TOO MANY MISTAKES, NOT ENOUGH FIREPOWER: Hoover-led Rockwall-Heath ousts Temple from playoffs, 56-28
GOING ALL OUT: Temple junior Samari Howard stretches out and partially blocks a third-quarter punt by Rockwall-Heath's Grady Brewer during the Wildcats' 56-28 loss to the Hawks in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game Friday night at Baylor's McLane Stadium in Waco. Howard ran for 134 yards with a 16-yard touchdown, finishing the season with 1,261 yards and 22 total TDs for District 12-6A champion Temple (10-2). (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
WACO – The fact that Josh Hoover is an exceptionally skilled quarterback and Rockwall-Heath has a highly explosive offense did not surprise Temple head coach Scott Stewart and his Wildcats. They already knew that much entering their Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game against the Hawks, coached by former Temple head coach Mike Spradlin.
Of course, knowing about it and devising an effective way to actually stop it – or even contain it – are two completely different things, and it was a painful lesson that Hoover and Rockwall-Heath's relentless, fast-paced attack taught the Wildcats repeatedly on a cool, breezy Friday night at Baylor's McLane Stadium.
Combine that with the fact that mistake-plagued Temple produced zero points out of one first-and-goal opportunity in each half, and it's easy to see why the Wildcats' stellar season stopped in the second round.
Hoover passed for 446 yards and five touchdowns – two each to fellow juniors Jay Fair and Jordan Nabors – in a razor-sharp performance, Preston Landis rushed for 169 yards and three TDs and Temple never got over the hump despite its 503-yard offensive output as the ruthless Hawks compiled 661 total yards and broke away to beat the Wildcats 56-28.
District 12-6A champion Temple (10-2) trailed only 28-21 after senior Humberto Arizmendi's 57-yard touchdown pass to sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot 5 minutes into the third quarter, but the Wildcats were unable to maintain any positive momentum.
Half a minute later, Hoover connected with the speedy Nabors on a 64-yard touchdown bomb to push it back to a 14-point margin, and Rockwall-Heath (9-2) scored four of the game's final five TDs to eliminate Temple and halt the Wildcats' eight-game winning streak, including last week's 38-0 bi-district romp over Waxahachie.
“They take what you give them. We changed some looks on him, and he's that good,” Stewart, whose defense had allowed only six points in its previous two games, said of Hoover and the Hawks. “I said on Tuesday, 'If he's that good, make him prove it.' Well, guess what? He's that good. We'd try to bring a delay (blitz) and he'd feel it and replace the blitzer with the ball, which is exactly what you're supposed to do. That's exactly what next-level guys do. When we sat back and didn't get as much pressure, he could sit back there and look at it a little bit.
“You've got to play your 'A' game when you play against a team of this caliber, and we just didn't play our 'A' game tonight. Again, hat's off to them. They had a lot to do with that.”
Temple junior Samari Howard rushed for 134 yards with a 16-yard touchdown, and Arizmendi ran for 137 yards with a 19-yard TD. The Wildcats' first-year starting quarterback passed for 260 yards with the 57-yard TD to Harrison-Pilot and a 19-yard score to junior Tr'Darius Taylor, but Arizmendi completed only 14 of 39 passes and threw three interceptions. Errant snaps and missing two close-range field goal attempts also damaged the Wildcats' cause.
“It was mistakes on our part, stuff we've just got to capitalize on,” Arizmendi said. “We knew that the game could potentially be on us. It just didn't feel the way it was supposed to. It was self-inflicted.”
Said Stewart: “You can't come out here and make the mistakes we made against a good football team. That's what I told our kids. There was no lack of effort.”
Hoover certainly was good in the first half, completing 11 of 18 passes for 201 yards and touchdowns of 63 and 47 yards to the fleet-footed Fair (nine receptions, 199 yards). However, he was nothing short of great after halftime, combining a quick release with pinpoint accuracy behind a stout line that mostly neutralized a feisty Temple defensive line that usually creates havoc.
The 6-foot-2, 208-pound junior threw an incomplete pass on his first attempt of the third quarter but then completed his final 14 throws for 245 yards, with a 9-yard touchdown to Corban Cleveland and then scoring strikes of 64 and 12 yards to Nabors in a turnover-free performance.
“I thought we played pretty well, definitely in the second half. In the first half we started out a little rocky and made some mental mistakes. But as far as executing in the second half and doing what we're supposed to do, it was a great job and I'm proud of our guys,” said Hoover, who's now passed for 6,080 yards and 64 touchdowns in two seasons. “I just try to get the ball out fast and get it to our guys in space and let them do what they do. Those guys catch it and go.”
FAMILIAR FACE, NEW PLACE: Former Temple head coach Mike Spradlin guided Rockwall-Heath to a 56-28 win over the Wildcats in Friday night's Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game at Baylor's McLane Stadium. After accumulating 661 yards total offense against Temple, Spradlin's Hawks (9-2) will play seventh-ranked Cypress Bridgeland (12-0) in a Region II semifinal at 1 p.m. next Saturday at McLane. Spradlin led Temple to a 44-17 record from 2011-15, highlighted by a trip to the 5A Division I state championship game in 2014. (Photo by Greg Wille, TempleBeltonSports.com)
“It's no secret that we think we're pretty good at the RPO (run/pass option) game, and he's really crazy good at just seeing what the defense is doing,” Spradlin said about Hoover, whose second-year quarterbacks coach is Chad President, Spradlin's former star QB at Temple. “He doesn't watch our guys; he watches their guys, and that's where he's special. He's just got the 'it' thing. He's a film room junkie. He's awesome.”
After Rockwall-Heath went 5-5 last year in Spradlin's debut season, the Hawks have advanced to the third round for the first time since 2014 – the same year Spradlin guided Temple to a 13-2 record and a narrow loss to top-ranked Aledo in the 5A Division I state championship game. He turned around the Wildcats' previously struggling program, coaching Temple to a 44-17 record, three district titles, four playoff berths and eight postseason wins from 2011-15 before departing to become Magnolia ISD's athletic director for three years.
After moving past the Wildcats, the 65-year-old Spradlin will put his surging Rockwall-Heath squad – which has won six straight games and averages 50.9 points per outing – up against seventh-ranked Cypress Bridgeland (12-0) in a Region II semifinal at 1 p.m. next Saturday, back at McLane Stadium.
“We're just trying to do what we do and be good at what we do and get better at what we do,” said Spradlin, whose coaching staff also includes former Temple head coach Bryce Monsen (inside linebackers) and former Wildcats quarterback and ex-Temple running backs coach Joey Haag (wide receivers). “That's the great thing about getting to play this much football. Now you've got a chance to keep getting better. We're in new territory.”
Added Spradlin about playing against Stewart and Temple: “I've got to say this, because I love those guys. Scott's doing a fantastic job. I see it on film. What they do is sound and solid.”
Rockwall-Heath lost star junior running back Zach Evans (15 carries, 61 yards) late in the first half to what Spradlin said the Hawks believe is a season-ending knee injury. But Evans' fellow 1,000-yard rusher Landis was up to the task of carrying the rushing load. The rugged senior overcame a back ailment as he carried 20 times for 93 yards in the second half and capped the scoring with fourth-quarter touchdowns of 6 and 9 yards.
Temple's defense produced a stop on the game's first possession, but on the Wildcats' first offensive snap Arizmendi's pass was deflected into the air and intercepted by Hawks linebacker Grady Brewer at the Wildcats' 18-yard line. However, Temple dodged the early bullet when Josh Vogel missed a 31-yard field goal try.
After the Wildcats' second possession went nowhere, Rockwall-Heath began to make its move. Hoover lofted a pass down the middle to Fair, who caught it and sprinted away from the secondary for a 63-yard touchdown. The first of Vogel's eight extra points gave the Hawks a 7-0 lead with 3½ minutes gone.
Temple punted on its next two possessions, with senior Aaron Wagaman's second kick pinning Rockwall-Heath at its 3. But Hoover's crisp passing and Evans' hard rushing pushed the fast-moving Hawks down the field before Landis sliced through the middle for an 18-yard touchdown and a 14-0 advantage with 1:16 left in the opening period.
“I think we were just spazzing out,” sophomore middle linebacker Taurean York, Temple's leading tackler, said about the Wildcats' defensive problems. “Everybody knew the situation – it's win or go home. It's way different from the (Harker) Heights game where we were down 20-0 or the (Killeen) Shoemaker game where we were down in the fourth quarter.
"Everybody knew that wasn't win-or-go-home. But now that it was win-or-go-home, we were spazzing out and acting like we'd never been here before. We trained yesterday like we were down by 18, but we just couldn't execute the plan (tonight).”
The Wildcats came up with the necessary answer, converting three third downs on a 68-yard drive that concluded with Howard bouncing off left tackle and cutting in for 16-yard touchdown jaunt, the 22nd and final overall TD of his brilliant junior season that included 1,261 rushing yards and 16 TDs. The first of Wagaman's four extra points cut Temple's deficit to 14-7 2 minutes into the second quarter.
A rare misfire by Hoover on fourth-and-2 then gave the Wildcats a turnover on downs at the 50, and they marched inside the 20 before Arizmendi's 11-yard rumble gave them first-and-goal at the 1. But Harrison-Pilot – in at QB – had to fall on a low snap at the 9, then Arizmendi threw two incomplete passes before Wagaman pushed his 26-yard field goal attempt wide to the left.
That squandered opportunity became more costly when Rockwall-Heath went 80 yards for a touchdown on its ensuing drive. From the Temple 47, Hoover fired a quick pass to Fair, who cut inside to elude his defender and outran everyone for his second long TD and a 21-7 Hawks lead 2:45 before halftime.
RIGHT SPOT, RIGHT TIME: Temple junior receiver Tr'Darius Taylor prepares to catch a 19-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi late in the first half during the Wildcats' 56-28 loss to Rockwall-Heath in a Class 6A Division II area-round playoff game at Baylor's McLane Stadium in Waco. Taylor also made a 55-yard catch, and he and senior AJ McDuffy each had 74 receiving yards for 10-2 Temple. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Again, Temple responded. Arizmendi hit senior receiver AJ McDuffy for 16 and 17 yards and ran for a 20-yard gain, then Taylor got open in the middle and caught Arizmendi's 19-yard touchdown pass to trim the Wildcats' deficit to 21-14 with 56 seconds left.
Rockwall-Heath needed only 51 seconds to drive from its 29 to Temple's 14, but Vogel missed his 31-yard field try wide right as time expired.
The Wildcats received the second-half kickoff and had an opportunity to tie the game, but their drive stalled near midfield. The punt snap sailed well over Wagaman's head, but Temple averted disaster when the left-footed senior retreated, scooped up the ball at his 12 and, under pressure, deftly got off an on-the-run punt that finally rolled dead at the Hawks' 32.
But Temple's defense still had to produce a stop to keep its team within one touchdown, and the Wildcats couldn't do so. Hoover and Landis pushed Rockwall-Heath to the 9 before Hoover fired a touchdown pass to a slanting Cleveland to extend the lead to 28-14 4 minutes into the third period.
Undeterred, Temple got right back into it a minute later when Harrison-Pilot got open behind the secondary and easily caught Arizmendi's long pass for a 57-yard touchdown and a 28-21 game.
Again the Wildcats needed a defensive stand, but again they couldn't make one. From his 36, Hoover threw a bomb down the left side and the speedy Nabors (six catches, 142 yards) caught it in stride for a crucial 64-yard touchdown – the Hawks' second TD in 1½ minutes – that stretched the lead to 35-21.
“I'll tell you, those kids on the edges are special,” Stewart said of Rockwall-Heath's receivers.
Late in the third, a diving Howard partially blocked a Hawks punt that went for only 21 yards, then Arizmendi scrambled on a busted play and fired a deep pass to Taylor, who picked up 55 yards to the 2. Alas, another first-and-goal opportunity turned into agony for the Wildcats.
With Harrison-Pilot at QB in a special package, another snap went awry and he had to fall on it for a crushing 20-yard loss. A facemask penalty against the Hawks briefly gave Temple new life with first-and-goal from the 9, but Arizmendi couldn't connect with Harrison-Pilot on back-to-back passes and the Wildcats incurred a false-start penalty before Wagaman missed a 32-yard field goal try to the left 15 seconds into the fourth quarter.
That demoralizing sequence of events continued to haunt Temple, which allowed Rockwall-Heath to march 80 yards on its ensuing drive and seize a commanding 42-21 lead on Hoover's 12-yard touchdown pass to a high-leaping Nabors with 9:43 left.
SMELLING THE GOAL LINE: Temple senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi tries to run through Rockwall-Heath junior defensive back Bryson Elbert (21) as senior center Matthew Frye (57) blocks during the Wildcats' 56-28 loss to the Hawks in Friday night's Class 6A Division II area-round playoff at Baylor's McLane Stadium. Arizmendi ran for 137 yards with a 19-yard touchdown in his high school finale and passed for 260 yards and two TDs. He finished the season with 2,102 yards and 28 TDs through the air. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
The Wildcats remained within striking distance when they got a short field and used Arizmendi's 23-yard run and his hard-charging 19-yard touchdown rush to make it 42-28 with 9 minutes to play.
However, the end then came quickly for Temple. Hoover's 43-yard pass to Nabors led to a 6-yard touchdown run by Landis with 6:41 left, then Hawks junior defensive back Peyton Williams intercepted Arizmendi's deep pass and returned it to near midfield before Landis finished the scoring, tacking on a 9-yard TD rush with 1:35 remaining.
“To me, we're hitting our stride defensively at the right time,” Spradlin said. “(Temple) scrambled around on us a couple of times and statistically it's not going to look great, but I was pretty proud of how good we did. I'm not surprised. I believe in our guys and the way they play defense.”
Although Temple's aspirations of playing until at least Christmas didn't come to fruition, the Wildcats eventually will savor a 10-win season that included a 7-0 district record for their first outright league championship since 2015, their first playoff victory in the state's largest classification since 2003 and their first postseason win as a 6A program.
“I told the seniors, 'It hurts right now, but someday, if you've learned anything, you'll look back and realize how special this was and what kind of legacy y'all left,'” said Stewart, who's 48-16 in five seasons as Temple's head coach after serving as Spradlin's defensive coordinator from 2014-15. “A lot of people would take 10-2. I'm not saying I'm happy about it, but this group will look back and be special.”
Added Stewart about his message to Temple's players who will return for the 2021 season: “Take the leadership and attitude and chemistry that these guys took a lot of pride in building, and let's just go build off of it. We've got a lot of guys coming back, and all you can do is go back to work.”
Temple's junior varsity quarterback last year, Arizmendi reflected on his lone varsity season, one in which he emerged as an unlikely star by passing for 2,102 yards and 28 touchdowns and rushing for 707 yards. In a year when the COVID-19 pandemic has overshadowed everything else, Arizmendi considers himself fortunate to have been a part of a cohesive, successful Wildcats team.
“I'd say the relationships we built and the family that grew (are most important). It was one of the most outstanding things you could ever witness,” he said. “Coach Stewart said it was never about winning or losing. It was all about us being a family. Like he said, four months ago we didn't even think we were going to play football, and now look at where we are.”
CLASS 6A DIVISION II AREA ROUND
ROCKWALL-HEATH 56, TEMPLE 28
Temple 0 14 7 7 – 28
Rockwall-Heath 14 7 14 21 – 56
Rockwall-Heath – Jay Fair 63 pass from Josh Hoover (Josh Vogel kick), 8:33.
Rockwall-Heath – Preston Landis 18 run (Vogel kick), 1:16.
Temple – Samari Howard 16 run (Aaron Wagaman kick), 9:44.
Rockwall-Heath – Fair 47 pass from Hoover (Vogel kick), 2:45.
Temple – Tr'Darius Taylor 19 pass from Humberto Arizmendi (Wagaman kick), 0:56.
Rockwall-Heath – Corban Cleveland 9 pass from Hoover (Vogel kick), 7:59.
Temple – Mikal Harrison-Pilot 57 pass from Arizmendi (Wagaman kick), 7:05.
Rockwall-Heath – Jordan Nabors 64 pass from Hoover (Vogel kick), 6:30.
Rockwall-Heath – Nabors 12 pass from Hoover (Vogel kick), 9:43.
Temple – Arizmendi 19 run (Wagaman kick), 9:02.
Rockwall-Heath – Landis 6 run (Vogel kick), 6:41.
Rockwall-Heath – Landis 9 run (Vogel kick), 1:35.
First downs: Temple 25; Rockwall-Heath 26.
Rushes-yards: Temple 38-243; Rockwall-Heath 47-215.
Passing yards: Temple 260; Rockwall-Heath 446.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Temple 14-39-3; Rockwall-Heath 25-34-0.
Offensive plays-total yards: Temple 77-503; Rockwall-Heath 81-661.
Punts-average: Temple 4-37; Rockwall-Heath 3-28.3.
Fumbles-lost: Temple 0; Rockwall-Heath 0.
Penalties-yards: Temple 7-50; Rockwall-Heath 8-71.
Rushing – Temple: Arizmendi 16-137, Howard 19-134, Jalen Robinson 1-0, Harrison-Pilot 1-(-8), team 1-(-20); Rockwall-Heath: Landis 27-169, Zach Evans 15-61, team 1-(-5), Hoover 4-(-10).
Passing – Temple: Arizmendi 14-39-3-260; Rockwall-Heath: Hoover 25-33-0-446, team 0-1-0-0.
Receiving – Temple: Taylor 2-74, AJ McDuffy 6-74, Harrison-Pilot 2-61, Luke Allen 2-42, Ke'Andre Smith 1-6, Howard 1-3; Rockwall-Heath: Fair 9-199, Nabors 6-142, Cleveland 6-59, Lance Mason 3-43, Easton Harrod 1-3.