Wildcats

Temple’s Tr’Darius Taylor (right) and the rest of the Wildcats travel to face Killeen Shoemaker on Thursday for their first game in two weeks.

As a result of picking up a win last week after Belton was unable to take the field because of COVID-19 cases and quarantines, Temple clinched a postseason berth for the eighth straight year.

While the Wildcats’ fifth league victory assured them a coveted spot in the Class 6A Division II playoffs that begin during the second week of December, the to-do list at Temple (7-1, 5-0 District 12-6A) is far from filled out, even with that goal checked off. In fact, there is still work to be done in the regular season.

For instance, a district title still is up for grabs.

The first-place Wildcats can wrap their hands fully around that prize with a win over second-place Killeen Shoemaker (6-1, 4-1), which hosts Temple at 7 p.m. Thursday at Leo Buckley Stadium. Should the Grey Wolves — who are coming off a 51-50 overtime loss to Harker Heights (4-3, 2-2) — down their guests, claiming championship rights would have to wait another week.

So, with the holidays fast approaching, it turns out that there is one more reason this is considered the most wonderful time of the year — a shiny and metallic reason.

“What we talk about is gold ball season. We don’t really get into details, but we’re to the point now where we can talk gold ball season. It doesn’t change what we do or our game plans, but it’s why I came to Temple — the opportunity,” said fifth-year Temple head coach Scott Stewart, whose Wildcats were co-champs last year with former league foe Hewitt Midway. “You don’t have these opportunities everywhere and the fact of the matter is this has gold ball implications written all over it.

“There are co-championships involved and outright championships involved. I’m going to call it what it is. I don’t exaggerate it or beat it to death. It just is what it is. You figure out a way to win this game, you’re district champions. Period. The end. I’m still not asking them to win the game. I want to go play the best 48 minutes we can play.”

Thursday’s matchup between teams with a combined record of 13-2 certainly is intriguing.

The Grey Wolves went from 2-8 in 2018 to 7-4 playoff qualifiers in 2019 during their third year under the guidance of head coach Toby Foreman that also featured a barnburner at Wildcat Stadium, where Shoemaker led 21-17 late in the third quarter only to have Temple score 21 points in the fourth for a 38-28 nod. This season, the Grey Wolves won their first six contests leading to last week’s scoring bonanza against the Knights.

Stewart went into word-association mode when Shoemaker was mentioned aloud, rattling off “Speed, speed, speed,” prior to complimenting his counterpart’s influence over a program that experienced back-to-back 0-10 seasons — including Foreman’s first in 2017 — before winning 15 of 28 since then.

“It’s culture. He is doing the right things,” Stewart said. “There are athletes all over Killeen. I think Toby has done a great job with the culture piece, getting those kids believing in something, getting those kids rowing the same way. You get those kinds of athletes on the same page, the buy-in is off the charts.”

The Grey Wolves average 510.7 yards per game, with 313 of that rushing. Senior quarterback Ty Bell is 79-of-113 passing for 1,377 yards and 18 touchdowns, with seven interceptions. He’s also the team’s second-leading rusher at 367 yards.

“He’s come a long ways in his effectiveness as a passer, which, obviously, adds another element to it,” Stewart said of Bell, who ran for two scores and passed for another in last year’s game. “He’s a defensive coordinator’s nightmare. And then he’s got the weapons. I mean, pick your poison.”

Running back De’Andre Exford has a team-high 444 yards rushing while Monaray Baldwin’s 269 on the ground are also added into Shoemaker’s 2,281 yards rushing for the season. Baldwin (31 catches, 604 yards, nine TDs) is Bell’s favorite target through the air.

Defensively, cornerbacks Darmell Hollins and Adonte Crayton and linebacker Dontavius Burrows each have two interceptions for Shoemaker. Za’Veon Cummings has a team-high 60 tackles.

“To me, the key is you have to weather the storm. They are going to come out and they are going to get theirs,” Stewart said. “We are going to have to go and do us. We can’t worry about the atmosphere. The hype doesn’t do anything but get you beat. We have to go take great attitude, great effort and we need to go execute at the very highest level we can. If we can do that, I’ll take what comes. But, we can’t be in charity mode because if you are in charity mode against these guys, they are going to light up the scoreboard.”

Waiting a couple weeks

Temple enters Thursday’s encounter with a five-game winning streak in tow but hasn’t played since its 39-15 triumph over Killeen Ellison on Nov. 6. The unplanned idle Friday last week wasn’t ideal for the routine-minded Stewart, who said the Wildcats handled the curveball well, but did provide a chance to get back to some basics while at the same time keeping the foot on the gas.

“These kids don’t blink a lot. The only constant in life is change. This group handles it as well as anybody,” Stewart said.

District-wide

The Temple-Belton game wasn’t the only matchup scrapped last week. Copperas Cove vs. Killeen Ellison also was canceled and won’t be made up because the Bulldawgs have another game against Killeen to reschedule first. Cove also had to cancel this week’s game against Bryan (5-2, 4-2).

Still on tap this week as of Tuesday is, of course, Temple-Shoemaker, plus Ellison (2-6, 1-4) at Belton (2-5, 2-2), and Heights at Killeen (2-4, 1-3).

The Wildcats’ regular-season finale is Nov. 27 at home versus the Kangaroos.

District 11-6A outlook

The Dallas Morning News on Saturday reported that playoff seeding is set in District 11-6A, which matches up with 12-6A in the bi-district round of the playoffs.

Duncanville is the No. 1 seed in 6A Division I and DeSoto is No. 2. In Division II, Cedar Hill is No. 1 and Waxahachie the No. 2.

Keeping hope

With cancellations increasing because of health concerns, Stewart said Temple is continuing to do its best to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. The uptick in recent cases around the state, though, is another reality check.

“Knock on wood, but I try not to worry about it because I can’t control what I can’t control. I think we’ve done a good job. We talk all the time at least about doing the stuff we are supposed to do,” Stewart said. “But, cases are blowing up everywhere. I’d like to see the end of this season, whatever that looks like. I want these kids to have the opportunity to finish. My daily prayer is that these kids get to finish what they started.”

A reminder

Temple averages 398.6 yards per game while allowing 288.

On offense, quarterback Humberto Arizmendi has completed 102 of 164 attempts for 1,449 yards and 20 touchdowns. Running back Samari Howard, a junior, produced a sixth straight 100-plus yard rushing game against Ellison and now has 795 yards for the year with 11 touchdowns. Sophomore Mikal Harrison-Pilot has a team-high 28 receptions while fellow receiver AJ McDuffy leads the group with 382 yards and seven TDs.

On defense, linebacker Taurean York leads the tackles chart with 57, safety O’Tarian Peoples and linebacker Faylin Lee have three takeaways each, and defensive linemen Jayven Taylor and Eric Shorter have combined for 21 tackles for losses.