Temple has scored an average of 49.7 points and allowed 22.7, essentially doubling up District 12-6A opponents during its 3-0 start to league play, and the defending champion aims to keep up the trend this week against Leon River rival Belton after last year’s meeting was nixed because of a COVID-19 issue within the Tigers program.
While the buzz might be louder around Bell County ahead of Friday night’s encounter at Tiger Field, Temple head coach Scott Stewart said no amount of outside hype will change the Wildcats’ approach to their task at hand as they continue a determined quest for back-to-back titles.
“There’s a ton of anticipation on my part just because it’s the next game,” Stewart said this week. “I’m not taking anything away from it, but I just think the rivalry is more for the old folks. I think (Belton head coach Brett) Sniffin will tell you the same thing. I’ve just never subscribed to doing anything differently in terms of preparation based on who you’re playing. Just understand what it is and go to work.”
Temple (4-2), which has won four straight overall, has been workman-like since entering league play, picking up a lopsided win at Bryan, 49-7, a scintillating comeback nod, 44-34, against Harker Heights and last Thursday’s 56-27 victory over Killeen Ellison.
On the way, Temple jumped to the top of the 12-6A standings, a game in front of the Tigers (3-3, 2-1), Knights (5-1, 2-1) and Killeen Shoemaker (3-2, 2-1).
“To me, if we play differently because of who is on the other sideline, you can’t be the best version of yourself. I don’t like the distraction but that doesn’t mean I don’t like the game,” Stewart said. “I mean, I like exciting games. We’ve had some absolute thrillers against these guys.”
The most recent clash between the Wildcats and Tigers was at Tiger Field on Oct. 4, 2019 when then-quarterback Vance Willis threw four touchdowns to propel an offense that produced more than 500 yards and Temple scored 21 in a row going into halftime for an eventual 66-34 victory.
It was Temple’s most lopsided victory since the series resumed after a two-year hiatus in 2016 (Stewart’s first season at the helm after two years as the defensive coordinator) with each of the previous three games decided by eight points or less, including the Wildcats’ 58-55 triple-overtime triumph in 2018.
With last season’s uncontested win factored in, Temple won the last eight against Belton and owns an overall 36-8-5 edge in a matchup that once had a 62-year break that ended in 1996. The teams also didn’t play between 1998-2001 before 12 seasons of action between 2002 and 2013.
The Tigers last topped Temple in 2010, 42-24, though Belton has had its chances since. The Tigers led 17-14 at halftime in 2016 and were up 31-17 in 2017 before the still-talked about OT barnburner.
“There is a lot of energy around the game, so you’re going to get everybody’s best effort. It presents a different energy and I think the kids feed off that,” Stewart said. “It’s going to be a completely different atmosphere. When we go out there with that first group for warm-ups, there will be people already in the stands. Always has been, whether we play here or there. I think our kids are excited to play it. I’m assuming their kids are excited to play it.”
The Tigers opened 12-6A by beating Copperas Cove (41-14) and Bryan (21-14 in overtime) before a 57-21 setback at Heights. Stewart said Temple’s biggest mistake in readying itself for the Tigers would be to put any stock into last week’s final score.
“I watched all but maybe three snaps of that game the other night and they moved the ball up and down the field. They just shot themselves in the foot at times and Harker Heights made some plays at times,” Stewart said. “They are a good football team and you’d have to not know what you’re looking at to think otherwise.”
With quarterbacks Slade LeBlanc and Ty Brown, running back Elijah Warner, receiver Seth Morgan (12-6A-leading 32 catches) and tight end Bryan Henry, Belton averages 22 points per game and its defense enters as 12-6A’s top unit against the pass, giving up a league-low 104 yards.
“Tulsa’s defense runs something similar. It’s good stuff. They fit it fast. They don’t wait around to see what you’re doing,” Stewart said. “They are a high-pressure team.”
With realignment set for February, and with the addition of Lake Belton in Belton ISD, there is a chance Belton and Temple are in different classifications for at least the next two years. Enrollment snapshot numbers are due at the end of the month and, asked if the programs might continue the series even if they are no longer district foes — like the games in 2016-17 — Stewart said there have not been any discussions to this point.
Stewart’s father, Larry Stewart, graduated from Belton in 1965 along with Shelby Rumfield, a former Belton and Temple assistant coach and the father of Shayne (1988 Belton grad), Toby (1991) and Brock Rumfield (1994), all of whom excelled in athletics for the Tigers.
Scott Stewart attended school through the sixth grade in Belton while his dad coached and often was on the same youth baseball teams as Toby and Brock.
Shayne and Toby each had a son play football for Temple against Belton — Zach in 2016 and TJ as the starting quarterback in 2017, respectively. Brock, now an assistant football and baseball coach for the Wildcats, gets his turn Friday night to watch his own son, Temple starting sophomore QB Reese Rumfield, take on the alma mater.
“Yeah, it’s definitely surreal. I had a great experience in Belton, grew up there, born and raised a Tiger. But, coming back after all these years, the job is in Temple,” said Brock, who helped lead the Belton baseball team to its state title in 1994. “Growing up, we didn’t play Temple, so I never did experience that rivalry. To me, this is all new. It’s a pretty big rivalry, but at the end of the day, it’s a high school football game. I know I’m excited and I know Reese is, too.”
Temple junior linebacker Taurean York and junior defensive back Zion Moore shared the team-high of eight tackles last week against Ellison. York’s team-leading tackle total now stands at 64, just 30 shy of his total in 2020 when he was named the 12-6A defensive MVP.
Senior running back Samari Howard leads the area and is second in 12-6A with 879 yards rushing after accumulating a season-high 207 yards on the ground versus the Eagles. He needs just 121 yards for a second straight 1,000-yard rushing season. He had 1,265 in 2020 as the league’s overall MVP.
Rumfield is 52-of-118 for 1,021 yards, with 14 touchdowns and seven interceptions. With his 17-yard fourth-quarter TD catch, receiver Devan Williams made it five straight games with a touchdown. Williams paces Temple with seven scoring grabs, and he and Mikal Harrison-Pilot each average 24 yards per reception.