By Alex Byington
Killeen Daily Herald
For the second week in a row, Harker Heights got a heavy dose of its own medicine. And it left quite the bitter aftertaste.
Temple's junior backfield duo of speedy Gaylon Sanders and quarterback Zach Allen combined on 273 of the Wildcats' 329 rushing yards and five touchdowns to put the struggling Knights down 40-30 Thursday evening at Leo Buckley Stadium.
"The whole team is upset, but we told them in the huddle (afterwards) that it's alright to be upset," Heights quarterback C.J. Rodriguez said. "Mistakes are going to happen, and tonight, it felt like everything that could have happened wrong did happen."
Coming up on the short end of three fumbles - including a dagger-in-the-heart safety on their first offensive snap of the second half - costly turnovers continued to be the Knights' (3-3, 1-2 District 12-5A) downfall for the second week in a row.
Out of halftime, following a 28-yard field goal by kicker Jake Harler to end the first half, Heights' beleaguered defense got a big lift when cornerback Marcus Washington sacked Allen on third down to force a punt on Temple's opening possession.
But backed into the shadow of its own end zone, starting at the 5-yard line, Rodriguez couldn't handle the snap by Darius James and the ball bounced out of the end zone for a safety.
Two plays later, working with a short field, Allen scored on a 29-yard keeper to put the Wildcats (2-4, 1-2) ahead 26-10 with 7:58 left in the third.
"It was a killer because I knew we were in a bad spot right there and those things are going to happen but all of a sudden we give up nine points," Heights coach Mike Mullins said of the safety.
The Knights continued to fight though, as sophomore tailback Marcus Anderson II ripped off a 60-yard run to the Temple 7-yard line. Five plays later, after a couple of Wildcat penalties, Rodriguez scored a 1-yard touchdown to once again pull Heights within 10 (26-16) with 4:19 left in the third. Filling in for injured starter Marvin Jackson, Anderson came through with 128 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
But after both teams came up with fourth-down stops, the Temple ground game again found a grove as Allen scored from 12 yards out for the first of back-to-back Wildcat touchdown drives that made it 40-16. The last score, an 11-yard run by Sanders, was aided by another Knights turnover when Rodriguez was sacked for a 19-yard loss on fourth-and-5 on the previous drive.
"We felt like we were too tense," said Rodriguez, who combined for 190 yards of total offense and two scores. "We wanted to do so good so bad that we were messing up and everybody was blaming (everybody else), but we just told them that you have to relax and have fun."
Rodriguez heeded his own advice, leading Heights down the field on a nine-play scoring drive highlighted by a 30-yard run and a 34-yard completion to Greg Haynes that set up a 2-yard touchdown run by Anderson.
The Knights attempted a squib kick that speedy cornerback Tyrel Stokes recovered 45 yards down field at the Temple 14. Two plays later, Rodriguez found Haynes again for a 14-yard touchdown. A two-point run by Anderson again pulled Heights within 10 (40-30) with 2:22 left in the game.
But the Wildcats weren't going to be fooled again as Sanders managed to recover the onside kick at Temple's own 20 and - with the assistance of a running-into-the-punter penalty - the Wildcats ran out the clock for their first 12-5A win of the Mike Spradlin era.
"I'm real proud of our kids coming into hostile territory and coming away with a district win," Spradlin said.