The expression “turn the page” this week has nothing to do with rock legend Bob Seger, not as far as Temple is concerned anyway. After victory or defeat, flipping the short-memory switch usually is requested by head coach Scott Stewart.
It might’ve been a tad more difficult to clear the slate as quickly this weekend after the Wildcats (3-2, 2-0 District 12-6A) stormed back from 21 points down to top previously unbeaten Harker Heights (4-1, 1-1) last Friday, 44-34, and extend their district-winning streak to 10 in a row dating to Nov. 8, 2019.
“Fridays usually are very emotional, one way or another. By design, Saturday’s are not. We recap the game with very little emotion because I don’t want it to carry over. If it was really bad, you have to flush it. If it was really good, you flush it,” Stewart said Tuesday.
What prodded along that process is the task of preparing for rising Killeen Ellison (2-3, 1-1) — which is coming off a 28-23 double-overtime win over Killeen (2-3, 0-2) and likely couldn’t care any less about Temple’s exploits versus the Knights — with one less day to do so as the Wildcats gear up for their lone Thursday night road tilt in Killeen this season.
“Coach (Danny) Servance has these guys playing with a different swagger,” Stewart said of Ellison’s coach, who was introduced as the program’s latest leader May 27. “They play with a lot of confidence.”
Ellison also just put up a season-high point total and snapped a three-game skid, and features the third-stingiest pass defense in the district anchored by a defensive line Stewart suggested was the best Temple has seen thus far and the league’s second-leading tackler in linebacker Matthew Moore (62).
“They are really talented. I think their lightest kid in the box, their front seven, is 210 pounds. So, you might want to eat your Wheaties before you walk out on the field to face these guys,” Stewart said, pointing out the prowess of Eagles defensive lineman Devonte Tezino.
Ellison is seventh in 12-6A in total offense at 290.6 yards per game, ahead of Belton (282) and Bryan (194.2), and averages 13.8 points per game. Yet, the Eagles have the league’s third-ranked passer in quarterback Kason Sims (58-of-113, 786 yards, six touchdowns, six interceptions), and a pair of receivers — Zy’Aire King and Dantrell Sterling — in the top five in catches with 20 and 19, respectively.
Khamari McClain is Ellison’s top running back with 248 yards on 45 carries.
The Eagles opened the season with a 12-7 win over Liberty Hill before losses against Leander Vandegrift (31-14), Cibolo Steele (21-7) and Heights (49-8).
“I think they are trying to find themselves offensively, and I think they have an identity now of what they want to do with the spread stuff,” Stewart said. “They played well against Killeen and played their guts out against Harker Heights, they just couldn’t punch it in.”
Wait, go back a page for a minute
Stewart joked that rallying from down three touchdowns is Temple’s modus operandi versus Heights, referencing the Wildcats’ similar comeback in 2020 when they trailed 20-0 and won 38-36.
But on a more serious note, Stewart said a handful of in-game adjustments on offense and defense helped change the complexion of last week’s game that looked like it was going to get out of hand and then suddenly didn’t.
“It was not a surprise. They are very effective at what they do. They are scoring 50 points a game and it’s not like they had to try to go invent a new offense to play the Temple Wildcats. We knew what they could do and obviously what they have done, and they didn’t do a whole lot different. They are really good at what they do, and if you don’t fit it fast, they will be gone before you can get there. And that was the case early in the game,” Stewart said before stating the solution very simplistically. “Trust the fits.”
On offense, Temple turned to junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot, whose dual-threat capabilities at quarterback opened up the Wildcats’ options and allowed them to use their full arsenal of playmakers. Harrison-Pilot finished with a pair of rushing touchdowns and 7-of-9 passing for 117 yards and a TD. Starting QB Reese Rumfield threw a key touchdown pass to Devan Williams that gave Temple its second lead of the second half.
“Having as many weapons on the field as we can is only going to behoove us in the long run,” Stewart said. “We can change the package up when Mikal is in there, and there will be weeks when we need to do that and weeks when we won’t.”
It all added up to Temple outscoring Heights 44-13 over the course of the game’s final 32 minutes.
“These kids don’t blink and I think good teams find a way to win. I don’t know if we are good yet but I do like the fact that we have that personality,” Stewart said. “We have a lot of stuff we have to get better at but the takeaway is I think we have a potentially good football team and what I do love about them is they are going to try to find a way. No matter what the situation is, they are going to try to find a way.”
Notes and numbers
Williams, a senior who recorded his third straight outing of 100-plus yards receiving, has a district-high 401 yards and is tied with Marcus Maple of Harker Heights with six TD receptions. On Tuesday, Williams announced via Twitter that he received his first Division I offer, that coming from FCS member Presbyterian.
Senior running back Samari Howard, who last month verbally committed to Air Force, is up to 672 yards and five TDs rushing on 95 carries. Howard also is closing in on Temple’s all-time scoring record, checking in before Thursday’s game with 262 points. Lache Seastrunk holds the mark with 312.
Junior linebacker Taurean York, whose fourth-quarter 76-yard scoop and score put an exclamation point on Temple’s win last week, shared the game-high tackle total of 12 with safety Naeten Mitchell and now has 58 overall to lead the Wildcats. He’s third in 12-6A in that category.
Sophomore defensive lineman Ayden Brown and senior linebacker Faylin Lee each had eight tackles against Heights. Both players doubled their tackle totals over the last two games, with Brown going from nine to 23 and Lee from 13 to 29.
On tap Friday in 12-6A is Heights at Belton (3-2, 2-0), Killeen Shoemaker (3-1, 2-0) at Bryan (0-5, 0-2), and Killeen at Copperas Cove (0-5, 0-2).