AUSTIN — Committing six turnovers on the road and falling behind 28-9 against a strong opponent, the Temple Wildcats really shouldn’t have had a legitimate opportunity to beat Round Rock Cedar Ridge in Friday night’s season opener at Kelly Reeves Athletic Complex.
And yet in the final 2 minutes, the Wildcats were only one big offensive play away from potentially storming back from to defeat the Raiders.
But after Temple’s defense got a clutch stop to give the ball back to its offense with 1:50 remaining, Cedar Ridge lineman Alejandro Mendez tackled quarterback Vance Willis on fourth-and-15, and the Raiders staved off the Wildcats for a 35-29 win.
Despite 254 yards rushing and a third-quarter touchdown by Temple sophomore running back Samari Howard in his varsity debut, Cedar Ridge defeated the Wildcats for the third time in four years and snapped their streak of season-opening victories at seven.
Temple coach Scott Stewart didn’t like his players’ overall effort during the mistake-filled first half, so he challenged them at halftime and they responded well before coming up short.
“I told them, ‘I don’t care about mistakes right now. I don’t care about the scoreboard. I care about finding 22 dogs,’” Stewart said. “We had some guys not playing hard. I’m done talking about being a young team. We’ve got to coach better. That was not up to snuff.
“I’m by no means disappointed in our second-half effort. This is the ultimate team game and it’s time to get better.”
Willis, the Wildcats’ senior first-year starting quarterback, threw four interceptions in the first half and five overall, but he fired a 53-yard touchdown pass to Texas-committed senior receiver Quentin Johnston on the fourth quarter’s first play to slice Temple’s deficit to 35-29.
Neither team scored again, but Kansas State-committed senior running back Chris Vaughn (22 carries, 104 yards) helped Cedar Ridge drain the clock with a 9-minute drive, converting two third downs and two fourth downs before the Raiders punted with 1:50 left.
“Defense kept Temple in the game. That was really a huge drive for our offense,” Cedar Ridge coach Sam Robinson said of Vaughn, who in the first quarter had a 71-yard catch-and-run touchdown pass from Jalen Brown and scored on a 97-yard kickoff return. “I’m glad he’s on our team.”
Filling in for injured senior star Anthony Jackson (hamstring), Howard showed patience, power and speed while carrying 25 times for 254 yards, including his 15-yard touchdown late in the third.
“I was very pleased. Anthony coached me up on the sideline and everything he does helps me,” Howard said. “We showed we have a lot of grit.”
“(Howard’s) an absolute stud,” Stewart said. “He showed he can take abuse from a physical defense.”
Temple built its only lead at 7-6 late in the first quarter after Willis’ 15-yard TD run, but Cedar Ridge used four interceptions thrown by Willis and Howard’s lost fumble to move ahead 28-9 with 9 minutes left before halftime.
“Vance was frustrated, but he’s growing,” Stewart said. “He’s got a lot of dog in him.”
The Wildcats scored a peculiar touchdown midway through the second. Holder Adrian Guzman snagged a high snap on Aaron Wagaman’s would-be 20-yard field goal try, then dashed to the right pylon for a 2-yard TD to make it 28-15, the halftime score.
Brown’s 43-yard TD pass to wide-open MarkAnthony Walker II put Cedar Ridge up 35-22 late in the third, but Willis and Johnston answered with their 43-yard scoring connection.
Temple’s home opener is next Friday against Universidad Autonoma de Nuevo Leon (Mexico).
ROUND ROCK CEDAR RIDGE 35,
Temple 7 8 7 7 — 29
Cedar Ridge 21 7 7 0 — 35
CR — Deuce Vaughn 71 pass from Jalen Brown (kick blocked)
Tem — Vance Willis 15 run (Aaron Wagaman kick)
CR — Vaughn 97 kickoff return (Chase Camp kick)
CR — Jacoryan Isaac 1 run (Jake Tangedal pass from Brown)
Tem — Safety; offense recovers fumble in end zone
CR — Devon Turner 12 pass from Jack Turner (Camp kick)
Tem — Adrian Guzman 2 run (pass failed)
Tem — Samari Howard 15 run (Wagaman kick)
CR — MarkAnthony Walker II 43 pass from Brown (Camp kick)
Tem — Quentin Johnston 53 pass from Willis (Wagaman kick)
First downs 21 14
Rushes-yards 50-351 42-229
Passing yards 123 151
Comp.-Att.-Int. 8-19-5 9-16-0
Punts-average 1-51 6-27.3
Fumbles-lost 1-1 1-0
Penalties-yards 4-25 8-73
RUSHING — Temple: Howard 25-254, Willis 16-64, Ky’Juan Pugh 8-31, Guzman 1-2; Cedar Ridge: Vaughn 22-104, Josh Nazaire 3-65, Isaac 6-38, Brown 6-32, Walker 1-11, J. Turner 1-(-2), team 3-(-19).
PASSING — Temple: Willis 8-18-5-123, Wagaman 0-1-0-0; Cedar Ridge: Brown 8-13-0-139, J. Turner 1-3-0-12.
RECEIVING — Temple: Johnston 4-85, AJ McDuffy 2-19, KD Freeman 1-12, Luke Allen 1-7; Cedar Ridge: Vaughn 2-76, Walker 2-58, D. Turner 3-17, Isaac 1-0, DJ Rountree 1-0.