Based on its first two results, Temple could’ve been swept into a vortex of self-doubt. But the vibe around the Wildcats facilities as players prepared to face Hutto last Friday hinted toward a much different response.
Needing a boost, and perhaps some proof that everything would be all right, Temple went — as the Wildcats like to say — full tilt in building a 52-21 lead over the Hippos through three quarters while looking every bit of the imposing entity it strives to be in an eventual 60-53 win at Wildcat Stadium.
“The first thing I said to them (after a Week 2 loss to Magnolia West), was at some point the lid’s going to blow off this thing and I hope I’m here when it happens because it’s going to be fun to watch,” said Temple head coach Scott Stewart, whose team is idle this week ahead of the District 12-6A opener Sept. 24 at Bryan (0-3). “I was very proud of our football team. They played hard. They played with some intentionality.”
Temple certainly didn’t hide its intentions early against Hutto, with the defense forcing a three-and-out on the Hippos’ first possession and the offense scoring on its second snap via quarterback Reese Rumfield’s 52-yard touchdown pass to Andre Anderson.
It was 14-0 when the Hippos mounted their first charge to tie it by the end of the opening quarter, but the Wildcats (1-2) outscored Hutto 38-7 over the second and third periods before the visitors posted 32 points — three of the touchdowns resulting from a pair of Temple fumbles and a recovered onside kick — in the fourth to add some suspense out of thin air.
Even with the fluky finish, there were marked improvements on both sides of the ball (and special teams with Tr’Darius Taylor’s punt return TD) that are traced to focus, fixing, figuring and finding the right formulas that fit after a pair of tough losses to open the season.
“Sometimes it takes some kids time to find themselves, and I think a lot of it too, is we’ve got kids that want good things to happen but are trying too much to make it happen,” Stewart said. “When you put on that uniform, the expectations are high. But we wanted to take all the pressure off. Now, we’re going to do everything we can to win football games, play at a high level and to execute, but the pressure shouldn’t be on the kids. It should be on the coaches. So, we had to find something they could do, something they could understand and something they could do full speed.”
Rumfield, a sophomore in just his third start, finished 12-of-19 for 287 yards and three touchdowns versus Hutto to spur the offense to its most productive outing of the young season. The season-high 483 yards was puffed up by running back Samari Howard’s 145 yards rushing and wide receiver Devan Williams’ 133 yards receiving.
Temple averaged less than 300 yards and 13.5 points through the first two games.
Also key in production last week was downfield blocking from receivers, including Nyles Moreland, Kobe Smith, Michael Heckstall and Nikolas Skinner, some of which sprung Samari Howard on his 31-yard TD run in the second quarter.
“We took some shots early and I was pleased at the game plan. You still have to go out and execute. Some of those things didn’t get executed in the previous two games. It’s not like we came out with a new offense. This offense will score 60 points if you do it right, but we just have to go execute,” Stewart said. “We decided to simplify a couple things and clean up the reads. We spent a lot of time with the offensive line and we felt like they went out and played their hearts out.
“Rumfield can flat out play this game. Knew that. Said that many months ago. He’s not a kid that gets down. He approaches the game the right way. He’s very critical of himself. He watches film. And you have to understand that he got here in May. Not only is he 15 but he’s been in the system roughly 3½ months, and I couldn’t be more proud of a kid in his situation because it’s not easy with the schedule we play.”
After TD receptions of 57 and 64 yards last week, Williams — back in the program after a year away — leads the Wildcats with three touchdowns among his six catches for 177 yards in three games.
“He understands spacial manipulation. He understands attacking the ball at the reception point. I mean, I don’t know what else people need to see from that kid,” Stewart said. “He is a weapon."
Howard (59 carries, 375 yards) is averaging 125 yards rushing per game.
With injuries hobbling five defensive starters early this season, it’s been a bit of mix and match, but Stewart said that’s ended up being a positive in that there are players, including Kaleb Hill who got his first start at free safety last week, stepping into positions and creating needed depth. Defensive backs Triston Cohorn and Zion Moore and defensive end Dion Saunders, along with Hill and others, all saw elevated minutes against the Hippos.
“That’s what (non-district games) are for. You try to get what your best combinations are,” Stewart said.
Linebacker Taurean York has a team-high 39 tackles, followed by safety Jaden Jackson’s 18. Safety/cornerback Naeten Mitchell is next with 15, then DB LeMichael Thomson, linebacker Faylin Lee and defensive tackle Tomas Torres with 13 each.
Every team in 12-6A has the week off.
“I like a routine and I like getting into a rhythm, but we are pretty banged up right now so we just need to heal up, practice smart and all that kind of stuff,” Stewart said.
Temple, the reigning league champion, travels for the first time this season when it takes on the Vikings — whom Stewart described as big and physical — 10 days from now. The other district-opening matchups are Killeen Ellison (1-2) at Harker Heights (3-0), Belton (1-2) at Copperas Cove (0-3), and Killeen Shoemaker (1-1) at Killeen (2-1).
“A lot of parity,” Stewart said of the district.