Rivalry Spotlight: Temple vs. Belton is about pride, ferocity and a railroad

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Temple coach Scott Stewart grew up in the middle of the rivalry between Belton and Temple – the cities, mind you, not the high schools.

“The history of it is very interesting,” Stewart said about the rivalry between the communities. “Growing up in Belton, I can remember my dad telling stories about driving around with friends and getting into fights with people from Temple.”

Bad blood between the two communities developed in the 1880s after a proposed railroad expected to be built through the heart of Belton was laid in Temple. The two schools first met on the football field in 1907, and the series is better known for its stops than the actual games that have been played. On several different occasions, the rivalry has been halted, more for behavior outside the lines than inside them.

“The schools went 60 years without playing,” Stewart said. “Back in the 1920s and 1930s, there were so many fights and so much rabblerousing off the field that a judge decreed that that teams couldn’t play each other any more.”

That happened in 1934, according to the Temple Daily Telegraph. The 60-year hiatus didn’t so much to tame the way the communities look at the game, Stewart said.

“For the older residents of both communities, there’s just this deeply rooted animosity,” Stewart said. “Some of the classmates I grew up with in Belton call me a traitor because I’m coaching at Temple now. You wouldn’t believe some of the comments I get from my old classmates.”

The rivalry resumed in 1996 when the teams found themselves in the same district, but the meeting never happened organically – as a mutually agreed-upon, non-district game – until 2016, and even that game didn’t lack for drama.

“That was my first game as a head coach,” Stewart said, “so you can imagine the excitement just about that, and then we had a lightning delay for a while.”

Belton coach Sam Skidmore remembers that night as well. It was his introduction to the series as well, and he came into the rivalry without the historical knowledge of his counterpart. He just knew the game meant a great deal to both communities.

“I’d heard rumors about incidents in the parking lots, but none of that really crossed my mind,” he said. “I just remember the pageantry of the communities coming together to pack the house for the first game of the season. It was just a great game between two teams that like to play physical football.”

The teams hadn’t met since 2013, and both communities were excited about not only renewing the rivalry, but doing it to open the football season.

“It was the first time we’d played in a few years, and everyone was excited,” he said. “We went through our pregame warmups, and then the lightning hit. We had to sit around for about two and a half hours and then get all amped up again.”

The schools resume their gridiron rivalry Friday night in Belton, where a packed house will witness the game for the fourth year in a row, the second straight year as district opponents.

“Being in the same district just puts it on a totally different level,” Skidmore said. “This will be a playoff atmosphere in a district game, and it will serve as great preparation for what we’ll see when we get to the playoffs. We won’t play in a better atmosphere than the one we’ll see Friday night.”

City boundaries being what they are, attendance zones for the two school districts are nearly intertwined. West Temple is actually in the Belton ISD, so neighbors sometimes find themselves at the rival schools. That proximity – and familiarity amongst the student bodies – makes for a healthy competition each time the teams meet.

“The kids all know each other,” Stewart said. “They’ve played each other in everything all their lives, and you’ll see them give everything they have on the field. You might see a fist-fight in the parking lot between adults afterwards, but if you look at the field, you’ll see these kids hugging on each other after it’s over.”

“Both teams really enjoy the game,” Skidmore said. “The last two years the game has gone back and forth and right down to the wire. I think the community really looks forward to the game, especially after last year’s game.”

Last year’s triple-overtime classic saw the Tigers kick a 51-yard field goal to force overtime, and when the dust settled, the Wildcats scored a walk-off touchdown to win 58-55 in a game that saw nine different lead changes.

“Last year was unbelievable,” Stewart said, noting that even last year’s game came with its own angst when Belton fans didn’t realize that the district’s tiebreaker rules meant Temple had to try for the conversion after scoring the touchdown that ended the game.

“They thought we were trying to rub it in that we’d won,” Stewart said. “Because of the positive points tiebreaker, we had to go for the conversion, so I thought why not go for two. When they stopped us, you’d have thought that they’d won the game. It was just nuts.”

So how do the teams approach the next installment of the rivalry? Belton is 2-3 and looking to create some positive momentum. Temple is 4-1.

“We are a young team, but so is Temple,” Skidmore said. “We’re banged up going into the game, and we just want to get better every week. Hopefully we can do that, but the goal is to be playing our best football in week 10. I know this week is exciting and about bragging rights, and they’ve gotten the best  of us for a little while. We’re just going to go out there and do the best we can.”

Stewart has spent the week talking to his players about playing within themselves. He knows this game comes with lots of outside influences and he wants his players to focus on the task at hand and not add pressure to themselves.

“This game is what it is, and we tell our guys that it is important,” Stewart said. “Only about 1 in 100 athletes – your Michael Jordan or LeBron James – can put extra pressure on themselves and still perform at their best. We try to treat it like it’s not an extra special game. Our mission is to identify what’s important and play.”

But enough about the competitive rivalry between the two teams. Any last words from the community?

“I had two adults who came by the office to buy tickets the other day, and they both looked at me and said they’d rather beat Belton than win the state championship,” Stewart said.

For the record, the coach disagrees with those fervent fans.

“I want to win this game, don’t get me wrong, but if we were to lose and somehow go on to win a state championship, I wouldn’t consider it a lost season.”

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