Temple’s loss last year to Rockwall-Heath in the Class 6A Division II area round has lingered. Maybe not overtly, perhaps subtly or, at the very least, subconsciously, but it’s been there. Especially among returners who were part of the 56-28 setback inside Baylor’s McLane Stadium on the chilly December night.
“I feel like we were in that game and we just fell apart at the end,” junior linebacker Taurean York said back in August, a week into fall camp. “We hadn’t been hit in the mouth like that. If we do matchup with them again, we are more experienced now.”
With eleven months of maturing since what now can be delegated as Part 1, plus another district title and a home playoff win under their belt, the Wildcats are indeed matched up with them again in the area round. They have a second chance against the Hawks at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Burleson ISD Stadium, where they can put that experience gained to the test.
“Last year, our coaches actually gave us a good game plan but we were still kind of young and didn’t execute that game plan,” Temple senior defensive end Eric Shorter said Tuesday. “We watched it and we went over our mistakes. It’s going to be a good game.”
There is no debating that.
For a second-round bout, the resumes of the participants read more like a regional final — at minimum. With offenses that have combined for 10 games of 50 points or more and play-making, sturdy defenses, Temple (9-2) and Rockwall-Heath (10-1) each put nine-game winning streaks on the line for a chance to reach the regional semifinals against either Willis (6-5) or Tomball (8-3).
“It sucks that two district champions with nine-game winning streaks are playing in the second round, and you look at some parts of the bracket and there’s third- and fourth-place teams playing each other in the second round,” said Temple head coach Scott Stewart, who’s led the Wildcats into the postseason each of his six years in charge, with four appearances beyond the first round. “That’s how it goes.”
Stewart’s head coaching counterpart, Mike Spradlin, used a different ‘S’ word. (No, not that one.) The third-year Hawks leader called the early round matchup a “shame,” in describing the inevitable reality that one will be done for the year when time expires Friday night.
Neither team has lost since Week 2 — Temple 27-14 to Magnolia West and Heath 36-35 to Southlake Carroll.
“That’s the nature of the playoffs,” said Spradlin, who coached the Wildcats from 2011-15 and will face his former club for a second straight year. “It’s two really good football teams about to go at it.”
The Wildcats scored at least 40 points in each of their District 12-6A contests en route to an unbeaten, outright championship. They wound up averaging 54.3 points during the seven-game span. Overall, Temple’s scoring average is 45 points. Heath, which also ran the table in 10-6A, puts up about 54 points per night, and it only once was held below 40.
The Wildcats’ season high was 77 two weeks ago versus Copperas Cove. The Hawks twice posted at least 70 — both wins — including 79 in a two-point, double-overtime win over crosstown rival Rockwall.
“We know they have a good offense,” Temple junior safety Naeten Mitchell said. “But we’re putting a lot of trust in our (defensive line) and our front to get the work done, and we’re going to try to help out with the pass game and really lock in, in the back row.”
It certainly is a showdown that is chock full of offensive standouts.
The Hawks’ top-two receivers, Jordan Nabors (44 catches, 935 yards, 10 TDs) and Jay Fair (41-806-12) are committed to Baylor and Auburn, respectively. The duo accounted for 347 yards receiving during the 2020 encounter against Temple.
Also in that game was quarterback Josh Hoover, who threw for 454 yards and five TDs. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound senior Indiana commit is 160-of-252 for 2,789 yards passing with 34 touchdowns and eight interceptions this season.
Minnesota commit Zach Evans, a senior, leads the running backs with 1,644 yards and 23 TDs on 196 carries. Brittan Snider, a junior, has 837 yards and eight TDs and sophomore Malachai Tuesno 635 yards and eight TDs for a Heath offense that averages 254 yards passing and 309 rushing per game.
“You can’t take anything away from those (skill players) but what makes them scary is their O-line. They are huge, and they are the good kind of huge,” said Stewart before shifting his compliments to Hoover. “He knows exactly where the extra man is 100 percent of the time, based on the play call. He knows exactly where the soft spots are in the defense. It’s just dirty.”
Like the Hawks — whose 3,404 yards rushing are about 55 percent of their production, with Spradlin saying, “We strive to have that balance” — the Wildcats have spread the yardage rather evenly. Temple averages 206 yards rushing and 180 passing.
Senior record-holding running back Samari Howard, who had 134 yards and a touchdown rushing against the Hawks last season, has career highs of 1,550 yards and 18 TDs on the ground entering the rematch, and rightly so has Spradlin’s eye.
“He’s a really good football player. I would say he’s kind of a package guy. Strong, elusive, good moves, catches the ball. Just a complete guy,” Spradlin said.
Sophomore quarterback Reese Rumfield — who was dinged up last week during Temple’s 28-14 win over Waxahachie but is good to play Friday, Stewart said — is 95-of-187 for 1,768 yards and 24 TDs with seven interceptions.
Senior receiver Devan Williams, who returned a kickoff 75 yards for a score last week, has team highs of 30 receptions, 727 yards and 10 TDs. Triple-threat junior Mikal Harrison-Pilot has 461 yards receiving, 139 rushing and 14 TDs across those two categories. Senior Tr’Darius Taylor adds another deep option, averaging 18.4 yards per catch.
“I have such a tremendous respect for the job that they do. Obviously, having lived there for five years, I know they play extremely hard and are well coached,” said Spradlin, who’s team beat bi-district foe Garland Naaman Forest, 35-6. “You turn on film at this time of the year and you’re going to see really good teams, and good grief, they have found their stride.”
Temple’s defense trended upward as the year progressed, holding its last five opponents to 15 points or less. The Wildcats yield 24 points and 325.6 yards per game. York continues to pace Temple with 128 tackles. Mitchell is second with 61.
Safety Layne Horak has a team-high 77 tackles and three INTs, linebacker Alan Crawford has 63 tackles, defensive back Peyton Williams 65 and linebacker Bryce President 48 for Heath, which allows 27.5 points.
“I don’t want them to put pressure on themselves. They don’t have to go win a game because we lost to them last year. Let’s go play our best brand of football. If it’s good enough, it’s good enough. If it ain’t, it ain’t and we’ll shake their hands. I said that two weeks ago against Cove, too,” Stewart said. “We are going to go fight our guts out. That’s this town and these players. We are going to stand on the edge of a cliff and swing as hard as we can for as long as we can. That’s the mentality we’ve always approached it with. Whoever it is, that’s the mentality.”
The keys, in a nutshell
Stewart: “The teams that tend to mitigate and traverse this journey are the ones that focus on mindset and execution, because that’s what it’s going to be. Friday night is going to be about execution. How versatile can we be and stay sound? That’s going to be what we have to look at. … (On defense), I think it’s more about changing up the looks and making (the Hawks) make those plays. (On offense), we have to finish drives.”
Spradlin: “It’s all about who executes their plan. That sounds simple but it really is that simple. We want to play hard and want to be physical.”
Wait, quickly, back to last season
Temple trailed 21-14 at halftime and was within 28-21 with 7:06 left in the third quarter at the home of the Bears. The Hawks, however, outscored the Wildcats 28-7 the rest of the way on their way to an appearance in the 6A Region II final, which they lost in overtime to Cedar Hill.
The Hawks accumulated 673 yards to the Wildcats’ 504.
Temple turned over the ball three times, had one touchdown overturned because of a penalty and had two drives stall after reaching the Hawks 5-yard line.
“We just didn’t take advantage of opportunities. We’ve spent a lot of time this year with red zone identity,” Stewart said.