- Greg Wille
WELL-EARNED WIN: Howard TDs, defense push Temple past Waxahachie, 28-14; Rockwall-Heath rematch next
RELENTLESS PURSUIT: Temple junior defensive end Jaylon Jackson tackles Waxahachie junior quarterback Roderick Hartsfield Jr. as junior linebacker Taurean York closes in during the Wildcats' 28-14 victory in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. The game was tied 14-14 entering the fourth quarter before senior Samari Howard scored two touchdown runs to help Temple (9-2) earn its ninth straight win. Coach Scott Stewart's Wildcats advanced to play fifth-ranked Rockwall-Heath (10-1) in an area-round showdown at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Burleson ISD Stadium. The Hawks defeated the Wildcats 56-28 in the second round last season. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Eleven months ago at Wildcat Stadium, Temple thoroughly outplayed Waxahachie from start to finish as it romped to a 38-0 win in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game.
In Friday night’s first-round rematch in the same venue, the Wildcats knew things wouldn’t be nearly as easy against a drastically improved Indians team. But then again, easy isn’t what Temple builds its football identity around.
Physical and mental toughness, grit, determination and resilience were required to ensure postseason survival against talented Waxahachie, and the Wildcats had an ample supply of those traits when they needed them.
With Temple and Waxahachie tied 14-14 entering the fourth quarter, star senior running back Samari Howard rushed for the go-ahead 2-yard touchdown and then sprinted for an electrifying 84-yard score, and his team’s unyielding defense delivered vital stops to shut out the Indians in the final period as the Wildcats earned a 28-14 victory in a hard-hitting 6A Division II bi-district battle at Wildcat Stadium.
“It took a lot of resilience, for sure. We knew it wasn’t going to be an easy fight at all. Just the way we reacted when things got hard, I’m very proud of this team,” Temple junior linebacker and leading tackler Taurean York said after the Wildcats (9-2) extended their winning streak to nine games and moved into an area-round rematch with fifth-ranked Rockwall-Heath (10-1) at 7:30 p.m. next Friday at Burleson ISD Stadium.
After District 12-6A champion Temple hoisted its second gold ball trophy in two weeks, head coach Scott Stewart praised the fortitude his Wildcats displayed in overtaking Waxahachie (6-5) and pushing their season to a 12th game.
“I watch people like Tom Brady and I’ve always heard, ‘Winning never gets old, and losing sucks 100 percent of the time.’ So I’ll take an ugly win over a pretty loss any day of the week. But I’m just so proud. These kids are gritty,” Stewart said following Temple’s second playoff victory as a 6A program.
“That’s a good (Waxahachie) football team. To play Cedar Hill to within four points and to have DeSoto beat in the last minute of the game but just didn’t execute, that’s a good team. There are no bad teams left. I’m just proud of the grit and determination and wherewithal that these kids have.”
Senior Devan Williams provided Temple’s first touchdown with a game-tying 75-yard kickoff return early in the second quarter, and junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot’s 30-yard TD run late in the second gave the Wildcats a 14-7 halftime advantage.
One week after he scored four touchdowns in a 77-12 home thrashing of Copperas Cove and became Temple’s all-time leader in points and TDs, the Air Force-committed Howard rushed 27 times for 193 yards and two fourth-quarter TDs against first-year head coach Shane Tolleson’s feisty Waxahachie squad, which pushed the Wildcats to their limits in a penalty-choked duel.
“They’re hard-hitting, they’re fast to the ball. That’s a whole different Waxahachie team. They were great,” Howard said while holding the gold ball trophy. “We started a little slow with some lulls here and there, but we came back and fixed it in the second half.”
Waxahachie’s Iverson Young rushed for 170 yards, including a 9-yard touchdown on the second quarter’s first play to give the Indians their only lead at 7-0. Waxahachie created a 14-14 deadlock late in the third period on a 23-yard TD pass from Roderick Hartsfield Jr. to Joseph Lankford and compiled 363 yards total offense to Temple’s 302.
York, the reigning 12-6A Defensive MVP, said it was a much stronger and more competitive Waxahachie team that the one Temple controlled last December.
“A hundred percent. They were way tougher,” said York, who paced the Wildcats with 11 tackles and pushed his season total to 128. “There was something about them. They had this grit to them and they played physical. It was a great game tonight.”
NOSE FOR THE END ZONE: Temple senior running back Samari Howard goes through the Waxahachie defense for a 2-yard, go-ahead touchdown early in the fourth quarter of the Wildcats' 28-14 win over the Indians in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. That was set up by Howard's 38-yard reception from Junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot. Howard added an 84-yard TD sprint midway through the fourth and finished with 193 yards on 27 carries. The Air Force commitment extended his program records to 348 points and 55 touchdowns. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Leading into the Waxahachie matchup, Temple players and coaches insisted that they had not spent any time or energy thinking about a potential second-round rematch with Rockwall-Heath, whose Hawks defeated the Wildcats 56-28 last Dec. 18 at Baylor’s McLane Stadium in Waco on their way to the Region II title game.
Howard said he didn’t even think much about Temple’s playoff loss during the offseason.
“Not really. We don’t focus on that. We were just focused on Waxahachie all week,” said Howard, co-MVP of 12-6A last season. “Every week, we take it one game and one play at a time. That’s all we do.”
Now, Temple’s focus naturally will turn to its second shot against high-scoring Rockwall-Heath, which rolled to a 35-6 home win over Garland Naaman Forest on Friday. The Hawks’ third-year head coach is Mike Spradlin, who guided the Wildcats to a successful 44-17 run from 2011-15. That was highlighted by a trip to the 5A Division I state championship game in 2014, when current Rockwall-Heath quarterbacks coach and co-offensive coordinator Chad President was Temple’s QB.
Sixth-year head coach Stewart, who was Spradlin’s defensive coordinator from 2014-15, said the Wildcats were so focused on Waxahachie that only after the first-round win will they shift their thoughts to challenging 10-6A champion Rockwall-Heath, which has outscored opponents 591-303 overall and is riding a nine-game winning streak since a 36-35 loss to No. 3 Southlake Carroll on Sept. 2.
“You know, I haven’t even looked at the bracket. We have literally one bracket in our locker room and it says Temple and Waxahachie, so we’ll go get the next step. I heard an announcement that Rockwall-Heath won, so I guess we’re looking at those guys again,” Stewart said. “It’s unbelievably talented football in this region and unbelievably talented coaches. They’re big kids. Every team looks like a college team. So there’s no easy roads, nor should there be. Whoever holds the (state championship) trophy up is going to know they earned it, especially if they represent Region II.”
Temple allowed 446 passing yards and 661 total in its 28-point loss to Rockwall-Heath, whose prolific, balanced offense features Indiana-committed quarterback Josh Hoover, speedy, big-play wide receivers Jay Fair (Auburn) and Jordan Nabors (Baylor) and running back Zach Evans (Minnesota).
“The feeling we had was obviously sadness. You never want to see the season end, especially with the way we lost,” York said. “It was a great game up until the beginning of the fourth quarter (with Temple trailing 35-21), but I feel like it got away from us. I feel it’s going to be a great game next Friday night.”
Added Howard, who rushed for 134 of Temple’s 503 total yards against Rockwall-Heath and also scored a touchdown and blocked a punt: “We knew coming into the playoffs that it’s going to be a good game every week. We’ve got Rockwall-Heath next week and they’re even better than Waxahachie, so we’ve got to come to play.”
The first significant moment of the Temple-Waxahachie clash came on the fourth play of the Indians’ first possession. Junior dual-threat quarterback Hartsfield was tackled hard near the Wildcats’ sideline on his 5-yard run, stayed down for a few minutes and was helped off the field. He didn’t return to action until early in the second quarter.
Waxahachie shifted Young from running back to QB while Hartsfield was sidelined, and the 5-foot-10, 185-pound junior immediately rushed for gains of 27 and 18 yards to help the Indians drive to Temple’s 8-yard line. But a penalty cost Waxahachie 5 yards and York tackled receiver Blair Hawkins for a 7-yard loss before kicker Jesse Garfias missed a 36-yard field attempt to the left in cool, breezy conditions with 4 minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Temple’s offense wasn’t able to crack Waxahachie’s fast, aggressive defense on its first two possessions, and the Indians broke through on their second drive. At quarterback, Young broke through the middle for a 41-yard run to the Wildcats 10. On the first play of the second quarter, the hard-charging Young took a keeper to the right side and cut back for a 9-yard touchdown and a 7-0 Waxahachie lead.
GAME-CHANGING BURST: Temple senior Devan Williams (right) pulls away from Waxahachie with help from teammates KeAndre Smith (left) and Mikal Harrison-Pilot during his 75-yard kickoff return for a touchdown early in the second quarter of the Wildcats' 28-14 victory in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. It was the 11th TD this season for Williams, who scored the first 10 on receptions. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
However, Temple had a knack for scoring touchdowns on defense and special teams during district play, and that trend continued at a key time in the playoff opener. The Indians angled the short ensuing kickoff toward their sideline, but Williams came forward to catch it at his 25 and then carved through would-be tacklers before outrunning everyone for a 75-yard touchdown.
The first of four extra points kicked by senior Danis Bajric pulled the Wildcats into a 7-7 tie with 11:43 remaining before halftime.
Temple senior KeAndre Smith partially blocked a punt on Waxahachie’s ensuing possession to give the Wildcats good field position at their 44. But sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield was sacked for a 7-yard loss near his sideline on a third-down scramble, then sat on the bench with an ice pack on his throwing hand for the remainder of the first half.
Temple started its next possession at its 20 midway through the second period, with Harrison-Pilot at quarterback. Howard runs of 7 and 17 yards plus a key 15-yard facemask penalty against Waxahachie on third-and-16 helped the Wildcats moved into Indians territory, then Harrison-Pilot threw to Williams for 14 yards before Howard, playing QB, gained 4 yards on fourth-and-1 to the 31.
On third-and-9, Harrison-Pilot took the shotgun snap and blasted straight ahead through multiple defenders and crashed in for a 30-yard touchdown run – the versatile junior’s 14th TD overall this season – and Temple’s first lead at 14-7 with 1:09 left before halftime.
NOT TO BE DENIED: Temple junior quarterback Mikal Harrison-Pilot (7) slices through Waxahachie defenders John Nelms Jr. (left) and Jaelyn Davis-Robinson to score the go-ahead 30-yard touchdown run 1:09 before halftime during the Wildcats' 28-14 win over the Indians in Friday night's Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game at Wildcat Stadium. It was the 14th TD scored by Harrison-Pilot this season. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Wildcats junior end Jaylon Jackson sacked Hartsfield near midfield to end the half.
Temple’s defense stopped Waxahachie’s opening drive of the third quarter, but a coffin-corner punt by Garfias pinned the Wildcats at their 2. However, Temple used several productive runs by Howard and Harrison-Pilot and a personal-foul penalty to march into Waxahachie territory, and Rumfield returned at QB with 5 minutes left in the third – his two consecutive long passes were incomplete – before Bajric’s punt resulted in a touchback.
Waxahachie used a 43-yard dash by junior running back Jayden Becks (89 yards on 12 carries) to reach the Temple 21, then Hartsfield returned at QB and tossed a pass down the middle to wide-open tight end Lankford for a 23-yard touchdown as the Indians produced a 14-14 tie with 1:50 remaining in the third.
Stewart said the Wildcats’ defense at that point needed to change its approach to prevent Waxahachie’s rugged, shifty runners from continuing to rip off large gains.
“My challenge to our guys in that third quarter when (Waxahachie) changed personnel a little bit was like, ‘Just go play fast,’” Stewart said. “We’re trying to keep something bad from happening. They’re running a little stretch play and they’re cutting it back and we had guys worried about them cutting it back. You’ve got to trust your teammates to do their job. There was some hesitation there in the third quarter. I saw it in the second quarter, too.
“The challenge when we flipped fields in the fourth quarter was, ‘I want you to play faster than they’re playing. That’s all I care about. If they score 10 touchdowns, I don’t care. We’re not playing fast. We’re not playing Wildcat defense right now. That’s all I want to see.’ And they responded to it.”
A facemask penalty on the ensuing kickoff helped Temple start at the 50. Howard rushed for 12 yards on third-and-9, and on third-and-13 from the 40 Harrison-Pilot lofted a pass that Howard, running along the right seam, adjusted to and caught just outside the 10 before crashing down at the 2. Howard knifed through the defense for a touchdown keeper on the next play, giving the Wildcats the lead for good at 21-14 with 10:20 remaining in the fourth.
Temple defenders Dion Saunders and Zion Moore tackled Becks for no gain at the Waxahachie 48, setting up a fourth-and-7 situation with 6 minutes left. Tolleson’s decision to punt instead of going for a first down initially appeared to be a wise call after the Indians’ kick made the Wildcats start at their 8.
However, Howard quickly extricated Temple from that predicament with one more memorable, game-breaking play on the turf at Bob McQueen Field that he’s called home for three stellar varsity seasons.
Howard rushed for an 8-yard gain, then took the snap at quarterback, faked a zone-read handoff to Harrison-Pilot and charged off left tackle, using effective blocking to tear through the Indians defense. He found an extra gear inside the 30 and outran the final two defenders near the sideline for the 84-yard touchdown, prompting delirious celebrations on Temple’s sideline and home stands as the Wildcats expanded their lead to 28-14 with 5:32 remaining.
“Yes, I showed that little 100-meter speed right there,” said a smiling Howard, who ran the first leg on Temple’s 4x100-meter relay team that placed sixth in the 6A state track and field meet in Austin last May.
Howard extended his Temple career records to 348 points and 55 touchdowns in what most likely was his final game at Wildcat Stadium.
“I’m trying not to get emotional. Three years on varsity . . . it’s just crazy,” said the 5-foot-8, 175-pound Howard, who pushed his career rushing total to 3,789 yards. “I can’t believe it’s coming to an end right now.”
BIG BLUE WALL: Temple sophomore nose tackle Ayden Brown (94) and junior linebacker Taurean York combine to bring down Waxahachie quarterback Roderick Hartsfield Jr. during the Wildcats' 28-14 victory in a Class 6A Division II bi-district playoff game Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Temple shut out Waxahachie in the fourth quarter as the District 12-6A champion Wildcats (9-2) extended their winning streak to nine games. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Senior tackle Tommy Torres (seven tackles, three for losses) and Temple’s increasingly active defense stonewalled Waxahachie’s next possession before the Indians’ pressured punt traveled only 8 yards.
Waxahachie stopped Tavaris Sullivan for no gain on a fourth-and-1 run at the Indians 33, but by then only 1:54 remained. Hartsfield's passing drove the Indians to Temple’s 20, but the Wildcats pressured him into two incomplete throws before Jackson invaded the backfield and sacked Hartsfield for a 14-yard loss to seal Temple’s hard-earned victory.
“We had a couple of sacks and some big-time stops on that last drive, so hat’s off to these kids for that,” Stewart said.
Said Howard about Temple’s defense: “They have a lot of grit. They’re not going to stop fighting until it’s all zeroes on the clock. They’re crazy. From Week 1 against (No. 1-ranked Austin) Westlake to now against Waxahachie, it’s just a whole different defense.”
Temple’s Dexter Knox-coordinated defense must be in peak form for next Friday night’s second-round rematch against Rockwall-Heath in Burleson. The Hawks’ explosive, well-balanced attack has cranked out 563.5 yards per game (309.5 rushing, 254.0 passing) under the watch of former Wildcats headliners Spradlin and President.
“We have to put our head down and work. We can’t base this year’s game off of last year’s game, for sure,” York said. “They have different people and we have a different team as well. Obviously there’s a lot of familiar faces, but that doesn’t really mean anything. It’s a game on Friday night and we just have to play.”
From Stewart's perspective, his excitement stems more from having at least one more week to coach his Wildcats in the playoffs and less from clashing again with formidable and familiar foe Rockwall-Heath, even as appealing as that eagerly anticipated matchup is.
“Not because of those guys; because our kids get another opportunity. One of these groups tonight gets another opportunity and one of them’s going home and packing it up and playing basketball,” Stewart said. “So I don’t care if we’ve got to play the Green Bay Packers. We have an opportunity, and that’s all you can ask for.
“I know everybody’s probably already handed (Rockwall-Heath) the win, but if everybody will oblige us, we’ll show up and play a football game.”
HIGH SCHOOL FOOTBALL PLAYOFFS
CLASS 6A DIVISION II BI-DISTRICT
TEMPLE 28, WAXAHACHIE 14
Waxahachie 0 7 7 0 – 14
Temple 0 14 0 14 – 28
Waxahachie – Iverson Young 9 run (Jesse Garfias kick), 11:55.
Temple – Devan Williams 75 kickoff return (Danis Bajric kick), 11:43.
Temple – Mikal Harrison-Pilot 30 run (Bajric kick), 1:09.
Waxahachie – Joseph Lankford 23 pass from Roderick Hartsfield Jr. (Garfias kick), 1:50.
Temple – Samari Howard 2 run (Bajric kick), 10:20.
Temple – Howard 84 run (Bajric kick), 5:32.
Rushes-yards: Waxahachie 42-280; Temple 37-223.
Passing yards: Waxahachie 83; Temple 79.
Completions-attempts-interceptions: Waxahachie 11-20-0; Temple 6-14-0.
Total plays-offensive yards: Waxahachie 62-363; Temple 51-302.
Rushing – Waxahachie: Young 21-170, Jayden Becks 12-89, Hartsfield 9-21; Temple: Howard 27-193, Harrison-Pilot 6-37, Tavaris Sullivan 2-5, team 1-(-5), Reese Rumfield 1-(-7).
Passing – Waxahachie: Hartsfield 9-18-0-83, Young 2-2-0-0; Temple: Harrison-Pilot 3-5-0-55, Rumfield 3-9-0-24.
Receiving – Waxahachie: Lankford 4-44, Keith Abney II 3-29, Terrell Davis 1-7, Becks 1-5, Young 1-5, Blair Hawkins 1-(-7); Temple: Howard 1-38, Williams 2-20, Harrison-Pilot 1-11, Michael Heckstall 1-7, Tr’Darius Taylor 1-3.
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