It has all the makings of a classic Killeen-Temple game.
The coaches know the 47-year history between the two storied programs, but the players will experience its magnitude for the first time tonight when the Roos host the Wildcats at Leo Buckley Stadium at 7 p.m. in the first game between the two teams since 2001.
Before the season started, Temple head coach Mike Spradlin hoped something would be riding on the regular season finale, and fate didn’t disappoint.
“I was in hopes that we might be looking at or maybe there’d be a championship on the line, but nonetheless the opportunity for both of us to keep our hopes alive and keep our playoff hopes going is what’s important at this point,” Spradlin said. “You take a week at a time, a game at a time, that’s where we’re at.”
Killeen (7-2, 4-2 8-5A) can clinch its fifth-straight postseason appearance and first in 5A since losing to eventual 5A-Division II state champion in 2001.
The Wildcats (5-4, 3-3) must win to force a multi-team tie and keep their playoff chances alive.
The Roos can also earn a berth with a loss if they lose to Temple by less than 14 points and Copperas Cove beats Harker Heights tomorrow night. If the Knights beat Cove, Killeen needs Belton to upset No. 11 Waco Midway to force a four-way tie between the Roos, Bulldawgs, Tigers and Wildcats for third place.
“We know if we take of our business, we’ll be in the playoffs and can avoid a coin toss or going to points spread,” said Killeen coach Sam Jones. “It’s definitely a big game. Really, it’s like a playoff game for both of us to get to the playoffs.”
Killeen will be without starting quarterback Garrett Gaskamp, who suffered an ankle injury in the first half of the Roos’ 54-22 win over Ellison last week. Starting instead will be senior backup Eric Jackson, who completed 2-of-4 passes for 31 yards and ran five times for 63 yards and two touchdowns.
“I think the other 10 (need to be leaders),” Jones said. “I think they’ve all played all season — the offensive line that has helped (running back Daniel) McCants get where he is, the receivers catching the football. I think everybody steps up now. Everybody’s got to play their part. If everybody rallies around Jackson, he’ll be fine.”
Spradlin said he expects quarterback Zach Allen to return for the Wildcats after the Syracuse commit missed a game and a half with a shoulder injury. Sophomore receiver Chad President is still out, Spradlin added.
Allen, the district’s second-leading passer, has thrown for 1,931 yards and 20 touchdowns with just four interceptions and is actually the team’s leading rusher as well. The senior has led the Wildcats’ district-best offense with 2,718 combined yards and 28 total touchdowns.
“(A boost) is what it is. You’re talking about a guy that’s started all these games that he’s started and he’s had those things that he’s been able to do and do for us,” Spradlin said of getting Allen back. “Just his leadership ability and the energy that he brings to the table is huge.”
Killeen counters with Daniel McCants, the district’s leading rusher. The junior running back has run for 1,479 yards and 13 touchdowns this season and is averaging 177 yards a game and has three 200-yard games in district. The Wildcats are giving up a district-worst 441.4 yards per game defensively, including more than 241 yards on the ground.
“What we would like to have happen is to have 9- and 10-play drives,” Jones said. “I think we’re playing well on offense and we’ll take our shots also and take what they give us. ... It’s going to be a chess game.”
The Wildcats lead the all-time series 33-13-1 going back to the first game in 1956. Temple beat Killeen 40-21 in 1991, one of just two losses suffered by the Roos in their Division II-5A state championship season.
The following year, in 1992, Killeen’s 14-7 win over Temple was the Wildcats’ lone loss in their 15-1 Division II-5A state title run. In 1993, the two met twice — Temple won both: a 26-14 win in the regular season and a 42-0 win in the playoffs. Killeen won the last two meetings in 2000 and 2001.
“I’m sure Sam was around when Temple and Killeen were big rivals,” Spradlin said. “This is a very, very tough, balanced district with some very good football teams in it, and I’ve said it since Day 1 what a dogfight it’s going to be, and sure enough, here we sit with six teams potentially fighting for four spots.”