a game-deciding moment: “It's a real good feeling. I'm just happy to be a part of this team. I'm a sophomore and everybody wants me to be on varsity, so I had to show them I'm good enough.”
Three weeks earlier in another Thursday night game at Buckley, Temple got off to an extremely lethargic start as it trailed Harker Heights 20-0 early in the second quarter before storming back for a 38-36 win.
The Wildcats had a much better start against Shoemaker, getting a quick defensive stop before junior Tr'Darius Taylor returned the punt 32 yards to the Grey Wolves' 40. Arizmendi ran off right tackle for 18 yards, then an open Harrison-Pilot caught Arizmendi's pass in stride in the back-right portion of the end zone for a 22-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead 2:15 into the game after the first of senior Aaron Wagaman's three extra points.
Shoemaker responded with a 50-yard, 6-minute drive that was capped by Brown's 1-yard touchdown run for a 7-7 tie with 3½ minutes left in the opening period, and the Grey Wolves grabbed their first lead at 10-7 on Kaleel Pomerlee's 33-yard field goal with 9:21 left in the second quarter.
IN THE ZONE: Temple junior Samari Howard (8) scores on a 5-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter as senior receiver AJ McDuffy ties up multiple Killeen Shoemaker defenders Thursday night at Leo Buckley Stadium. Howard rushed 33 times for 178 yards and two TDs as the Wildcats won 27-24 to clinch the outright District 12-6A championship. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple faced third-and-8 on its ensuing possession when Arizmendi sprinted for 22 yards, then got loose for a 25-yard run on the next play to reach the 11. From there, Howard blasted off left tackle for the touchdown to give the Wildcats a 13-10 edge 7:21 before halftime.
But Howard was tackled while trying to run for a 2-point conversion out of the swinging gate formation, and that one point Temple could have put on the scoreboard with a Wagaman extra point seemed to hang over the Wildcats' heads for the rest of the game.
Both teams' defenses controlled the action during a scoreless third quarter, though Foreman made a bold decision late in the period that sparked Shoemaker.
The Wolves faced fourth-and-1 at their 14, went into a tight formation and got the first down on Brown's 4-yard rush. Bell's deep pass to Monaray Baldwin gained 48 yards, and one minute into the fourth Bell hit an open Baldwin on the right side of the end zone for a 3-yard touchdown that completed a stellar 95-yard drive and regained the lead for Shoemaker, 17-13.
Tr'Darius Taylor's 28-yard kickoff return and 17-yard reception followed by the hard-charging runs of Howard and Arizmendi moved Temple to the 5 before Howard ran off right tackle for the touchdown, propelling the Wildcats to a 20-17 lead with 7:51 remaining.
But Shoemaker again had a forceful answer, with Bell's 32-yard scramble on third down and Baldwin's 22-yard dash setting up Brown's 2-yard TD rumble that gave the Grey Wolves their final advantage at 24-20 with 4:15 left.
That essentially put Temple's offense in do-or-die mode, and the Wildcats were fortunate when Allen recovered Arizmendi's fumble for an additional 8 yards to the Shoemaker 25 after the quarterback already had gained 27 on the play. Howard's running pushed Temple to first-and-goal at the 3 before a 5-yard penalty for delay of game.
With Harrison-Pilot at QB in a special “jumbo” package, the dynamic sophomore who leads Temple with 31 receptions scampered off right tackle, swung wide to avoid oncoming defenders and then catapulted himself through others for the go-ahead 8-yard touchdown and a 27-24 Wildcats lead with 1:41 remaining.
“I go to quarterback in jumbo, and we punched it in right there. I had to do what I had to do,” Harrison-Pilot said. “It was really supposed to go inside but I bounced it out, because I'm a playmaker. I saw one dude and said, 'I'm scoring for sure. There's no way to stop me.'”
Said Stewart about Harrison-Pilot, who was beaten out by Arizmendi for this season's starting quarterback job but is projected to be the Wildcats' top QB next year as a junior: “How about that? God, he's special. He smells that goal line.”
Harrison-Pilot's must-have TD surge set the stage for the Temple defense's dramatic final stand, and it all added up to another big-game victory for the Wildcats under the bright lights.
“Even though this program's been in some big games, there's a lot of new faces to this kind of atmosphere,” Stewart said. “So to get those kids ready for that, that's when you have to just kind of rely on pedigree and hope that what they've seen from the past (means) the moment isn't too big for them, and tonight it wasn't."
KILLEEN SHOEMAKER 24
Temple 7 6 0 14 – 27
Shoemaker 7 3 0 14 – 24
Temple – Mikal Harrison-Pilot 22 pass from Humberto Arizmendi (Aaron Wagaman kick), 9:45.
Shoemaker – Devin Brown 1 run (Kaleel Pomerlee kick), 3:25.
Shoemaker – Pomerlee 33 field goal, 9:21.
Temple – Samari Howard 11 run (run failed), 7:21.
Shoemaker – Monaray Baldwin 3 pass from Ty Bell (Pomerlee kick), 11:09.
Temple – Howard 5 run (Wagaman kick), 7:51.
Shoemaker – Brown 2 run (Pomerlee kick), 4:15.
Temple – Harrison-Pilot 8 run (Wagaman kick), 1:41.
First downs: Temple 23; Shoemaker 20.
Rushes-yards: Temple 54-328; Shoemaker 35-240.
Passing yards: Temple 75; Shoemaker 144.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Temple 8-13-0; Shoemaker 14-22-0.
Offensive plays-total yards: Temple 67-403; Shoemaker 57-384.
Punts-average: Temple 2-26.5; Shoemaker 2-34.5.
Fumbles-lost: Temple 5-0; Shoemaker 1-0.
Penalties-yards: Temple 3-30; Shoemaker 3-20.
Rushing – Temple: Howard 33-178, Arizmendi 18-139, Luke Allen 1-8, Harrison-Pilot 1-8, team 1-(-5); Shoemaker: Brown 19-111, Bell 9-60, Baldwin 3-36, De'Andre Exford 4-33.
Passing – Temple: Arizmendi 8-12-0-75, Howard 0-1-0-0; Shoemaker: Bell 14-22-0-144.
Receiving – Temple: Harrison-Pilot 3-35, Tr'Darius Taylor 1-17, Allen 2-10, Howard 1-9, AJ McDuffy 1-4; Shoemaker: Baldwin 4-74, Trenton Hudson 6-33, Exford 1-14, Vontez Martin 1-12, Ahmonte Kendrick 1-7, Omari Evans 1-4.