Kirk’s preview of tomorrow night’s state championship game

by Kirk Dooley
   How did the Scots beat the unbeatable Denton Ryan? Let me count the ways.
   1. The defensive coaching staff put together a great plan and the players executed it well. Take away the deep ball. Gap responsibility. Put pressure on the QB with blitzes. Tackle well.
   2. Offensive lineman Jack Jernigan fielded an onside kick while getting blasted by a wall of Raiders. Jernigan held his ground, fielded the onside kick and redefined what a “hands” player looks like.
   3. Last week I said that HP had Cade Saustad but that Denton Ryan had three Cade Saustads. I stand corrected. There is only one Cade Saustad and he hauled in three touchdown receptions in the first half.
   4. James Herring opened the second half by stripping the ball from a Ryan ball carrier. Elliott Newsom used his radar instincts to locate the fumble and pounce on it. It was a seismic momentum shifter.
   5. John Stephen Jones threw for 102 yards more than the Texas 5A High School Player of the Year.
   6. The Scots offense was averaging 45.3 points and 483.6 yards per game going in to the Ryan game. Against the Raiders they scored 45 points and gained 514 yards. They just needed to score .3 points more. 
   7. Linebacker Ryan Coxe is a pretty good closet running back. On a fake punt, he rambled for a first down and kept Denton Ryan (no relation) on its heels. Plus, his resume also includes interceptions. 
   8. The Scots’ last drive ate up 8:05 of the clock as they converted on four third-down plays. HP was so efficient on offense that Denton Ryan ran only one play in the fourth quarter. Can’t beat you without the ball.
   9. The kickoff coverage team and kickoff return team were both outstanding. Just like Matteo Cordray.
   10. Linebacker Noble Nash led the team in tackles with 10. At one point he hit a Ryan running back so hard that it shook the stadium as it shook the Raiders’ confidence.
   How will the Scots beat the unbeatable Manvel? Let me guess the ways.
   1. When Manvel lines up a cornerback, a safety and their starting quarterback to try to cover Cade Saustad, HP will have three other receivers who will be open and lethal.
   2. Manvel produces around 10 major college players every year. HP produces a great high school team.
   3. The Mavericks don’t have a game-changing linebacker coming off the bench like Colby Hopkins.
   4. HP has six honorable mention all-state players – Matteo Cordray, Ryan Coxe, John Stephen Jones, Elliott Newsom, Regan Riddle and Thomas Shelmire. 
   5. The Scots might try to replicate an offensive blue print that worked for them last Friday night. Saddle up Paxton Alexander and Conner Allen and let them ride out the clock. In last week’s game the Scots ran 47 plays in the second half. Ryan ran 10. Using that theorem, the Scots can keep the talented Mavericks from scoring if they don’t have the ball. 
   6. Here’s a great idea: Have John Stephen throw four touchdown passes in the first half. Our man needs 366 passing yards to break the all-time UIL record of 4,713 yards set by Allen’s Kyler Murray in 2014.  
   7. Let’s don’t get sentimental, but Friday will be the last time the HP seniors suit up for a Scots game. I predict that their intensity will reflect that.
   8. The Scots defense has forced 10 turnovers over the first five playoff games. You do the math.
   9. Manvel has an outstanding receiver in Jalen Preston (#5). Highland Park cornerbacks Grayson Serio and Hudson Clark will meet the challenge because safeties James Herring and Zak Folts will protect them over the top. All four DBs will rise to the occasion.
   10. Since 1923 Highland Park has never won back-to-back state championships. HP’s program has been built on pride, heritage and tradition. What a great statement the Scots can make Friday as they make history.

Semi-final Denton Ryan Rematch Friday Night, 12/15

By Kirk Dooley

Last year it was David vs. Goliath. This year it is the Clash of the Titans.
The Highland Park-Denton Ryan state semifinal game was predicted at the beginning of the season by every sportswriter this side of the Brazos. Ryan is 14-0 and has been rated the top team in the state for the past 14 weeks. Their quarterback is the Gatorade Texas Player of the Year. HP’s quarterback is the Tom Landry Texas Player of the Year. That alone will be a classic battle.
Ryan is averaging 48.6 points per game and HP is averaging 45.3. The Scots average 484 yards per game and the Raiders 475. The Scots have Cade Saustad and the Raiders have three Cade Saustads.
The undefeated Raiders are not used to facing a team that isn’t afraid of them. The Scots proved last year that Goliath can go down and so this is the first time Ryan has a reason to get emotional about revenge. It could work to their advantage or it might create some self-doubt.
Last year’s Highland Park win was not a fluke. The Scots totaled 378 yards and held the Raiders to 174.
HP held Ryan to 11 first downs. Ryan’s leading rusher had 29 yards.
Some folks believe that HP would not have won the game last year if quarterback Spencer Sanders had not been knocked out of the game in the second quarter. Any team that loses its star player will suffer. But I contend that the Scots defense – last year’s Dark Alley Boys – held Sanders in check during the quarter and a half that he did play. Before he was injured he completed three of six passes for 26 yards and he ran six times for 12 yards. The guy is a great quarterback but he was bottled up by a great defense.
Sanders is a good passer and a better scrambler. He likes to operate out of an empty set (with five wide receivers) then slither past the pass rushers and run to daylight. He extends plays like John Stephen Jones, who by the way, has 400 more passing yards that the Gatorade Player of the Year.
This will be one of the most anticipated Texas high school football games of the year. The Scots can win if they can contain Sanders. I think this could be Prince Dorbah’s breakout game. He has the quickness and athleticism to be a thorn in Sanders side and personally disrupt the Ryan offense. The Raiders are still spooked by Zak Folts’ game-ending interception last year and they still have no answer for Paxton Alexander this year. And they have never faced a more reliable kicker than Matteo Cordray.
Denton Ryan is loaded with exceptional talent and deserves to be the state’s top-ranked 5A team.
However, on Friday night they’re going to find out that there’s a new sheriff in town.

HP vs Lake Ridge at AT&T Friday Night

by Kirk Dooley

With Waxahachie and two Mansfield football teams already dispatched by the Scots this season, Highland Park now faces the Big Kahuna of district 10-5A – the Lake Ridge Eagles.
The Scots knocked Mansfield Summit out of Ford Stadium last Friday night, 52-20. Earlier in the season HP beat two other 10-5A teams, Waxahachie (32-21) and Mansfield Timberview (34-32). But Lake Ridge is the district champion and will provide the Scots with their most significant playoff challenge. The Eagles have the added incentive of avenging the 41-27 loss to the Scots last season which knocked them out of the playoffs.
Highland Park and Lake Ridge are both coming in with 12-game winning streaks after both teams lost their opening games to 6A opponents. Both teams are ranked. Both come from competitive districts. Both are used to winning. Coach Randy Allen compares this year’s Lake Ridge team to last year’s Mansfield Legacy team, which lost a nerve-racking defensive battle to the Scots, 14-7, in last year’s quarterfinals. That game featured one of the most crucial defensive plays in HP football history when defensive back George Stewart knocked a pass away from the waiting hands of a Legacy receiver in the end zone on Legacy’s last play of the game. Without that big play, there goes your state championship.
Lake Ridge returns its starting quarterback, Jason Bean (#16), who can run and pass. The Eagles also have another quarterback, Chandler Rogers (#4) who can also beat you with his arm or his legs. They have two dynamic running backs, Dewone Jackson (#11) and Cartraven Walker (#10), who run behind an NFL-size offensive line. Example: Their tackles are 6’4”, 325 lbs. (Will Ready #79) and 6’7”, 305 lbs. (Blake Lodes #72). Last Friday Walker gained 250 yards on 23 carries and scored four touchdowns. Number 10 is the guy to stop Friday and force the Eagles to use their other weapons. Which they will.
The Scots are coming off their most complete game of the season and their most inspired defensive performance, featuring three interceptions and one fumble recovery. Mr. Touchdown, Finn Corwin, is now averaging three touchdowns per game at SMU’s Ford Stadium. The HP offense has proven to be unstoppable so far, but Coach Allen is braced for a low-scoring game Friday.
Will the explosive Scots skill players be slowed down by Lake Ridge’s speed and athleticism?
The way I look at it, if the SMU end zone wall can’t stop Cade Saustad, nothing can.