WEATHERING THE STORM: Temple aims to stay unbeaten in District 12-6A in duel at fast Harker Heights
FULL STEAM AHEAD: Junior running back Samari Howard (8) and the Temple Wildcats seek to improve to 5-1 overall and 3-0 in District 12-6A when they battle the Harker Heights Knights (3-2, 1-1) at 7 tonight at Leo Buckley Stadium in Killeen. Howard has scored seven touchdowns and three 2-point conversions in Temple's last two games against Copperas Cove and Bryan. Temple beat Heights 37-3 at Buckley last season. (File photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
KILLEEN – As the calendar creeps toward November, so-called “bad-weather days” become more prevalent. Monday was a prime example: cold temperatures, strong wind and precipitation mixed in.
Unlike its former district rival Waco Midway and some other fortunate Texas high schools, Temple doesn't have an indoor practice facility where it can escape the uncomfortable elements.
However, Wildcats head coach Scott Stewart has his own thoughts on the topic. Essentially, it's a mind-over-matter situation.
“Can't control it; don't worry about it,” Stewart said Tuesday after his Wildcats (4-1 overall, 2-0 in District 12-6A) had practiced in inclement conditions Monday in advance of their clash with Harker Heights (3-2, 1-1) at 7 p.m. Thursday at Killeen's Leo Buckley Stadium, where the temperature could drop into the upper 40s. “I think the only way you can do that is to practice in it. The first coach yesterday who asked if we were going into the gym (for practice) . . . he got addressed.”
OK, but what if Temple actually did have an indoor practice facility available to use?
“If we had a $12 million indoor (facility) right there, we'd have practiced outside yesterday,” said Stewart, whose Wildcats beat Bryan 44-7 in cold, breezy conditions in last Friday's homecoming game at Wildcat Stadium. “The only reason we won't go outside is if it's lightning. That is absolutely it.”
The first of Temple's two Thursday night games in Killeen in a four-week span – the Wildcats will travel to battle district co-leader Killeen Shoemaker (4-0, 2-0) at Buckley on Nov. 19 – has meant some alterations to the weekly practice plan.
“Monday is a hybrid Monday/Tuesday. We take some blitz-package stuff and instead of waiting until Tuesday to install it or to revisit it or polish it, we add 25 or 30 minutes to the Monday practice,” Stewart explained. “Then we actually take time off from what a normal Tuesday practice would be, but we still do that hybrid concept. And then (Wednesday) will be 100 percent like a (normal) Thursday.
“The one thing you lose on the short weeks is a no-sweat Wednesday. In a normal week we go intensity, intensity, we back it off on Wednesday and then we ramp it back up on Thursday. There's science behind that. But (Wednesday) will be a very high-intensity, low-impact practice. We'll go about an hour to hour and 10 minutes, and it's just hauling rocks everywhere we go.”
Stewart refers to Temple's day-before-the-game practice – usually on Thursday but this week on Wednesday – as its “50/30.”
“It's 50 minutes of work, 30 hours before the game. It is high-intensity. There will be kids bending over and they're lathered up. We use that as kind of our re-start,” Stewart said, adding that Temple's staff had productive discussions with Duke when the Blue Devils practiced at Wildcat Stadium the day before they played at Baylor in 2018. “We got this concept from Duke's sports science folks. You want to hear someone break down the human body to the Nth degree . . . it is seriously impressive.”
With fellow 12-6A co-leaders Belton and Killeen Shoemaker not playing until Friday, Temple can grab a half-game lead with a win over Harker Heights tonight. The Wildcats will be at home for three of their final four regular-season games.
Thursday games at Buckley have been known for relatively small crowds and a lack of noise, so Stewart said a key factor for Temple tonight is what he calls BYOA: bring your own atmosphere.
Heights brings speed, momentum
into duel vs. Temple after escaping
Ellison on botched field goal
Whenever Stewart attends a Temple track and field meet that includes Harker Heights, he can't help but to take notice of the Knights' speed. And it's no surprise that many of those athletes wear football uniforms during the fall.
“I know this – every time I go to a track meet, those jokers scoot around that track, and it's a lot of the same kids,” he said. “They're hyper-talented and they're really big.”
Of course, football is a full-contact sport played in helmets and full pads, and that on-the-track speed hasn't translated to success on the gridiron for Heights against Temple the previous two years.
The Wildcats hammered the Knights 45-0 in heavy rain at Wildcat Stadium in the 2018 district opener. Last September at Buckley, Temple controlled both sides of the ball in a 37-3 victory over a Heights squad that eventually advanced to the Class 6A Division I playoffs before losing 47-7 at Rockwall to finish 4-7.
This season, though, the Knights of eighth-year head coach Jerry Edwards (28-49 with two playoff berths) have shown definite signs of improvement. After losing their opener 45-27 at Smithson Valley, the Knights have three wins in their last four games: 49-21 over Georgetown East View, 20-14 over Boerne Champion and 35-34 over Killeen ISD rival Ellison last Friday.
Heights had a shot to win its district opener at Bryan two weeks ago, but senior quarterback Shaun West's fourth-and-goal pass intended for hulking junior receiver Terrance Carter was broken up with a minute remaining to preserve the Vikings' 28-21 victory.
After a back-and-forth battle against Ellison left Heights with a 35-34 lead going into the game's final play, the Knights were staring at an 0-2 district start as the Eagles lined up for a 31-yard field goal. But the holder mishandled the snap, was forced to run with the ball and quickly was swarmed as time expired, allowing Heights to sneak away with a win that moved the Knights above the .500 mark overall and, more important, evened their 12-6A record at 1-1.
“Well, they're both hyper-talented. You want to talk about some athletes on the field,” Stewart said of Heights and Ellison. “They got after each other and there was some long plays on both sides and there was track athletes all over the dadgum field.”
A stunning 17-14 win at Midway last October helped Heights earn its first playoff berth since 2016 and also benefited Temple, which finished 7-1 in 12-6A and shared the district championship with Midway.
A major change the Knights made from last season to the current one is using the 6-foot-2, 190-pound West as their full-time quarterback and utilizing the 6-5, 240-pound Carter at wide receiver. Last year against Temple, Carter passed for 157 yards and rushed for 74 but committed two costly turnovers in Heights' 34-point setback.
West is 68-of-120 passing for 1,051 yards and 11 touchdowns against five interceptions, and he's rushed for 154 yards and a TD on 30 carries. He accounted for two touchdown passes and two TD rushes against Ellison.
Meanwhile, Carter is thriving at his new position with 22 receptions for 314 yards and four touchdowns. Edwards and the Knights also take advantage of Carter's massive frame in short-yardage rushing situations. He has four TD runs on only 11 carries.
“The kid who played quarterback last year is playing receiver, and it looks like his clone is playing quarterback,” Stewart said of Carter and West. “(West) can see everything. He's a humongous kid. He's a really good athlete as far as just feeling pressure and sidestepping you. They're big on the offensive line and they're nasty up front. They spread it out.”
Heights' other productive receivers are small-but-speedy junior Marcus Maple (5-7, 135) with 20 catches for 408 yards and five touchdowns and 6-2, 180-pound senior LaPrinceton Dixon (10 catches, 206 yards, two TDs). Maple's 61-yard TD reception from West with 4:23 remaining provided the winning points against Ellison.
Powering the Knights' ground game is sophomore Re'Shaun Sanford (5-8, 157), who rushed for 166 yards last week to push his season total to 512, though he's scored only one touchdown.
Speed is also a big part of the Knights' game on defense, where senior safety Savonte Sanford-Paige (6-3, 190) is a multiple-season standout and senior middle linebacker Jack Byse is a sure tackler.
“They're very athletic and very fast everywhere, so we'll have to get rid of the football fast and we've got to be smart at what we do,” Temple offensive coordinator Josh Sadler said about the Heights defense.
Wildcats junior RB Howard
expanding all-around game
Temple running back Samari Howard was selected as District 12-6A's Offensive Newcomer of the Year as a sophomore running back and occasional quarterback last season, so it's not surprising that he's having success again as a junior.
However, the improvements in Howard's all-around game during the first half of this regular season have been quite apparent. The 5-8, 170-pound Howard has rushed for 567 yards and eight touchdowns and made 16 receptions for 219 yards and three TDs.
Howard also rushed for three 2-point conversions on direct snaps in the first quarter of the Wildcats' district-opening 55-21 win at Copperas Cove, one week after he completed a 2-point pass to senior kicker Aaron Wagaman. Howard's 72 points are 39 more than Wagaman, who ranks second on the team.
In the last two weeks, Howard has accounted for seven touchdowns – three runs against Cove, then runs of 3 and 1 yards and receptions of 29 and 43 yards from senior quarterback Humberto Arizmendi in last week's runaway win over Bryan.
“I would call him a nightmare, because he can do it all and he takes a lot of pride in being able to do that,” Stewart said of looking at Howard from the perspective of an opposing defensive coordinator.
Howard's combination of speed, power, quick-shifting moves, patience and durability should appeal to most college recruiters, even though some might be turned off by his height.
“I've told every one of them that I've talked to, 'You're an idiot if you don't take this kid,'” Stewart said. “Great grades, great out of the backfield receiving the ball and he obviously has good vision and has the burst. He's just not 5-11. If that's going to be your hangup (as a college recruiter), then you move on down the road. But somebody's going to get them an unbelievable player.”
Stewart said that after Temple allowed two long kickoff returns for touchdowns in its frustrating 43-25 home loss to perennial 6A playoff qualifier Arlington Martin, Howard wanted to do something to help the Wildcats' special teams avoid future breakdowns.
“He's on kickoff (coverage now). He was one of the first ones that said, 'Coach, put me on there and it'll never happen again,'” Stewart said.
Junior safety Donoso
emerging for Temple
Because of disciplinary measures doled out by Stewart, Temple had multiple defensive players suspended for the first half of its last two games against Copperas Cove and Bryan.
One key Wildcat who helped the defense get through those absences was junior free safety/strong safety Johnny Donoso. In the last two games he's made nine tackles – eight of them unassisted – as Temple shut out Cove after halftime and kept Bryan scoreless until 9 minutes remained in the final quarter.
“His football IQ is off the charts – uber-intelligent,” Stewart said of the 5-8, 166-pound Donoso. “I mean, the kid can go in there and play free safety, strong safety and weakside linebacker. Anywhere with his hand off the ground, he can play. He's a hell of a football player and a great kid.”