The first round of the Texas high school football playoffs is usually an early Christmas present for district champions. Squaring off again the third or fourth seed from the next district over can result in a 70-2 mismatch like the Scots experienced last year. Mount Pleasant slid into the playoffs last season with a 3-7 record. They seemed to be elated to make the playoffs and face the Scots but were soon ready to get back on the bus and go home, especially after JV Blue running back Cameron Reeves scored on a 16-yard run with two minutes left to make the score 70-2. While the Scots rolled up 516 yards of total offense and 27 first downs, the Tigers were held to 65 total yards and two first downs. It was the Scots’ most dominant victory for the Scots since the 2005 state championship game. Well, this year things are different. The Scots are facing a team perfectly capable of eliminating them. The Texarkana Texas High Tigers were undefeated in district play except for a 35-33 loss to Marshall. Of the four playoff teams from district 16-5A, Marshall and Texas High have the largest enrollments so both of the top 16-5A teams move into the Division I playoffs. Marshall will play Poteet Friday night in Royse City while HP faces Texas High Saturday at 2:00 at the Ford Center at The Star. The Scots are coming off the softest part of their schedule. Over the past three weeks, the Scots have averaged over 40 points per game and have held their opponents to under 12. Playing a quality team like Texas High shouldn’t be a shock for the Scots because this ain’t their first rodeo. The Tigers have a new coach they hired away from Flower Mound Marcus – Gerry Stanford. They have a couple of star wide receivers that the Scots must contain – Vonderick Stanley (#4) and Tevailance Hunt (#9), a TCU commit. Quarterback Riley Russell (#11) is undefeated since taking over six games ago. One statistic jumps out at me. In their first game of the season, the Tigers lost to Bishop Lynch, 24-7. Texas High ran the ball 28 times for a total of minus-13 yards. I’m sure they’ve corrected that by now but that’s the kind of aberration that HP detective Don Woods won’t miss. The Scots’ past three games were over at halftime. They need to gear up for four quarters of serious football … and it has to be this week. Texas High and Highland Park have played three times in the playoffs. The Tigers won two and the Scots won the other. The HP win came in 2005 when the Scots and the Tigers boasted two of the best high school quarterbacks in the nation. HP’s Matthew Stafford outperformed Texas High’s Ryan Mallett and the Scots went on to win the state title. Both Stafford and Mallett are now NFL quarterbacks. Highland Park doesn’t have Matthew Stafford anymore but I’ll take John Stephen Jones any day of the week.
Wylie East certainly got the Scots’ attention last year.
In the final district game of 2016 the Raiders climbed up on the back of Eno Benjamin and used his 186 yards rushing to grind out a 20-9 win over the sleep-walking Scots, prompting a Dallas Morning News sportswriter to predict that Highland Park would make an early exit in the playoffs.
It was the first win over Highland Park by any Wylie ISD school ever. The shocking loss did the Scots a favor by revealing how low HP could go. Even though the Raiders controlled the clock with its battering ram offense, when the Scots got the ball they couldn’t put it in the end zone. Matteo Cordray was the Scots’ leading scorer with two field goals. It was the first time since the opening game of 2013 that the Scots didn’t score a touchdown in a game.
This time last year I wrote that the Wylie East loss would be the best thing that happened to the Scots.
The next morning the HP coaches gathered the team together and they hit the reset button.
“We put our 8-2 record behind us and used the Wylie East loss to refocus,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “We dedicated ourselves to never play below our abilities again, to have a chip on our shoulders and to create the goal of winning six playoff games including the state finals.”
It was obvious that the HP universe shifted during the days after the Wylie East loss. The players were wildly focused. The first team they met in the playoffs, Mount Pleasant, shouldn’t have gotten off the bus. They felt the brunt of the Scots’ wrath, 70-2.
My, how things can change in a year. Wylie East is now armed with a new star running back, Corbin Johnson, but the Raiders have won only two games all year. Meanwhile North Forney is in the playoffs and Lovejoy (who started the season 0-4) could make the playoffs this Friday, possibly at the expense of Poteet, who made it to the state semifinals last season.
The HP seniors will never forget the Wylie East beatdown last year. They’ve been foaming at the mouth for a year to get back on the field with these guys. It will be a physical game and it should bring out the best in the Highland Park players. A win for Wylie East will make their 2-7 season a success. A win for Highland Park will let 50 seniors finally sleep at night.
Then they can enjoy dreaming about being state champions.
In their final district road game, the Scots will head east on Interstate 30 this Friday to take on the Royse City Bulldogs. This game – and this team – should remind us of Forney. Potentially threatening but possibly over at halftime. Highland Park will need to come out fast and strong and not let the Bulldogs think they can stay in the game. Like the Forney contest last Friday, the hope is that the HP backups will be unleashed in the second half. As you recall from a week ago, the Scots jumped out to a 28-0 halftime lead and pulled the starters. Christian McAnalley came in at quarterback and hit Camden Clark with a 25-yard touchdown pass in the third period to give the Scots a 35-0 lead. Not much of a dropoff from John Stephen Jones’ dazzling night of completing eight out of 10 of his passes for four touchdowns in less than one half. A lot of bench warmers got to play in the Forney game and 22 defenders were credited with at least one tackle.
To me, that was the most amazing statistic of the night.
Royse City won all three of its pre-district games – over South Garland, North Garland and Waco Connally. Reality then set in when the Bulldogs opened district play against West Mesquite and got drilled, 41-3. RC then lost a close one to Forney, 30-27, before beating Wylie East, 32-25. The last two weeks have not been kind to the Bulldogs as they found out that North Forney is for real, 67-28, and Poteet is still dangerous, 36-14. The Bulldogs now stand 4-4 for the season and 1-4 in district play.
Royse City quarterback Matthew Yelverton has passed for 743 yards and six touchdowns, but he also has suffered six interceptions. Meanwhile HP quarterback Jones has thrown for 2,121 yards and 28 touchdowns, good enough to be ranked third among area 5A quarterbacks. Like Forney’s QB, Yelverton’s top receiver is his little brother. Elijah Yelverton has caught 25 passes for 266 yards. At the same time, HP’s top receiver, Cade Saustad, a lacrosse all-American, has caught 36 passes for 746 yards, good enough to be ranked fifth among area 5A receivers. College football coaches are still crying about one of the state’s top 6’5” receivers taking his talents to a different sport. Hard to recruit against that.
My sophisticated computer analytics tells me that Royse City will score 24 points against the Scots. The Bulldogs are averaging 24.9 points per game and the Scots are allowing 24.3.
However, I think I’ll toss my computer out the window because I predict a shutout.
Last Friday the Bulldogs held Poteet running back Seth McGowan to 195 yards rushing. The only way they’ll hold Paxton Alexander and Conner Allen to a combined 195 yards is to make sure they don’t play in the second half.
Let’s go back to the beginning of the season. A long-haired, wild-eyed football prognosticator predicts which district 15-5A teams will have the best and worst records after seven games. Tied for the best record (6-1) will be the Scots and … North Forney?! And alone in last place at 1-6 will be … Wylie East?! I would have bet $100 that the poor guy got his teams backwards, but he didn’t. Welcome to 2017, where Mesquite Poteet and Lovejoy have losing records and Royse City has a wining record. This does not feel like last year’s district. It feels like 52-card pickup. While the Scots are improving each week like the 2016 state champions did last season, the biggest surprise in the district is North Forney, a team that still leads the area 5A teams in total offense (3,823 yards), rushing (2,064 yards), yards per game (546.1) and scoring (57 points per game). The Scots offense is seventh in total offense (3,179) and yards per game (454.1 yards) and is ninth in scoring (42 points per game). John Stephen Jones is third in passing with 1,921 yards while his favorite 6’5” receiver, Cade Saustad, is sixth in receiving with 667 yards. In the Scots most recent two games, the defense has allowed an average of 13 points and 245.5 yards. Oh, and by the way, the 6-1 Scots play the 2-5 Forney Jackrabbits Friday night at Highlander Stadium. The key to the game will be stopping dual-threat quarterback Devon Rideaux, who is a good passer and even better runner. Over the past two weeks the Jackrabbits have lost to Lovejoy, 63-15, and West Mesquite, 61-20, so they may be a little stressed right now. If the Scots play well in the first half, many backups may see action in the second half. Friday is Senior Night for the football team. The 51 seniors will be introduced before the game. This week don’t waltz into the stadium after the kickoff. Come 15 minutes early and help honor the players who make our Friday nights so special.
When the season began folks circled Oct. 20 on their calendars and prepared for an epic battle between two of the top 5A teams in North Texas. As it was last year, the game would feature two undefeated teams in 15-5A that would battle for the inside track for the district championship.
The showdown between Highland Park and Poteet this Friday in Mesquite will still be epic but the Pirates limp into the game with a 3-3 record to face the 5-1 Scots. And worse, Poteet comes off a 40-28 loss to North Forney last Friday. Make no mistake. Poteet will be a major challenge for the Scots, who will play their third tough district game in a row. North Forney and West Mesquite are now in the Scots’ rearview mirror and both look like playoff teams. The irony of the North Forney win over Poteet is that the Falcons coach, Randy Jackson, is the former Poteet coach who whipped the Pirates into a winning program a few years ago. After turning around Poteet, he moved on to Grapevine where he did the same thing. Then this year he took the reigns at North Forney and has put it on the map. Last season NF was 1-6 in district and this year it could go 6-1. Poteet remain is good hands with head coach Kody Groves. They have plenty of talent and still control their playoff destiny. During the off-season former star receiver Cal Lampkin was moved to quarterback where his athleticism could be on call for every play. Over the past few weeks Dalton Dale has taken over the QB duties and he can both pass and run. Against the Falcons Dale completed 13 of 28 passes for 202 yards and he ran 16 times for 132 yards. His two interceptions partially offset his 334 total yards. Lampkin returned a kickoff 75 yards for a touchdown and De’Michael Smith caught a 64-yard TD pass from Dale which tightened the score to 33-28 in the fourth quarter. The Pirates still have their lightening. Keep an eye on sophomore running back Seth McGowen. He’s a very talented running back who hasn’t busted out of the barn yet, but he will at some point. Hopefully not this Friday. Last Friday Scots linebacker Noble Nash had a breakout game, flying all over the field making tackles and returning a key interception 84 yards. He sprinted all the way down the sideline to the seven-yard line before being tripped up by either an invisible gamma ray or a magic spell cast by the Wrangler coaches. Nose guard Elliott Newsom had a nice game against West Mesquite, as did cornerback Hudson Clark. So, what is the key to beating Poteet? I think game film from last week’s North Forney-Poteet game will enlighten the HP coaches. While North Forney has a respectable passing game, Falcons running back Calvin Ribera gained 246 yards on the ground on 36 carries. He controlled the clock and the game. Ribera is only one guy but the Scots have Paxton Alexander, Conner Allen, John Stephen Jones, Benner Page, Cameron Reeves and Davenn Robinson who can run the ball all night.
Let me introduce you to Mr. Curtis Williams.
Nice guy. Great athlete. He’s the star running back for West Mesquite and you will get to know him well on Friday night. He’s #6.
Bring your calculator with you to the game at Highlander Stadium because #6 is averaging more than 11 yards every time he touches the ball. He’s a first-down machine. Over the past five games he has been handed the football 75 times and he has run for 837 yards.
Now, he doesn’t run for 11 yards every carry. But on every fifth or sixth run he’ll break through the line, sidestep a linebacker and go for 50 or so yards. He knows how to pad his average.
Mr. Williams is currently the fourth-ranked 5A ball carrier in yardage in the area. You may remember him from last year. As a junior he ran for 67 yards and caught eight passes for 86 yards against HP. He’s got 4.5 speed and is only one of several big-play threats on this West Mesquite Wranglers squad. In their most recent game, Wranglers quarterback Connor Neill – the son of the coach – threw touchdown passes of 86 yards to Dylan Wright and 52 yards to #6 while sophomore Ty Jordan ran a punt back 95 yards for a touchdown. You’d think the Scots were lining up against North Forney and all its high-tech weapons.
The Wranglers are 5-0 and they’ve played some good teams. They beat Rockwall Heath … who beat Rockwall … who beat the Scots. West Mesquite and Highland Park are both ranked in the top 10 in the area. But after the game Friday the Highlander Stadium scoreboard will reflect a reality that polls lack.
HP coach Randy Allen says that the Wranglers offense is better than it was last year. Having nine offensive starters back helps. And he believes that WM will have the most athletic defense the Scots have faced.
Two weeks ago the Scots faced a similar challenge against North Forney (which still has the most productive 5A offense in the area). Allen talked about “breaking serve” as each team poured on the touchdowns until Prince Dorbah hit the Falcons quarterback as he was throwing and the ball sailed into the welcome arms of HP linebacker James Lightbourn. On the next play Paxton Alexander ran 52 yards for the dagger touchdown that put the Scots up by 21 points. The HP defense had broken serve.
This Friday the threat is different, but just as real. While the HP defense will have to contain the Wranglers speedy skill players and not give up the big play, the Scots’ biggest challenge will be the ultra-fast Wrangler defense. They will be step faster than any team the Scots have played. The Wranglers have smothered their opponents, holding them to 183 yards per game.
Meanwhile the Scots have played some good teams and are averaging 487 yards per game under the leadership of QB John Stephen Jones.
Coach Allen believes that the team that wins Friday night will out-execute its opponent. Will the Scots offense get its 487 yards, or will the Wranglers hold them to 183? Will the Scots defense contain #6 and limit the WM big plays?
I think the Scots will answer both questions by welcoming captains Thomas Shelmire and James Herring back in the starting lineup.
With the Scots at full strength, it should be a nerve-racking but joyous homecoming night.
People attending the Highland Park–North Forney game this Friday at Highlander Stadium should bring their hazmat suits.
The anticipated offensive explosion on the field could create fallout that will roll up into the stands and possibly contaminate University Park. The scoreboard will explode after the teams reach 100 total points and 1,000 total yards of offense. It could be the highest scoring game in the history of Highland Park football. The North Forney Falcons soar into Highlander Stadium 4-0 and averaging 62.5 points per game. They lead North Texas 5A teams in points scored and in total offense. Last week they beat Wylie East, 70-65. But wait. Isn’t this the same North Forney team the Scots beat, 66-7, last year in Forney? Yes and no. Yes, it is the same North Forney but no, it is not the same team. They have a new coach, Randy Jackson, who turned Mesquite Poteet into a powerhouse a few years ago. At 4-0, and having already dispatched one key 15-5A playoff contender, they have a newly-found confidence to match their skill level. This is the most dangerous type of high school football team, the kind that has players who have this new feeling of believing they will whip anyone they line up against. Oh, and the Falcons quarterback, Colby Suits, accounted for 10 touchdowns last week. He ran for five TDs, threw for four and caught one. He plays like he’s radioactive. Of course, the superlative Falcons offense has not faced the Highland Park Scots defense, which stuffed a good Lovejoy team last week. They are not yet the Dark Alley Boys who won State last year, but they are good and improving each week. They are missing safety James Herring but they’ve got the depth to fill the void. His replacement, Ryan Khetan, last week intercepted a Lovejoy pass and ran it back 41 yards to set up the Scots’ final touchdown. On offense the Scots have been missing left tackle Thomas Shelmire but left guard Ben Boudreaux has slid over and done a good job filling in for the all-state team captain. Coaches have moved up Ryan Butz to starter and he joins Regan Riddle, Matt Sewall and Bolton Corwin as the protectors of John Stephen Jones. Last week Jones could have led his team to 70 points if the Lovejoy offense had played well enough that the Scots needed to keep their starters in the entire game. This Friday could be a 70-65 offense explosion. Or the Scots defense could step up and knock the high-flying Falcons offense back down to earth. If that happens, you can take your hazmat suit off.
This is a game that concerns Randy Allen. Lovejoy worries me also.
The players and coaches are taking this game very seriously but the fans think they see a mismatch. On paper, Lovejoy is 0-3 and has lost all three games by an average of 38-12. Not much of a challenge for the defending state champions? Hold your horses.
Let’s look at the Leopards’ first opponents and the scores of the games. Argyle (42-21) is one of the highest-rated 4A schools in the state. Frisco Wakeland (38-14) and Frisco Lone Star (36-3) are the top two favorites in district 13-5A (aka the Frisco district). In their first three games these teams have been offensive machines – Argyle scored 42, 70 and 49; Wakeland scored 51, 38 and 41; and Lone Star scored 41, 45 and 35. All three are undefeated and all three are predicted to go far in the playoffs. After going through Murderer’s Row, the Leopards are opening district 15-5A play by hosting the Scots, who are state-ranked but will be the first team Lovejoy has faced which is not undefeated. Scots followers who saw the game last year will recall how it was an epic battle that could have gone either way. Two and a half minutes into the game the Leopards led, 14-7, after an 85-yard touchdown pass from sophomore Carson Collins to Chase Van Wagoner. In the second quarter Collins hit Van Wagoner with a 73-yard touchdown but the Scots blocked the PAT. (Do we see a trend?) When Scully Jenevein caught a 13-yard TD pass from John Stephen Jones, the Scots took a 21-20 halftime lead on HP’s homecoming night. Matt Gahm’s pick six was the only score in the second half and the Scots held on to win, 27-20. HP rolled up 456 yards of total offense and held the high-octane Leopard offense to 318 yards and 10 first downs. Collins, who last season threw for 2,394 yards as the 15-5A Newcomer of the Year, completed 19 of 30 passes for 338 yards in the Leopards’ season opener against Argyle. The past two weeks the quarterback for Lovejoy has been Blake Motl, who threw for 232 yards against Wakeland and only 45 against Lone Star. Van Wagoner is back and is still the team’s most dangerous playmaker. On defense, the leader is all-state linebacker Bumper Pool (yes, that’s his name) and he has also been making appearances on offense as a running back and as a wide receiver. He might even drive the team bus. The Scots are fortunate to come away with a hard-fought 34-32 win last week against Mansfield Timberview. There were many nice plays by the Scots offense and defense that led to victory but the Play of the Game was Cole Jackson’s third-quarter interception of a Timberview fake punt. That set up a touchdown pass from Jones to Paxton Alexander to put the Scots ahead for the first time. Highland Park needed a big-time play and Jackson – a big-time athlete – came up with it. His heroics inspired the entire team. It’ll take that kind of effort and more for the Scots to survive Friday’s Leopard ambush.
It’ll be Thursday Night Lights for the Scots as they travel to Mansfield to challenge the Timberview Wolves this week. For those of you not taking the family helicopter to the game, I urge you to leave early so that you don’t arrive late. There’s a lot of Metroplex rush-hour traffic to be navigated before the 7:00 p.m. kickoff.
The 1-1 Scots face the 1-1 Wolves in a rematch of last year’s HP shutout, 31-0, at Highlander Stadium. It was the Scots’ first shutout in two years and it set the tone for a dominant season for the HP defense.
In its opening game two weeks ago, Timberview trounced Everman, 44-8, then last Friday the Wolves fell to a very good Frisco Lone Star team, 45-21. QB Jyron Russell is back for the Wolves and he is the team’s top runner and top passer. The most electric player on the team is Jalen Knox. Last week Knox caught two passes for 137 yards. You do the math on his yards per catch. I’ll spot you a 93-yard touchdown reception and you guess how many yards his other reception was for. We’ll be able to tell whether you went to Armstrong, Bradfield, Hyer or University Park.
In last year’s game HP safety James Herring had 10 tackles and a fumble recovery. Two weeks ago he was injured in the Rockwall game and did not play against Waxahachie. He may or may not play this week. The same goes for fellow team captain Paxton Alexander, the hero RB of last year’s Scots playoff run. The bad news is that two key Scots are banged up. The good news is that Ryan Khetan has filled in well at safety, while running backs Conner Allen and Benner Page have covered Alexander’s running back spot well. Khetan was a Player of the Week for his performance last Friday. Allen carried the ball 12 times for 108 yards while Page gained 59 yards on 10 carries. Together they averaged 7.6 yards per carry, which is where Alexander left off.
Quarterback John Stephen Jones had another impressive night, completing 18 of 26 passes for 290 yards and two touchdowns (both to Finn Corwin). He was even highlighted on national television when the NFL Sunday Night Football broadcast team showed film of the Scots’ win over Waxahachie, coached by former Cowboys quarterback Jon Kitna.
After two games the most amazing statistic in Highland Park is that Scots receiver Cade Saustad has already caught 13 passes for 343 yards. That’s a pretty good season for most humans. Corwin has jumped up to the second best on the team, with 123 yards. Meanwhile, running backs Page and Allen are both averaging at least six yards per carry. That speaks well of their abilities as well as the offensive linemen’s performances, including Thomas Shelmire, who is having another all-state season so far.
The Defensive Players of the Week against Waxahachie were Khetan (with a key pick) and lineman Jack Jurgovan. Note to the HP defense: On Thursday night keep Jyron Russell in the pocket and keep Jalen Knox out of the end zone. If you’ll do those two things you can take Friday off.
As the Waxahachie Indians ride into Highlander Stadium Friday night for the Scots’ home opener, two thoughts come to mind.
First, the Indians won’t have interstellar receivers Jalen Reagor and Kenedy Snell anymore. Last season the two track stars sprinted through the Scots secondary for 289 yards on 11 receptions. They had touchdown catches of 90, 73, 54 and six yards – the latter coming with 19 seconds left to win the game, 40-37. Second thought is that quarterback Bryce Salik is back for his senior year at Waxahachie. Last year he completed 15 of 25 passes for 320 yards and four touchdowns against the Scots. Now that Reagor and Snell have graduated and moved on to TCU and the Big 12, the Indians will attempt their own “Reload and Repeat” with a new cast of speedy characters. Jerreth Sterns (#4) is the Indians’ most explosive threat. Last week against Garland Lakeview Sterns he returned a first-quarter punt 60 yards for a touchdown, then had a 64-yard TD run in the second quarter as Waxahachie rolled up 35-points in the first half. Salik completed passes to eight different receivers while his running backs picked up 392 yards on the ground. When the Lakeview defense focused on Sterns, Demani Richardson (#6), scored on his own 64-yard run, which is nifty because he plays safety. He carried the ball three times for 127 yards. Maybe he should step away from safety and try offense full time. A third running back, Jaden Watson (#26), picked up 114 yards on eight carries. So we understand that Waxahachie is explosive. Four of the top skill players on this potent offense – Sterns, Richardson, Jarvis McCray and lineman Alonso McGruder – go both ways and are standouts on defense. They’ll get tired but not any more tired that last year as they racked up 40 points. The Scots are coming off a heart-breaking 53-49 shootout loss to Rockwall, who used two kickoff recoveries to outscore the Scots. Both teams combined for more than 100 points and more than 1,000 yards of total offense. Receiver Cade Saustad broke a Highland Park school record for receiving yards in a game as he gathered in 10 of John Stephen Jones’ passes for 268 yards and three touchdowns. Safety Zak Folts led the Scots defense with 20 tackles. Linebackers Ryan Coxe (10 tackles), Noble Nash (9) and Marshall Ballard (8) had solid games. Kicker Matteo Cordray was outstanding on kickoffs, field goals and punts. He deserved three game balls. Coach Allen was pleased with his team’s heart and its fighting spirit. The Scots unveiled a new secret weapon at defensive end – a sophomore named Prince Dorbah, who at 6’4”, 215 lbs. is built like Ezekiel Elliott and has the potential to shut down his half of the field. Keep an eye on number 32. This guy will be fun to watch the next three years.