- Greg Wille
WILDCATS WALLOPED: Arlington Martin sets tone on special teams, never relaxes to hammer Temple 53-18
Updated: Sep 20, 2022
WRAPPING HIM UP: Temple senior defensive lineman Ka'Morion Carter sacks Arlington Martin junior quarterback Tristan Bittle as end Jaylon Jackson closes in during the Wildcats' 53-18 loss to the No. 11-ranked Warriors on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Reigning District 12-6A champion Temple (2-2) will begin its title defense next Friday at Bryan (3-1). (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
By GREG WILLE
Arlington Martin arrived at Temple’s Wildcat Stadium on Friday night with a well-known, well-earned reputation for producing excellent, creative play on special teams. In 2020 the Warriors of longtime head coach Bob Wager scored three touchdowns in the kicking game to highlight their 43-25 road win against the Wildcats.
So when Class 6A No. 11-ranked Martin won the coin toss and deferred its option to the second half in the non-district finale for both teams, the Warriors ostensibly were going to kick off the football to Temple.
But in actuality, they simply were kicking the ball off to themselves.
Mark Williamson’s game-opening onside kick bounced high off the new artificial turf at Bob McQueen Field, glanced off the hands of a frontline Temple player and was grabbed easily by versatile Warriors senior standout Michael Barrow.
Although that recovery only led to a 39-yard field goal by Williamson, it seemed to put the Wildcats in a psychological hole that they never fully climbed out of.
Fueled by Barrow and Javien Toviano, Martin’s bold and opportunistic team took advantage of Temple breakdowns in the first quarter’s final minute to stunningly score three touchdowns in a 22-second span for a commanding 24-0 lead, and the relentless Warriors went up 39-11 by halftime on their way to beating the Wildcats 53-18 in an overwhelming, clinical performance.
“They’re well-coached and they obviously have phenomenal athletes. When five of their guys can catch our fastest guy . . . one of them misses and the next guy catches him,” Temple seventh-year head coach Scott Stewart said about Martin (3-1). “My hat’s off to Coach Wager and his group. They’re a class act and they do a great job. They’re obviously very talented and a very well-coached football team.”
After beginning its season with wins against McKinney and Willis, Temple (2-2) has allowed 98 points in consecutive losses to 5A Division I state-ranked College Station and perennial 6A playoff program Martin. Following two consecutive unbeaten runs to the District 12-6A championship, the Wildcats will start 12-6A play next Friday night at Bryan (3-1) on the heels of absorbing a thorough shellacking from the well-rounded Warriors.
“The same old lesson is that playing hard at this level ain’t good enough; you’ve got to play well,” Stewart said. “And I think we played a little bit better (after halftime). The challenge at halftime was, ‘You’re either going to expose someone or you’re going to get exposed.’ And there was probably a little bit of both in there, and we’ll figure out what we want to do (moving forward). We’ve got to be more consistent in practice. I had three starters not start the game because they didn’t feel like showing up to practice one day. So until that gets fixed, schematics don’t matter.
"I just told them, ‘At this point of the season, we’ve done everything we could. We won a close one (at McKinney), we kind of pulled away (vs. Willis), we lost a close one (at College Station) and then we just got our booties smacked all over the place. So we have experience with every sort of outcome.’ Sometimes you go roll a bunch of teams that aren’t very good and you start thinking your stuff doesn’t stink. I don’t foresee anyone in that locker room thinking our stuff doesn’t stink, because it stunk up pretty bad tonight. Those are life experiences and we’re going to have to figure out who we are and who we want to be.”
BOMB SQUAD: Temple sophomore wide receiver Christian Tutson (11) gets past Arlington Martin defensive back Chris Johnson (7) to haul in a 46-yard touchdown pass from junior quarterback Reese Rumfield as Javien Toviano trails the play during the third quarter of the Wildcats' 53-18 non-district loss to the Warriors on Friday night at Wildcat Stadium. Tutson made a 56-yard touchdown reception from Rumfield in the second period and caught four passes overall for 119 yards. He has five TD catches and seven TDs overall in Temple's last three games. (Photo by Mike Lefner, Temple ISD/Special to TempleBeltonSports.com)
Temple sophomore wide receiver Christian Tutson (four receptions, 119 yards) caught touchdown passes of 56 and 46 yards from junior quarterback Reese Rumfield (7-for-18 passing, 144 yards), giving Tutson seven total TDs in the last three games, but the Wildcats had few other highlights. Temple's offense generated only 215 yards, and its defense allowed Martin to rush for 287 yards and pass for 220.
“It wasn’t that bad. It was just missed assignments. We’ve got to pick up the pace a little bit. We’ve got to catch the ball, bring the ball back and do something with the ball,” Temple senior strong safety Josh Donoso said. “We learn from our mistakes. We’ll be up here early in the morning to come watch film and we’ll get better off of that, then we’ll be back to the (drawing) board for Bryan.”
Martin recovered two onside kicks, executed fake punts and scored three 2-point conversions. Senior cornerback and five-star national recruit Toviano darted in front of a Rumfield pass and return his first-quarter interception 15 yards for a touchdown, and junior quarterback Tristan Biddle threw TD passes of 23 yards to Jeremiah Charles and 85 to Ismael Smith Flores.
“We’ve gotten progressively better over the course of the last month, and we played more complete tonight than we had along the way,” said Wager, Martin’s 17th-year head coach whose Warriors were unbeaten district champions in 2021. “I think we went 2-for-4 on onside kicks and on the other two Temple’s kid made an unbelievable play and took a shot. And we think that (physical style) is a factor.”
Martin completed its non-strict gauntlet with wins against Austin Lake Travis, Cedar Hill and Temple, losing only to state-ranked Allen 27-16 last week.
“We did it intentionally. Whether you come out 1-3 or 3-1 or whatever, you know you’re going to get better from playing those guys,” Wager said about the Warriors’ non-district grind. “So in the grand scheme of things, obviously we want to win them all, but coming out 3-1 we actually feel pretty good about ourselves.”
With both Temple and Martin being placed in seven-team districts in the new two-year alignment, Stewart and Wager connected during the offseason to give each team one more big test before league competition. Although the Warriors have beaten the Wildcats by 18 and 35 points, New York native Wager lauded the experience of bringing his team 2 hours south to battle Temple at venerable Wildcat Stadium.
“In having had the opportunity to play here in Temple a couple times, I think these two programs – the players, coaches, communities, all of it – have gained a tremendous mutual respect for one another. So in our last non-district game, we’re both going to come out of this and get better as a result of it,” Wager said after his 197th head coaching win in 26 seasons overall. “I’ve got a group that we feel good about, and when you get placed in a seven-team district and you start making telephone calls to see if anybody’s willing to play, there isn’t anybody who can play.
“This is what I know about the Temple Wildcats: as soon as the call was made, it was, ‘You got it, Coach. We’re in.’ We both know we’re going to come out of here and get better. I’ll tell you, this place is awesome. What a crowd tonight as well. It’s special.”
Two years after Martin got two long kickoff returns for touchdowns at Temple and also recovered an errant punt snap in the end zone for another TD, the Warriors wasted no time in setting the tone on special teams.
Williamson angled a low, skidding kickoff toward Temple’s sideline. The ball took a large hop, glanced off the hands of a Wildcats player as he jumped to try to catch it and settled into the hands of Barrow at Temple’s 45-yard line.
Although the onside kick did not surprise the Wildcats, Martin’s flawless execution of it essentially stole a possession away from the home team.
The Warriors advanced to the 22 before the Wildcat defense stiffened, limiting Martin to Williamson’s 39-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead with 3½ minutes gone.
Punting for the first time this season, Rumfield kicked a 47-yarder that pinned the Warriors at their 4. However, Bittle and Barrow got loose for runs of 33 and 23 yards, respectively, to switch field position before a long Martin punt forced Temple to start over at its 13.
A long punt return by sophomore Brooks Brigance along the right side set up the Warriors at the Wildcats 40 with a minute left in the opening period. From the 38, the 5-foot-7, 175-pound Barrow ran left on a speed sweep, used stellar body control to stay in bounds, tightroped the sideline and used a key block by Toviano to race in for a 38-yard touchdown.
Barrow then lined up at quarterback for the 2-point conversion and rushed in off right tackle to give Martin an 11-0 lead.
“We’ve had some really good backs here. In 17 years, we’ve been blessed with great talent and the running back position is one of them. Michael Barrow is as good a back as we’ve ever had come through Martin High School,” Wager said. “If he were 3 inches taller, he’d have every offer in the country. But you know what? Who cares? He’s a captain. He’s got a 4.0 GPA. He’d just as soon block as he would run. You’ve just automatically got to love getting a chance to coach a kid like that.”
Taking over at its 17 after the kickoff, Temple needed a spark. Instead, Martin made another huge play that kept all the momentum on its side.
Senior standout Mikal Harrison-Pilot was one of three Wildcats receivers bunched together on the right side. The other two were ready to block for Harrison-Pilot as the four-star recruit waited on Rumfield’s horizontal pass, but the 6-1, 190-pound Toviano – whose dozens of scholarship offers include Texas, Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State – quickly jumped the route, made the interception at the 14 and fought through Harrison-Pilot’s attempted tackle near the goal line to score the Warriors’ second touchdown in 11 seconds. Gage Wager’s extra point made it 18-0 with 20 seconds left.
Martin kept the pressure on Temple with another high-bouncing onside kick – this one toward the Warriors’ sideline – and recovered the ball at the Wildcats 45, taking away another possession from an increasingly frustrated Temple squad.
On the next play, junior running back Konye Frazier blasted through a big hole and sprinted past the defense for a 45-yard touchdown. The Wildcats stopped Barrow’s run on the 2-point try, but Martin’s stunning blitzkrieg of 21 points in 22 seconds gave the Warriors a 24-0 lead with 9 seconds left in the first quarter, leaving Temple’s sideline and fans in disbelief.
The Wildcats received their first break a minute into the second when Bittle fumbled in the backfield and senior defensive end Kevin Stockton fell on the ball at Martin’s 19. After Cadynce Hall sacked Rumfield for a 9-yard loss at the 24, Rumfield hit Tutson for 12 yards before Temple settled for getting on the scoreboard as Marcos Garcia kicked a 29-yard field goal for a 24-3 game.
A short kickoff allowed Martin to take over at midfield, and Frazier exploded off right tackle for a 34-yard gain to the 5. A 15-yard penalty pushed the Warriors back, but Barrow reached the 1 on a 19-yard catch-and-run play before Barrow took the snap and pushed across for his second touchdown.
Gage Wager, the senior son of Martin’s coach, played quarterback on the 2-point play and rolled right before throwing to open receiver Anthony Crenshaw Jr. in the right side of the end zone to expand the Warriors’ lead to 32-3 7:33 before halftime.
After blasting onto the varsity scene with two long touchdown catches against Willis and then scoring three TDs last week at College Station, Tutson added to his highlight reel after Temple senior Naeten Mitchell secured yet another Martin onside kick.
From Temple’s 44, the speedy Tutson got open past Martin’s star-studded secondary and caught Rumfield’s perfect pass in stride before gliding in for the 56-yard touchdown. The Wildcats went for the 2-point conversion and got it as Rumfield rolled right and just before reaching the sideline fired a low dart to Harrison-Pilot, who caught it in the front-right corner of the end zone to trim Temple’s deficit to 32-11 with 6:48 left in the first half.
Garcia chipped the ensuing kickoff short and Steve Jackson recovered the ball for Temple, but that went for naught because the Wildcats were penalized for being offside. When Garcia popped up another kickoff, Martin called for a fair catch and Temple was penalized 15 yards for a late hit to set up the Warriors at the Wildcats 36.
Bittle threw to Charles for 13 yards, then they connected again on the next play as Charles cut across from the right and got inside his defender near the goal line to snare Bittle’s pass for a 23-yard touchdown that extended Martin’s lead to 39-11 midway through the second quarter.
The Warriors then swarmed Temple sophomore O’Ryan Peoples on the ensuing kickoff after he muffed the ball at the 11 and almost tackled him for a safety, with the officials marking Peoples down at the 1.
With 1:22 left in the half, Martin faced fourth-and-4 at Temple’s 39. With Gage Wager deep in punt formation, the fact that the Warriors went for the fake didn’t surprise the Wildcats but Wager still gained 8 yards on a run to the right side.
However, Temple prevented Martin from widening its lead when senior cornerback Kaiden Anderson deftly broke up Bittle’s pass to the end zone as time expired.
Martin delivered yet another big play on special teams to start the second half, returning the kickoff to midfield. The Warriors marched to the 18, but junior Ayden Brown and senior Teryon Williams-Echols tackled Bittle for a 2-yard loss before Williamson kicked a 37-yard field goal into a strong breeze to make it 42-11.
Mateo Lopez’s 51-yard punt pinned Martin at its 6, but that didn’t faze the Warriors. Bittle ran for 9 yards, then fired a crossing pass to 6-5, 210-pound receiver Smith Flores, who bounced off the defensive back who tried to knock him down around the 40 and pulled away for an 85-yard touchdown. Mekhi Sanford rushed in for the 2-point conversion, building the lead to 50-11 midway through the third.
Although out of contention, Temple produced one more highlight-reel play on its next possession. Rymond Johnson ripped off a 27-yard run, then Tutson sprinted down the right side and caught Rumfield’s on-target bomb for a 46-yard touchdown – their fifth TD connection in the last three games – to make it 50-18 with 5:26 left in the third.
“We think the strength of our defense is our secondary, but we went in tonight thinking, ‘We’re going to have our hands full,’” Bob Wager said. “So regardless of the (recruiting) stars or whatever, I know when a guy can play, and there’s some real explosivity on Temple’s offensive unit.”
The Wildcats finished their non-district stretch with two consecutive losses plagued by too many mistakes, but first-year starter Donoso remained excited about what he and Temple can achieve during their six-game 12-6A schedule beginning in Bryan next Friday.
“It’s my senior season, so I get a lot of playing time and I’ll be able to go show what I can do instead of being on the sideline,” Donoso said. “That’s what I’m looking forward to.”
After Temple absorbed a one-sided pounding from machine-like Martin, the Wildcats’ demanding head coach emphasized that he and his players and coaches must examine themselves and quickly shore up their problems before the games that count the most begin.
“They’ll flush it. We’ll figure it out,” Stewart said. “I think it’s a fine line. I’m looking around and we’ve got some guys who don’t look too bothered by this, which is a concern, and then we’ve got some guys who went straight to the locker room. Again, we’ve just got to figure out who we want to be and how we want to be. I guess we’ll figure that out."
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