THE NEXT PHASE: After learning hard lessons vs. Martin, Temple ready to start 12-6A at Copperas Cove
MOVING FORWARD: Temple absorbed its first loss of the season last week at home against Arlington Martin after getting off to a 2-0 start, but senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi (10) and the Wildcats now are ready to move into their seven-game District 12-6A schedule beginning at Copperas Cove (1-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bulldawg Stadium. Arizmendi has passed for 553 yards and seven touchdowns in his first three career starts for Temple, which is pursuing its eighth straight playoff berth. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
COPPERAS COVE – Sure, the Temple Wildcats would rather be 3-0 instead of 2-1 going into their District 12-6A opener against Copperas Cove (1-2) at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Bulldawg Stadium.
But in the so-called big picture, the only thing that last Friday's mistake-plagued 43-25 home loss to Arlington Martin definitely will prevent Temple from doing is producing its first perfect regular season since the mid-1980s.
Other than that, all the things that head coach Scott Stewart's Wildcats hope to achieve this season still are out in front of them as they move into seven consecutive weeks of 12-6A competition, starting with the road test against a Copperas Cove team that controlled Granbury 41-22 last Friday to earn its first win with new head coach Jason Hammett.
“What I told them on Saturday is that every step you take is toward Week 11. Not that we can achieve Week 11 this week, but every step you take is building toward that now,” Stewart said, referring to the first week of the Class 6A state playoffs. “There's three seasons, and the (non-district) games do not matter if you don't learn the lessons and carry them over into district.
“And obviously district determines whether you get that third season or not. We're trying to be focused on the task at hand and trying to figure out a way to slow some folks down and move the football against a good team.”
Temple's first of four home district games will be against Bryan at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Wildcat Stadium.
After three big breakdowns by Temple's special teams led directly to three Martin touchdowns for a 33-15 game a few seconds into the second half, the Wildcats are determined to avoid a repeat performance as they begin defense of the 12-6A championship they shared last year with Waco Midway, which now is in 11-6A.
The overall experience Temple gained in its season-opening 40-13 win over Longview at Arlington's AT&T Stadium and then its 28-13 victory at Magnolia West plus the harsh lessons during the home opener against Martin should have the Wildcats fully prepared for what's to come as they seek their eighth consecutive postseason trip.
“Again, it's can you get out of it healthy and can you learn something from it?” Stewart said. “I think we accomplished both of those, but you can't spot a good team 28 points. You can't spot anybody 28 points, but dang sure not Arlington Martin.”
Said Temple senior kicker and punter Aaron Wagaman: “That's really all the predistrict games are for. We don't want an easy schedule and then go into district and not be ready. We want to play the best of the best so we know what we're made of going into district.”
After 0-2 start under new head coach Hammett,
Cove rips Granbury to build momentum for 12-6A
The Wildcats are preparing to battle a Copperas Cove team that got off to a rough start under Hammett, who was promoted from assistant head coach to head coach after Jack Alvarez departed following two seasons with the Bulldawgs to become head coach at Cuero. Cove lost its season opener 34-7 at home against Waxahachie, then lost 38-14 at Georgetown.
However, the Bulldawgs finally found their footing last Friday when they jumped out to a 14-0 first-quarter lead on Granbury and put together a strong all-around performance in defeating the Pirates 41-22. Junior quarterback Shane Richey was 12-of-18 passing for 188 yards and threw one touchdown each to senior running backs Brandon Ortega and Brody Sanders.
Meanwhile, Cove rushed for 270 yards as Ortega ran for 106 yards and a TD, Richey rushed for 89 yards and a score and Sanders added 69 yards and a TD on the ground.
“Cove just flat-out whipped them,” Stewart said. “They played Waxahachie, which has a ton of team speed, and Georgetown. It's not like they were just flopping around and getting beat up by people who aren't very good.”
Stewart said the Bulldawgs haven't made huge changes with Hammett compared to how they played under Alvarez, who guided Cove to a playoff berth in 2018 – when they rallied past visiting Temple late for a final-week 22-18 win – before the Bulldawgs struggled in 2019 to a 3-7 overall record and a 2-6 mark in 12-6A. A 55-17 loss at Temple ended their season.
“You can tell that Jack Alvarez had quite a bit to do with that offense, and I think Jason does a great job,” Stewart said. “They're obviously changing up some formations. They're running similar concepts; they're just doing it out of different formations. So sometimes it's hard to get a bead on them. I think they do a very good job of it. They're not short of skill kids by any means.”
The leading lineman for Cove's run-first offense is 6-foot-5, 315-pound senior tackle McKenzie Agnello. Russel Cochran played quarterback against Temple last year (he threw three interceptions) and split the QB snaps with Richey in the opener against Waxahachie, but now Cochran seems to have found a home at wide receiver. The senior made three receptions for 81 yards against Granbury.
“They're a lot like us philosophically as far as using the run game to set up the pass,” Stewart said of Cove. “They still do a lot of the old-school Alvarez concepts (on offense) as far as the gap-scheme stuff and the buck sweep, power and pounding it down your throat.
“They're just big, and those Wing-T-type teams with that pedigree and what they've learned since they were in seventh grade, they usually come off the ball flat-backed and try to knock you around. It'll be the matchup up front that will tell the tale.”
Senior linebacker Kendall Parker paced Cove's defense with 23 tackles (3½ for loss), including 11 against Granbury. Junior linebacker Benny Shumaker has 16 stops, senior end Ayden Paquette has 3½ tackles for loss and two sacks among his 14 stops, and senior tackle Thomas Holman Jr. (eight tackles) is a 6-3, 290-pound force.
“They run a sound system and they fly around on defense,” Stewart said. “There's no weeks off in this league.”
Difficult lessons learned vs. Martin could
pay dividends for Temple going forward
It certainly wasn't fun for Temple to watch as it unfolded, but the ramifications of last week's 43-25 home loss to perennial 6A playoff qualifier Martin could end up benefiting the Wildcats as their season progresses.
Stewart said one thing that became obvious while watching the Warriors return kickoffs 96 and 100-plus yards for touchdowns – both by Lenard Lemons – was how many starting players that Martin head coach Bob Wager used on special teams, rather than employing mostly reserve players.
It certainly pushed Stewart to think more about how Temple – which allowed Martin's first touchdown on a high punt snap that was recovered in the end zone – is choosing to deploy its available personnel and how that might change going forward.
“The (Martin) guy going to Texas (senior outside linebacker Morice Blackwell) is a pretty good kickoff return blocker. The guy (being recruited by) Ohio State (junior defensive end Ernest Cooper IV) is a pretty good kickoff return blocker,” Stewart said. “We took a good look at personnel. What we try to do without losing any effectiveness is on those 60-yard sprints maybe give some of our starters a break.
“Obviously we need to rethink that, especially when we're going against people . . . I mean, No. 18 (Blackwell) didn't come off the field. The only time he was not on the field was when they were on offense. He was on every single special team. I talked to Coach Wager after the game, and it's a testament to his coaching style and his relationship with his kids that he said, 'If I try to take him off special teams, he'll melt down. He's that kid.'”
With district games looming, Stewart now must decide how many starters he's actually prepared to send out for return and coverage duties on kickoffs and punts.
“We're trying to find that balance. I'm sitting there (watching video) Saturday, and of Arlington Martin's guys covering the kickoff, it was their starting running back and the kicker, obviously. The other nine? Starting defensive guys,” Stewart said. “You feel foolish if you get somebody hurt on something that somebody else could do, but that kind of commitment wins you those kinds of games.”
As for actually doing a better job of preventing the long returns that sunk Temple against Martin, Stewart said the Wildcats' schemes are sound but that their execution must improve significantly.
“It's always technique vs. technique. (Martin's) job on kickoff returns is to put a hat on everybody, and our kickoff team's job is to butt-press, get off blocks and stay in your lanes. It's not like we didn't have guys there. It's not a scheme problem. They just out-techniqued us,” Stewart said. “They just out-executed us on their blocking schemes and we had a couple missed assignments. On the first one we had a kid go out of his lane and try to avoid a block. We missed two tackles on the longer one.
“The bottom line is, you can't take a better athlete than you and go up and just think you're going to grab ahold of them and throw them to the side. We strike, butt-press, separate and throw for a reason. That's the only way you can survive against people who are probably more talented and definitely bigger than you are. So when you don't use your technique, the best thing out of that situation happening is now (as coaches) you can show why we do the technique that we do. And if you don't do it, you're going to get run out of bounds.”
In Temple's defense, Stewart said Martin's overall performance on special teams was the sharpest he's seen in the seven seasons he's been with the Wildcats – two as defensive coordinator and now five as head coach.
“That I remember, yes. I mean, I don't remember what I had for dinner last night,” Stewart said. “You have to get ready for so much stuff, because in two games they'd shown five different fakes on punts. And then they ran a sixth one that we hadn't seen.”
Temple certainly had plenty of positive developments against Martin, too. Junior running back Samari Howard exploded for a season-high 173 of the Wildcats' 203 rushing yards, Humberto Arizmendi connected with fellow senior AJ McDuffy for a 21-yard touchdown pass and sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot threw his first career TD pass, a 73-yard strike to senior Jonah Walker in the game's final seconds.
Temple's defense limited Martin to 286 total yards, and only 13 of the Warriors' points resulted from sustained drives. Martin turned four crucial mistakes by Temple – including a second-quarter interception return to the Wildcats' 1-yard line – into a combined 30 points.
First-year starting quarterback Arizmendi and junior outside linebacker/safety Marshall Grays limped off with leg injuries, but Stewart said both had recovered well by Monday.
“I was very proud of the growth we showed in our offensive line. Obviously we didn't dominate a team that talented, but we moved the ball and we established the run a little bit. We scored 25 points against a team that usually doesn't give up 25 points,” Stewart said. “Our defensive line did a good job across the board and (senior nose tackle) Jayven Taylor had a good game..
“The good part is you come out of it healthy and you get out of it what you need. Obviously it showed some glaring concerns in our kicking game, but there were some good things in our kicking game, too.”