KILLEEN – If the never-ending smiles afterward didn’t give it away, all that dancing to the blaring music that spilled out of the locker room certainly did. Indeed, the District 12-6A title belongs to Temple.
Mikal Harrison-Pilot’s 8-yard touchdown run provided the Wildcats with their final lead late in Thursday night’s back-and-forth battle against Killeen Shoemaker and the cushion was protected when defensive linemen Jayven Taylor, Jaylon Jackson and Eric Shorter combined to stop running back Devin Brown for a loss of 1 yard on fourth-and-1, lifting Temple to an exhilarating 27-24 victory at Leo Buckley Stadium.
“It’s so satisfying right now. I have never been so happy in my life. The fact that we just did that, I just appreciate all that we have been through because it prepared us for this moment right here,” Temple junior running back Samari Howard said. “I’m just so thankful. These boys are different. I’m honored to be a part of it.”
Temple (8-1, 6-0) starting quarterback Humberto Arizmendi rushed for a career-high 139 yards but it was Harrison-Pilot lined up in the shot gun with time winding down in the fourth quarter, and the sophomore spun his way into the end zone for the winning score with 1:41 remaining.
“It was supposed to go (more up the middle) but I’m and athlete so I went outside,” Harrison-Pilot said of his lone carry on the night. “There was one defender, and I was like, ‘I’m scoring this touchdown. There’s no way he’s stopping me.’ Took a couple hits and I dove in there and got it.”
After a 14-yard completion from Ty Bell to De’Andre Exford on third-and-15, Taylor, Jackson and Shorter converged on Brown – who finished with 113 yards rushing and two TDs, including a 2 yarder that put the Grey Wolves (6-2, 4-2) up 24-20 with 4:15 to go – to preserve the three-point margin.
“We didn’t put our heads down one bit,” said Shorter, whose goal-line stand during last season’s encounter with Shoemaker assisted in turning that game toward Temple’s favor in an ultimate 38-28 win. “We stayed fighting. No negativity. We stayed positive.”
To that Jackson added: “We were focused the whole game. We were just focused.”
Temple had to be against a Shoemaker offense that had averaged 511 yards entering the contest. The Wildcats didn’t force a turnover but held the Grey Wolves to 379 yards.
“I was real proud of our defense. They kind of moved it on us at will at times but they are a good football team. I mean, they are explosive. They have athletes all over the field and to hold that group to half what they are scoring a game is a good job by the coaches and the kids,” Temple head coach Scott Stewart said.
After the defensive stop, Temple used up the rest of the 57 seconds then celebrated its sixth straight win and coveted outright league championship, the program’s first such feat since 2015. The victory also officially locked up Temple’s No. 1 seed from the district into the Class 6A Division II playoffs. The Wildcats are slated to play 11-6A’s Waxahachie at Wildcat Stadium in the bi-district during the week of Friday, Dec. 11.
“Well, we didn’t pick up a yard there at the end. There was some confusion (on offense). But, bottom line, our kids played great,” said Shoemaker head coach Toby Foreman, whose team has lost two straight – including a 51-50 overtime setback versus Harker Heights – after starting the season 6-0. “Compared to how we played against Harker Heights defensively, we really stepped it up. Temple’s the best team we’ve played this year, and we had an opportunity to beat them. We didn’t pull it out.”
Howard totaled 178 hard-earned yards rushing and TDs of 11 and 5 yards for the Wildcats, who led 13-10 at halftime of a heavyweight showdown that lived up to its billing that also featured four lead changes in the second half.
Following a scoreless third quarter, Shoemaker grabbed a 17-13 advantage when Bell dialed up Monaray Baldwin for a 3-yard TD, which punctuated a drive that included Brown’s 4-yard gain on fourth-and-1 from the Grey Wolves own 14. Temple went back ahead 20-17 when Howard found room just inside the right pylon on his 5-yard scoring run.
Brown’s touchdown that made it 24-20 capped a seven-play, 75-yard drive but also set the stage for Temple’s game-winning excursion.
“It’s a great drive. The kids have a lot of pride. We talked (before the game) about getting in some big sets, and that gave them some problems early in the first half. So, we went back to it and got down in the red zone and wanted to go into our Wildcat package to get Mikal and Samari back there together because that’s two guys that are hard to tackle,” Stewart said. “Mikal made an unbelievable cut to get out of the gate and made a play at the goal line. You have to put the ball in the hands of your playmakers but I couldn’t be more proud of our tight ends and offensive line.”
Temple tallied 328 yards rushing on 54 attempts, finishing with 408 yards total.
Arizmendi – who rushed for 112 yards in the first half – gained 18 on Temple’s first offensive play before a 22-yard touchdown completion to Harrison-Pilot for the Wildcats’ early 7-0 lead.
Shoemaker evened it at 7 with a 12-play drive that swallowed up 6 minutes and finished with Brown’s 1-yard diving TD.
The Grey Wolves went ahead 10-7 through Kaleel Pomerlee’s 33-yard field goal 30 seconds into the second quarter. The Wildcats, though, were back in front about 4 minutes later. Arizmendi runs of 22 and 25 yards left Temple at the Shoemaker 11, from where Howard sprinted around the left edge to make it 13-10.
“We are going to enjoy this one but we are going to come back tomorrow and get to work. There is going to be a lot of stuff to fix on that film,” said Stewart, whose team closes the regular season at home versus Killeen next Friday night. “But, we’ll let the kids celebrate it and have a good time with it because it’s hard. Being a champion, by definition is one of the hardest things to do. So, We’re going to enjoy this.”