Sam Jones took a minute to answer the question, almost hating the sound of what he was about to say before he said it.
After the Killeen Kangaroos’ 63-56 loss to Temple in the teams’ regular season finale Thursday at Leo Buckley Stadium, yes, Jones is a fan of the Copperas Cove Bulldawgs.
“I hate to admit it, but, yes I am,” Jones said.
Daniel McCants ran for a school record 314 yards and five touchdowns, but Temple put up 739 yards of offense, including 520 on the ground, against the Roos’ defense to snap a two-game losing streak and put itself right back into a position to make the playoffs for the second straight season.
Temple (6-4, 4-3 8-5A) clinches the district’s final playoff berth if Harker Heights beats Copperas Cove. Even with the loss to Temple, because the Roos (7-3, 4-3) lost by less than 15 points, they can still clinch their fifth straight playoff appearance — and first in 5A since 2001 — with a Cove win over the Knights because of point differentials and its head-to-head win over Heights.
That is why the Roos’ head coach is rooting for the Bulldawgs tonight.
“We’ve got wait and see what happens tomorrow, but we’re where we needed to be. It’s a tough district,” Jones said. “The kids are really going to learn about this rivalry. This is one that had gotten away from us because hadn’t played them since 2001.”
Temple took advantage of two Killeen turnovers in the first half for a 28-21 lead at halftime before the second half erupted into a shootout.
Keith Buhl ran for two scores and caught another from Zach Allen; Allen also had a 66-yard scoring run on a broken play and threw the go-ahead, 42-yard touchdown pass to Marquis Cook with 33 seconds left to break a 56-56 tie.
Dominick Thompson recovered the ensuing onside kick with 32 seconds left at the Temple 47-yard line to give the Wildcats a chance to get the 15-point win they needed to force a coin flip should the finish in a three-way tie with Killeen and Heights.
Allen, who returned from a shoulder injury that had sidelined him for the last game and a half, completed an 11-yard pass to Cook and then ran twice for 27 yards to the Killeen 15 with six seconds left. Unable to find an open receiver, Allen scrambled for a 10-yard gain but was dropped at the Killeen 5 as time ran out.
“Winning helps gives us a chance, we know that. We know we needed to probably win by a bigger margin, but nonetheless we gave ourselves a chance. Without a win, we don’t,” said Temple head coach Mike Spradlin.
Allen finished with 219 yards passing with three touchdowns and ran 11 times for 152 yards, one of three Temple rushers to run for at least 110 yards. Gaylon Sanders carried 19 times for 245 yards and two scores and Buhl had 14 carries for 114 yards and three scores.
McCants, bottled up for just 51 yards in the first half, exploded in the second half for 263 yards and all five of his scores on 18 carries. His first two carries of the second half both went for touchdowns.
His second, a 67-yarder, tied the game at 35 with 7:30 left in the third quarter after the Wildcats turned the ball over on downs and broke Ja’Quail Haskins’ single-season rushing record (1,505) set in 2010. Unofficially, McCants finishes the regular season with 1,793 yards and 18 touchdowns.
“I just wanted to win it for the seniors, but it just didn’t come out like I wanted it to,” said McCants, who also caught four passes for 64 yards, including a 43-yard touchdown.
“We knew what we could do — we had a good offensive line, good receivers, we just had to do what we had to do (to score in the second half).”
The Roos were playing without starting quarterback Garrett Gaskamp, who injured his ankle in last week’s win over Ellison. Starting in place in Gaskamp was senior backup Eric Jackson.
Jackson completed 17 of 21 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns with one interception. He also carried the ball 12 times for 69 yards and fumbled once.
“If it wasn’t for the two mistakes, he probably had a perfect ballgame,” Jones said. “It’s kind of tough to come in against a team like this, a talented team and not make mistakes and not feel the pressure of trying to win.”
Allen threw a 19-yard touchdown pass to Erick Arizmendi to give the Wildcats their first lead, 21-14, with 59 seconds left in the first half following Jackson’s fumble. Mikael Hicks intercepted Jackson on the Roos’ next offensive play to set up a 10-yard touchdown run by Buhl with 44 seconds left.
Jackson responded by completing his next four passes, including a 25-yard touchdown pass to Devyn William to cut the Wildcats’ lead to a single score at the intermission.
“We wanted to win the game ... We did what we had to do to keep it under 14 and tried to win the ballgame,” Jones said. “We’ll just wait and see what happens after that.”