Wildcats

Anthony Jackson (5) and the Temple Wildcats will try to knock off defending state champion Longview in a bi-district playoff game tonight.

From Fort Bend Ridge Point in 2014 to Manvel and Richmond Foster in 2016, the Temple Wildcats have a recent history of beating previously undefeated teams come playoff time. Those wins helped Temple reach two Class 5A Division I state championship games.

However, none of those victories came against a defending state champion that’s riding a 26-game win streak and allows 8.5 points per game, or in a true road game in a potentially intimidating environment.

“It’s going to be huge,” Wildcats junior tackle/tight end Alex Rodriguez said. “We’ve just got to do what we do.”

All District 12-6A co-champion Temple (8-2) must do to extend its season is venture into East Texas tonight and defeat Longview (10-0), whose juggernaut program hasn’t lost in almost two calendar years and has won 18 straight home games since 2016. The Wildcats battle the Lobos in a Class 6A Division II bi-district duel at 7:30 at Lobo Stadium.

“They’re as good as advertised,” Temple fourth-year head coach Scott Stewart said of 11-6A champion Longview. “I’ve never coached a state champion, but I’ve been in that game several times (once as a head coach, twice as an assistant). When you turn on film and say, ‘I wonder what a defending state champion looks like,’ that’s what Longview looks like.”

Temple seniors can harken back to a 24-23 regional semifinal upset of Manvel in 2016 to build belief they can defeat Longview. Bitter memories from Temple’s 45-38 bi-district home loss to Mesquite Horn last year add motivation, too.

“There’s no pressure on us,” senior center Markel Carter said.

Stewart believes his Wildcats embrace tonight’s opportunity.

“We’ve played people that are better than us before,” he said. “I told them Saturday, ‘Guys, let’s not make any bones about it. Nobody gives you a chance.’ If you measured talent, they’re more talented. I’m not saying at every position, but if we’re to have a chance, we’ve got to understand and own this situation.

“We’re going to have to do everything really, really well. We don’t have to be perfect, but what we’ve done thus far will not be good enough. Are they beatable? Yes. If a man bleeds, he can be beat.”

The first Temple-Longview collision since the Lobos’ 24-3 bi-district victory in 2011 matches two all-time great Texas programs. The Wildcats’ 774 wins rank third; the Lobos’ 736 rank seventh.

“It’s two of the state’s most storied programs and it’s one hell of a first-round game. Both programs have a lot of tradition and athletes,” said Longview 16th-year head coach John King, who’s 179-35 with 12 10-win seasons. “Temple’s very talented and well-coached.”

The winner plays Dallas Jesuit (6-4) or Garland Lakeview Centennial (6-4) next week.

Temple earned its first district title since 2015 by beating Copperas Cove 55-17 last week, but the Wildcats’ turnover-filled 52-28 setback two weeks ago at 12-6A co-champ Hewitt Midway is the reason Temple’s on the road tonight. Longview’s last defeat came against Midway in 2017, a 28-26 loss in a 6A-II state semifinal.

The Lobos overtook Beaumont West Brook 35-34 last December to capture the 6A-II championship, ending 80-plus years of frustration since Longview’s previous state title in 1937.

“It was a joyous occasion. People said they got Christmas early,” King said. “It was like lifting a dark cloud that had been over Longview. We’d been close so many times.”

King’s son is Longview senior dual-threat quarterback Haynes King, a Texas A&M commitment who’s passed for 7,359 yards and 82 touchdowns in three seasons and averages 10.5 yards per carry.

“Coaching Haynes has been some of the most enjoyable times of my life and also the most stressful,” said John King, whose primary rushing weapon is junior Kaden Meredith (1,320 yards, 18 TDs).

Longview’s undisputed strength is its defense that has posted three shutouts and permits 182.2 yards per game. Stewart commended the Lobos’ “speed and aggression” and called senior Tyshawn Taylor (91 tackles) “the best high school linebacker I’ve ever seen.”

Longview senior tackles Drew Beltran and Oklahoma State pledge Sawyer Goram-Welch have a combined 16 sacks. Senior safety Malik Cannon (75 tackles, five sacks) spearheads the secondary.

“Defense has led us,” John King said. “They’re playing together with team speed and effort.”

Temple will test Longview with versatile quarterback Vance Willis, running backs Anthony Jackson and Samari Howard — a trio that has combined for 2,765 yards rushing and 39 touchdowns — plus Texas-committed receiver Quentin Johnston.

“I just want to shock the world,” Wildcats senior guard Dakari White said.