THEY MEET AGAIN: Temple, No. 3 Longview test QBs in opener; Wildcats eye revenge for playoff blowout
DIFFICULT ASSIGNMENT: Temple senior cornerback Keon Williams likely will get the task of covering Longview standout sophomore wide receiver Jalen Hale when Williams' Wildcats open their season against Hale's Lobos at 8 p.m. Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. It's a rematch of Longview's 41-10 home win over Temple in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game last November. Coach Scott Stewart's Wildcats seek their eighth consecutive playoff trip. Coach John King's Lobos, the 2018 6A-II state champions, are 27-1 in their last 28 games and are ranked No. 3 in the state in 5A Division I. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
ARLINGTON – One play in particular caught Scott Stewart's attention Tuesday afternoon as the Temple Wildcats' fifth-year head football coach watched video of Longview's home scrimmage against Texarkana Texas High last Thursday.
Lined up on the left side, Lobos wide receiver Jalen Hale sprinted straight ahead at least 20 yards, creating the illusion that he was going to run a deep route. However, the speedy sophomore then broke off his route, came back toward the sideline and caught a perfectly thrown pass – against good coverage – from quarterback Landyn Grant, another sophomore.
“Well, I'm thinking, '(Three-year starting QB) Haynes King is gone, so you're not going to have a five-star (recruit) back there.' And then the very first pass I see (Grant) throw is a 20-yard comeback on a dot. I was like, 'OK, never mind. Scratch that,'” Stewart said.
That next-level kind of execution isn't rare for perennial power Longview, which is 27-1 in its last 28 games and begins this season ranked No. 3 in Class 5A Division I by Texas Football magazine. So as Stewart has studied longtime coach John King's Lobos going into Temple's season-opening clash against Longview at 8 p.m. Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington, he knows full well what the Wildcats must be prepared for.
After all, it's been only 10 months since Temple's 2019 season ended in one-sided fashion with a 41-10 loss to Longview in a 6A Division II bi-district playoff game at Lobo Stadium.
“Oh yeah. I'm tired of looking at green, I promise you that,” Stewart said with a laugh. “We've got to focus on us. I mean, Longview is an unbelievably talented and well-coached football team and they've obviously got some spirit about them. Their team speed's really good. They're tough kids and very, very physical. I like to play these types of teams because you see where you're at.”
That's an especially pertinent angle, because Stewart wasn't pleased with Temple's overall physicality in last Thursday's home scrimmage against College Station at Wildcat Stadium, where the Cougars outplayed the Wildcats in the two live quarters. That up-and-down performance prompted Stewart to say, “We're not there yet. We can be really good or we can be really bad.”
“The emphasis this week in practice is on physicality. We beat the crap out of each other (Monday) and we'll do it again today,” Stewart said Tuesday as Temple prepared for its fifth game all-time at AT&T Stadium and first since the Wildcats' 16-7 loss to Dallas Highland Park in the 2016 5A D-I state championship game. “You can't talk physical and not practice physical. You can't talk nasty and not practice nasty. We'll be out there good-on-good with a live whistle.”
Stewart, who's guided Temple to a 38-14 record and four of its seven consecutive playoff berths, said the Wildcats must concentrate on maximizing their own play in order to contend with the talent and skill that Longview possesses.
“Really, my message throughout game week has been, 'Focus on us. What do we have?'” Stewart said. “We can't worry about what they have, if they have people back or they don't have people back. We have to plan schematically, but I'm not worried about what Longview has.
“I can't control how big they are and how fast they are. We've got to put a better product on the field than we did the other night, and that's going to be the emphasis from week to week. If you do that enough times, at some point you might look around and have a decent football team.”
Temple plays at Magnolia West next Friday night before its home opener against 6A No. 11-ranked Arlington Martin on Oct. 9 at 7 p.m. at Wildcat Stadium. Martin's Warriors play in Friday's doubleheader opener at AT&T Stadium, battling 5A Division I No. 1-ranked Denton Ryan at 4 p.m. before the Temple-Longview nightcap as the University Interscholastic League celebrates its 100 years sponsoring Texas high school football. Both games will be televised on Fox Sports Southwest Plus.
One Temple player who's looking forward to the opportunity to get another crack at Longview and play in the Dallas Cowboys' home stadium is senior returning starter Keon Williams, the 5-foot-10, 162-pound cornerback who most likely will be tasked with covering the 6-3, 175-pound Hale, who made three receptions for 57 yards against the Wildcats last year.
“I'll be with him. I'm accepting all challenges and very confident,” Williams said of his matchup with Hale. “I believe in my technique and what I do during the week to gameplan against the other team.”
Temple-Longview also is a matchup of teams who are trying to break in new quarterbacks and haven't yet determined who the long-term starters will be.
Stewart said the Wildcats plan to give ample playing time to both senior Humberto Arizmendi – the accurate passer who will start the game – and dual-threat sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot in an effort to find out which player will create more of a spark on offense.
“We're just going to go in there (vs. Longview) with a laid-out plan to trade every couple series and see if anybody can grab the rhythm, then just play it out from there,” Stewart said.
“It looks like Temple has two capable guys,” King said. “Humberto throws the ball well and runs better than you think. Harrison-Pilot played safety against us last year and he has the running ability and a rocket arm.”
It's a similar situation for King, who enters his 17th season as Longview's head coach with a 180-36 record and 16 playoff trips, highlighted by 12 years of 10-plus wins and 2018's 16-0 march to the 6A Division II state championship, which ended the Lobos' frustrating state title drought that dated to 1937.
After prolific three-year starting quarterback Haynes King, the coach's son, graduated and went to play at Texas A&M, Longview has had two talented sophomores – the left-handed Grant and the right-handed Jordan Allen – competing for the starting QB job.
“Our quarterbacks are not much different from each other, and both of them will wind up playing. There'll be a lot of mistakes with two sophomores, but we'll coach them up. It's a double-whammy when you've got four new offensive linemen,” John King said. “In 2017 we played three quarterbacks for five weeks (until Haynes King won the starting role). Haynes spoiled me and a lot of us. I think I took him for granted.”
Longview rushed for 312 yards, compiled 534 overall and limited Temple to 218 total yards in the Lobos' 31-point home playoff win last year, one week before Dallas Jesuit snapped Longview's 27-game winning streak with a stunning 27-25 area-round victory.
“To be honest, that was one of the worst days of my coaching career,” King said of the Lobos' upset loss to Jesuit, “and it was a double-whammy because it was the end of my son's (high school) playing career. But we got outplayed and we got outcoached.”
Regardless of who's playing quarterback for Longview in the Temple rematch, the Wildcats must find a way to contain dynamic senior running back Kaden Meredith, who gashed their youthful defense for 248 rushing yards and a 67-yard touchdown.
“The running back is unbelievable. He's got great speed and great pad level and catches the ball well,” Stewart said about Meredith, who has more than 10 NCAA FBS scholarship offers. “They toe him up about 8½ yards (behind the line of scrimmage) and he hits the hole going 48 miles per hour.”
Said King: “Meredith was injured in our next game (vs. Jesuit) but he's made a full recovery. He's the guy we lean on and a great kid.”
King said Hale was the first freshman to get significant playing time in King's long tenure at Longview.
“Jalen, he's got it. He hit the genetic lottery,” King said. “His two older brothers (senior free safety Tyree Hale and senior linebacker LaQualon Hale) play here.”
Although Longview is expected to contend for the 5A Division I state championship after dropping from 6A during the offseason, King said it won't be easy for the Lobos to overcome the graduation of 41 seniors and 16 starters, especially from a fast, fierce defense that allowed only 10.2 points per game.
“Schematically we're not a lot different, but the players we have are a lot different,” said King, whose defense will be led by Tyree Hale, senior linebacker Kybo Jackson-Jamerson and senior lineman Jahkamian Carr.
“They're very well-coached and good at what they do,” Stewart said of Longview's defense. “They take chances and are just sound and fast.”
King's aware that the Wildcats also will be putting many inexperienced players on the field Friday night.
“Temple's similar to us with a couple new guys at quarterback and a good running back (junior Samari Howard),” King said. “Defensively Temple's got a few more back than we do, and that's their strong suit. They're really good."
Spearheading the Wildcats' defense are Williams, sophomore linebacker Taurean York, senior linemen Jayden Taylor and Cody Little and junior end Eric Shorter.
King had to dole out some discipline after Longview's scrimmage with Texarkana Texas was cut short by a full-scale brawl betwee the squads. The veteran coach reportedly had his players run length-of-the-field sprints for at least 30 minutes on their home track afterward. He thinks the immediate punishment has produced the intended result.
“The message was received,” King said Tuesday. “I busted their (rear ends). I'm not proud of it, but they needed that. We're finished with that and we better learn from that. It was embarrassing, but we can't blame anyone but us.”
With Temple playing four new starters on the offensive line and several first-year starting defenders, such as junior end Tomas Torres and junior safeties Jaden Jackson and O'Tarian Peoples, Stewart has tried to impress on his players the importance of remaining focused and not getting distracted by the grandeur of playing under AT&T Stadium's bright lights and monstrous video scoreboard.
“What Coach Stew tells us it's the same field as T-High, so just focus and work on your technique and do what your coach tells you to do,” Williams said.
The senior cornerback said the Wildcats' excitement comes not simply from who they're playing and where they're playing but also “just the fact that we are playing a game” after the regular season was delayed four weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We've been grinding for way too long,” Williams said. “I'm ready to put on a show for our fans.”