WILDCATS BACK ON TRACK: After answering challenge at Bryan, Temple aims to take down talented Weiss
NOWHERE TO GO: Temple senior defenders Naeten Mitchell (4), Josh Donoso (22), Taurean York (5) and Aiden Malsbary combine to tackle Bryan running back Tate Schneringer during the Wildcats' 53-19 road victory in last Friday's District 12-6A opener. Temple allowed only 30 passing yards and 260 overall, and York's hard shot to Bryan's quarterback led to senior Julian White's interception return for a touchdown. In Temple's 12-6A home opener, the Wildcats (3-2, 1-0) host first-time opponent Pflugerville Weiss (2-3, 0-1) at 7:30 tonight at Wildcat Stadium. (Photo by Matt Corley, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Temple’s football team was at a crossroads going into its District 12-6A opener last Friday night at Bryan.
After beginning their season with solid wins against McKinney and Willis, the Wildcats followed a 45-35 loss at always-tough College Station by getting shellacked 53-18 on their home field by Class 6A state-ranked Arlington Martin.
Temple committed numerous physical mistakes and mental errors while allowing a combined 98 points in back-to-back frustrating defeats that washed away any positive momentum it had accumulated.
Seventh-year head coach Scott Stewart didn’t like much of what he saw from his mistake-plagued Wildcats in those losses. It wasn’t that they weren’t playing hard enough; they were doing things they haven’t been coached to do. And in Stewart’s eyes, the players weren’t taking enough responsibility and demonstrating enough accountability for their shortcomings.
So as three-time defending 12-6A champion Temple prepared to battle Bryan last week, Stewart challenged his players to prove they deserve to be put on the field.
“Again, I think these kids will always play hard. I hate to say that’s a given, but that’s a given expectation, anyway. Just owning your position – that was the challenge last week. ‘I need you to be the best version of yourself. I need you to own your position,’” Stewart said Tuesday afternoon as Temple (3-2, 1-0) prepared to host new opponent Pflugerville Weiss (2-3, 0-1) at 7:30 Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. “It wasn’t rampant, but when I said, ‘Hey, why didn’t we get this guy?’ what I heard was, ‘Well, he stepped over here,’ or, ‘I slipped.’
“It’s not like I hear it all the time, but I had heard it more in the last couple weeks. And when something kind of gets on my radar, I try to be aware of that. If it seems to be more predominant at any certain time, I try to address that. I said, ‘I’m done. You can’t own anything if it’s always somebody else’s fault. You can’t get any better right now. You’re mentally blocking yourself from getting any better right now because you won’t accept the fact that you screwed it up, and I’m tired of it. I’m not dealing with that anymore.’ That was the message Saturday (after the Martin game).”
Message delivered, loud and clear.
After a grueling week of practice, the Wildcats responded to their coach’s challenge by hammering Bryan 53-19 a week ago at Merrill Green Stadium, where six players scored a total of seven touchdowns for Temple and its active defense allowed only 30 passing yards against a Vikings squad that was missing injured quarterback Malcom Gooden. Wildcats senior Steve Jackson, a starting cornerback, scored touchdowns on his first two carries this season.
“Well, we went back to basics,” Stewart said after Temple’s second straight league-opening blowout win at Bryan. “I’ve always said, ‘Never let someone beat you twice.’ So if we’d hung our head down and tripped over our bottom lip and all the cliches that come with that, you don’t have a chance to get better. We challenged them.”
Now, the challenge for the revived Wildcats is to maintain the focused approach they had in Bryan and put together another winning streak in 12-6A, a district in which they’ve earned 16 straight victories dating to 2019.
Temple’s next test is against Weiss (2-3, 0-1), a talented squad that produced back-to-back wins over Converse Judson and New Braunfels before the Wolves’ district-opening 21-14 home loss to formidable Harker Heights last Thursday.
“They’re really good and they’re going to trot a bunch of very good-looking children out there. They’re well-coached and super aggressive on defense, which we’ve showed we’ve struggled with sometimes. I mean, they’re good,” Stewart said about fifth-year varsity program Weiss, which ascended to 6A this season after winning last year’s District 11-5A Division I championship with a 7-0 record.
After a 43-35 loss to Harker Heights to begin the 2021 season, the Wolves of veteran head coach Steve Van Meter ripped off 10 consecutive wins before they lost 41-31 to Manvel in an area-round playoff game.
Although Temple has played against Weiss, Stewart said that won’t change the way Temple approaches the matchup.
“Honestly, people we’ve played for 20 years or people we’re playing for the first time, there’s not a whole lot (of difference),” said Stewart, whose squad travels to nemesis Waco Midway next Friday. “You’ve got to get ready for what they do, because every team has coaching changes and coordinator changes and they may not do the same thing.”
Temple hasn’t played against Weiss, but it has faced teams coached by Van Meter. He was Hutto’s coach when the Wildcats beat the Hippos as 17-5A opponents in 2014 and 2015. The 2014 matchup at Wildcat Stadium was a 41-34 barnburner won by Temple, which went undefeated in district and finished 13-2 after a narrow loss to top-ranked Aledo in the 5A Division I state championship game.
Hutto finished third in the league but eventually reached the 5A Division II Region III final in an 11-3 season. The Wildcats had no problems against playoff qualifier Hutto in 2015, hammering the host Hippos 54-7 en route to another perfect district record.
Van Meter coached Friendswood to seven seasons of 10-plus wins from 1992-2011 before retiring. After one season away, he took the Hutto job and guided the Hippos from 2013-17, going 11-2 in his final season, before retiring again. Van Meter came out of retirement in 2020 to coach Weiss in only its third varsity season. The Wolves’ 49-42 win on Sept. 16 at New Braunfels – which opened the season by beating state power Denton Ryan – was his 200th career victory.
The Weiss offense has a stellar running back in 5-10, 200-pound senior Daelen Alexander (89 carries, 450 yards, two touchdowns), whom Stewart described as “electric.” Alexander had been verbally committed to Air Force but on Wednesday switched his pledge to Rice.
“They’re going to give it to their running back in space. He’s pretty good,” Temple defensive coordinator Dexter Knox said about Alexander, who compiled 1,272 rushing yards and 16 touchdowns last season. “He’s kind of a mixture. He’s not an ultimate blazer, but he’s faster than you want him to be and he’s big. He’s trying to punish you on his runs.”
Weiss has used an effective two-quarterback system this season. Senior Tate Reiland (6-2, 190) is 46-of-68 passing for 560 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions, while sophomore Jax Brown (6-2, 180) is 46-of-79 for 648 yards with seven TDs and two INTs. Reiland left last Thursday’s game against Harker Heights with an apparent upper-body injury and did not return. Brown has a scholarship offer from Arizona State.
“They’ve got good quarterbacks and they’re going to get it to their guys,” Knox said.
Stewart said every player who wears a single-digit jersey number for Weiss is talented and dangerous. Three of them are receivers who pose a threat to a Temple secondary that’s led by New Mexico State-committed senior safety/cornerback Naeten Mitchell (three interceptions) and has gotten strong play recently from senior cornerback Kaiden Anderson.
Baylor-committed senior Micah Gifford (6-3, 194) has 21 catches for 363 yards and three touchdowns; senior Tory Simmons (5-8, 160) has 318 yards and five TDs on 22 grabs, including scores of 24 and 20 yards against Harker Heights; and sophomore Adrian Wilson (6-2, 176) – who has a scholarship offer from Baylor – has 12 receptions for 254 yards and four TDs.
“They spread you out all over the field,” Stewart said. “They’re going to try to create opportunities in space with some great athletes, and they do a good job of it.”
Temple’s defense responded from rough performances against College Station and Martin by smothering Bryan and limiting the Vikings to 260 total yards and only 30 passing. With dual-threat quarterback Gooden sidelined with an injured throwing hand, depleted Bryan struggled to protect backup quarterback Creed Pierce.
Temple’s top defensive highlight came to begin the second quarter when Baylor-committed senior linebacker Taurean York popped Pierce as he threw, forcing a short, wobbly pass that senior end Julian White intercepted and returned 6 yards for a touchdown and a 14-0 lead. Mitchell made the Wildcats’ other interception.
On the flip side, Temple’s offense finally exploded in the romp at Bryan. The Wildcats came in averaging 297 yards per game, then broke through with 302 passing yards and 259 rushing yards against the Vikings.
Senior Deshaun Brundage rushed for 92 yards, junior Jervonnie Williams had 64 and Jackson scored touchdowns of 8 and 37 yards on his first two carries this season, which should lead to more opportunities for the Troy transfer to carry the ball as 12-6A action continues.
“I’m really excited about him at running back,” Temple offensive coordinator Robby Case said about Jackson.
Meanwhile, junior quarterback Reese Rumfield played a sharp, smart game against Bryan, completing 18 of 27 passes for 302 yards with touchdowns on 76 yards to junior Jeremiah Lennon and 34 yards to sophomore Christian Tutson. The fleet-footed Tutson has six touchdown receptions and eight TDs overall in the last four games.
Rumfield (1,133 passing yards) surpassed the 1,000-yard passing mark for the second straight season, and his 11 touchdown passes have averaged 46.3 yards while spreading the ball around to senior standout Mikal Harrison-Pilot (25 receptions, 448 yards, three TDs), Tutson (13-326-6), Lennon and junior Jaquon Butler.
“I thought Reese played really well,” Stewart said about Rumfield’s game at Bryan, where he shook off getting his foot stepped on right before halftime. “He did a good job of managing the game and taking what they gave him.”
Case commended the play of Temple’s offensive line of center Endrei Sauls, guards Agustin Silva and Seth Martinez and tackles Jeremiah Mungia and Armando Gonzales. Case also was pleased that Brundage scored the first touchdown of his senior season, a 5-yard burst late in the third quarter that came after Sauls urged the Wildcats’ sideline to give Brundage the ball.
Although Weiss has allowed 28.8 points per game and permitted Harker Heights star running back Re’Shaun Sanford II to rush for 226 yards with a 64-yard TD last week, the Wolves have enough talent and skill on defense to challenge Temple.
“They’re hyper-aggressive and they’re big,” Stewart said. “There’s really good athletes in the secondary, the linebackers trigger and you better get a hat on a hat. Their defensive linemen are big, long guys and they’re really aggressive.”
Gifford also plays free safety and is joined in the secondary by junior safety Cai Morgan (35 tackles, three interceptions) and senior Titus Massaquoi. The Weiss line is anchored by junior tackle Chidera Otutu (6-2, 290), who has offers from Southern Methodist and Sam Houston State.
Other playmakers for the Weiss defense are senior end Lorenzo Diggs, junior middle linebacker Styles Goodman (6-2, 225) and senior linebacker Samuel Miller, who was credited with 20 tackles in the Wolves’ season-opening 31-14 loss to Round Rock.
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