Highland Park vs Mesquite Horn

This is the big one.

When Highland Park learned it was going to be in 6A, its coaches immediately circled October 10 as the biggest challenge. Mesquite Horn. With 11 starters returning from a 9-3 area finalist team, many predicted the Jaguars to be the team to beat, but Highland Park was the pre-season pick to win the district.

mesquite horn helmet

Sure enough, it looks like the district championship will be determined at Hanby Stadium on Friday.

This will indeed be the biggest challenge for the 5-0 Scots. The 4-1 Jaguars lost only to an undefeated Rockwall team but they have impressive wins over Duncanville and McKinney Boyd. The secret weapon Horn brings into the game is head coach Mike Overton who knows the Scots well from his days as the coach at West Mesquite. The fact that Horn is loaded with D1 talent is no surprise. One of the best offensive linemen in the state, Connor Dyer, will be playing for Texas Tech next year. Two wide receivers – Emmanuel Ogwo and Jarrison Stewart – have committed to play for Iowa and TCU. And neither one is the leading receiver on the team. Kakpa Mansaray has caught 22 passes for 308 yards to lead the team.

Statistically, these two teams match up. Horn QB Chris Robison has completed 76 of 136 passes for 1,339 yards and 14 touchdowns. HP’s Brady Burgin has completed 80 of 126 passes for 1,223 yards and 12 touchdowns. Horn is averaging 910 yards on the ground compared to HP’s 840. While the Scots are scoring 46.8 yards per game (compared to the Jaguars’ 33.2), I think the game will be determined by the Highland Park defense. While The Dallas Morning News picks Horn to win, 28-24, I think the Scots defense will hold the Jags to under 24 and I think Burgin’s balanced offense will score more than 30.

When the Scots start slow, they have adjusted at halftime and won the second half. That may happen again this Friday, but if the hole is too big, even a big second half won’t help. This is the first team HP will play that is loaded with college players. Like many teams the Scots face, these Jaguars are foaming at the mouth to snap the Scots’ 36-game district winning streak. Their extra step of quickness will challenge the Scots’ air game.

But there is something about rising to the occasion that makes Highland Park football unique. They have the bitter taste in their mouths of being picked to lose the game. The individuals on the team will reach deep inside and find a gear they didn’t know they had … but they know they’ll need it against a talented team like this.
Horn has D1 talent. Scots got pride.

That will be the difference.

Highland Park vs J.J. Pearce

Friday, October 3, 2014; 7:30pm Kickoff at Highlander Stadium

As the J.J. Pearce Mustangs ride into town for its first 6A battle with the Highland Park Scots, the red, white and blue ponies are glad to see a familiar face in the UIL big boys club. The Scots are also glad to reunite with their former district rivals. The two schools, with similar student bodies, similar sports traditions and similar quest for excellence, are both glad they didn’t stumble into district 6-6A (like McKinney did two years ago). That district includes four of the largest 10 schools in the state: Allen (5,987 students), Plano (5,395), Plano West (5,531) and Plano East (5,300).

Highland Park (2,106) is the smallest 6A school and Pearce (2,177) is close. They are both happy to be in a district with nearby Richardson and Mesquite schools, with whom they have been district rivals – off and on – for decades.
While the Scots have dominated the Mustangs in football, Pearce fans can hang their hats on that one brief, shining moment when Pearce beat Highland Park in double overtime in 2001. What is incredible is that HP’s loss at Eagle-Mustang Stadium that year has been one of only two district losses since Randy Allen arrived at HP in 1999. (That’s an incredible feat. Maybe Allen, Plano, Plano West and Plano East are the ones thrilled that the Scots didn’t join their private club.)
The Scots are playing well. Quarterback Brooks Burgin is the polished, talented and experienced signal caller the coaches created in a QB lab in the basement of HPHS. His offensive line is experienced and strong. No team can concentrate on the Scots’ top wide receiver because there are half a dozen of them. The defense has pitched two shutouts and held a good North Mesquite offense to one touchdown. And that was without Mr. Pick 6 himself, Mitchell Kaufman, a defensive leader who has been sidelined with a back injury. Last week Michael Linehan led the team with 17 tackles (including nine solo).
The Scots are 4-0 going into this game while the Mustangs are struggling at 1-3. Pearce has a major threat in Hank Hughes, who is 6’2”, runs a 4.6 and can line up anywhere on the field and be dominant. He is set to start at quarterback so watch for number 11 making plays with his legs and his arm. Pearce also has one of the top wide receivers in the area, Jake Griffin, who has caught 22 passes for 261 yards. The likely scenario will be Hughes to Griffin passes. If Griffin is covered, look for Hughes to run.
The Scots do need to get out of bed before the second quarter. The slow starts could haunt this team tonight or next week against Horn.
I asked my voodoo friend what the final score will be Friday night and he just smiled and said, “Don’t let it go into overtime.”

Highland Park vs North Mesquite

Friday, September 26, 2014; 7:30pm Kickoff at Mesquite Hanby Stadium

Over the next five weeks, the Scots will play more games in Mesquite Hanby Stadium than their own Highlander Stadium. Highland Park travels east to play the North Mesquite Stallions this Friday, Sept. 26 … the Mesquite Horn Jaguars on Oct. 10 … and the Mesquite Skeeters on Oct. 24.
Hanby, on the campus of Mesquite High School, is the old stadium in town. It is more intimate and has more tradition than the newer, bigger and fancier Mesquite Memorial Stadium, where the Scots got used to playing West Mesquite and Poteet. Hanby was built in 1956 and holds 11,950 fans. Memorial, built in 1977, is next to the West Mesquite campus. It has a capacity of 20,000 and is a good playoff stadium for the Scots, except when it is late November and a Blue Norther blows in. There is nothing to block the wind and a wintery mix in a stiff wind can be devastating. HP fans have ice cycles dripping from their stadium blankets.

I remember going to a freezing-cold playoff game at Mesquite Memorial a few years ago. I was late, arriving in middle of the first period and as I walked in, there was a stream of football fans already leaving the game. In the first period! It was that miserable.

As the Scots prepare for their first 2014 trek to Hanby Stadium, they need to be thinking about how to stop the Stallions’ sophomore quarterback, Ja’quez Gooch. In his first game as a starter, Gooch picked up 141 yards on 12 caries (11.75 yards per carry) and ran for touchdowns of 63, 10 and 17 yards. In last week’s 41-20 win over South Garland, Gooch ran for 109 yards (10.9 yards per carry) and completed 11 of 13 passes for 119 yards. When Gooch isn’t using his 4.5 speed to make big plays, his running back Dreshawn Minnieweather is putting ups close to 100 yards per game.

The Stallions beat Naaman Forest in the season opener, 30-24, even though NF had more first downs and more total yards. Big plays, like DeKeddrick Henderson’s 65-yard fumble return, were the difference in the game. Arlington Sam Houston beat NM by two points in the second game, 12-10, even though Sam outgained NM 371 total yards to 198. The Stallions racked up 108 penalty yards on 11 flags. In their most recent game against North Garland, the Stallions jumped out to a 27-0 lead in the second quarter and I think that’s the team that will take the field against the Scots.

HP is 3-0 going into district play. The Scots have defeated Frisco Centennial and Prosper by a combined score of 101-0, and they beat the team that should have punted some, 48-42.

Campbell Brooks and Kevin Ken have already combined for 28 receptions for 536 yards and seven touchdowns, with Andrew Frost and Sam Welfelt each catching nine passes for a combined 285 yards. Quarterback Brooks Burgin has completed 52 of 77 passes (68 percent) for 844 yards and eight touchdowns. Stephen Dieb has run 35 times for 203 yards and four TDs. The Scots defense has pitched two shutouts.

The stats look good. But 6A begins this Friday. The Stallions will be the first of many new big school challenges for the Scots, who are prepared for – and anxious to – meet those challenges.

Highland Park vs Prosper Eagles

Highland Park vs Prosper Eagles

7:30pm Kickoff, Friday, September 12, 2014

Their quarterback wears number 90. What’s up with that? Is he a converted nose guard?
Prosper’s QB, Colton Hepp, has a name as cool as his number. In his first two games he has completed 31 of 45 passes (69 percent) for 395 yards and four touchdowns. His key receiver, Zack (with a “k”) English, has caught 13 passes for 215 yards and three scores.
But the guy to keep an eye on is running back Robert Mahone, who in the first two games has run back a kickoff 90 yards and has a 95-yard run from scrimmage. Both for touchdowns, obviously.
The Eagles fly into Highlander Stadium for the first time ever. Years ago, Prosper was a dot on the road north of Dallas and now it’s got a school with 1,600 students, impressive facilities and a strong tradition of winning over the years. The Eagles are learning the hard way that 5A is a far cry from 2A and 3A, where they used to mop up (much like Forney did). They were 3-7 last year and are not projected to do much better this season.
But two years ago they were flying high. Led by high-profile quarterback Davis Webb, who is now starting at Texas Tech, Prosper was 10-3 in 2012 and went three games deep into the playoffs. Webb’s top receiver was Torii Hunter, Jr., who caught 71 of Webb’s passes for 1,235 yards and 14 touchdowns, averaging 17.4 yards per reception. He now plays for Notre Dame.
The Scots are coming off an important win over Pulaski Academy of Little Rock, Arkansas, which had won 125 of its previous 144 games, and averaged 50 points per game going into Friday night’s fight.
It didn’t take long for the Scots to realize that these guys were for real. The Scots looked up and found themselves losing 28-14 and couldn’t stop Pulaksi’s offense. Stephen Dieb scored to tighten the score to 28-21 when linebacker Mitchell Kaufman made the play of the game, snatching a Pulaksi pass out of the air and running it back 33 yards to tie the score. The huge momentum shift continued, the HPdefense stuffed the Pulaski offense and the Scots scored 34 unanswered points to defeat the Bruins 48-42.
A few HPtouchdowns came about due to great field position that was the result of recovering onside kicks and stopping fourth down plays deep in HP territory. Maybe it makes sense to punt every once in a while.
“I think it is important that we didn’t play our best game and still beat a good team,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “It was an exciting game and our guys found a way to win.”
It was a good team win. But Kaufman, who is also a Scots basketball standout, gets the assist.
Pulaksi goes to Florida to play a game this weekend. The Bruins may be discombobulated because they’re not used to coming off a loss. But the Bruins and the Scots both benefited from last Friday’s game.
They will play again in Dallas next year. Pulaksi already has it circled. They want another shot at the Scots’ home winning streak, now sitting at an incredible 80 games.

Highland Park vs Pulaski Academy of Little Rock, Arkansas

Highland Park vs Pulaski Academy of Little Rock, Arkansas

7:30pm Kickoff, Friday, September 5, 2014

Well, this is going to be interesting.  The mad genius of football, Kevin Kelley, is bringing his Pulaski Academy Bruins from Little Rock, Arkansas, to show North Texas how different high school football can be.

Kelley is the most unorthodox football coach in America. He makes the mad pirate of Washington State, Mike Leach, look as boring as an old SEC offense. If he weren’t so successful, people might think he’s crazy. But he is successful – winning 125 of 144 games the past 11 years – and still some think he’s off his rocker.
Why? Because he approaches football from a whole different perspective. He doesn’t think like the conventional coach. He questions everything and has the moxie to act on it. The result is the most unconventional football team in America at any level. You can’t call them weird because they win 87 percent of their games.
Pulaksi never punts. Kelley thinks that punting is offensive failure. They go for it on all fourth downs and get a first down 50 percent of the time. Professor Kelley likes the percentages. He knows that the odds of a team getting the ball inside the Pulaski 10-yard line will score 92 percent of the time. He knows that punting out to the 30- or 40-yard line gives his opponent a 77 percent change of scoring. He’ll take that 15 percent difference because his team will get a first down on 50 percent of its fourth-down attempts. Half the time he keeps the ball and the other team doesn’t have it so it doesn’t matter what yard line they would have been on.
Every Pulaksi kickoff is an onside kick. They have 12 different onside kick formations and they’ve become very good at using it as a key offensive weapon. Against one rival they ran up a 29-0 score before the other team ever touched the ball. You will never see a better team at onside kicks.
Opponents recovering an onside kick will be an average of 14 yards ahead of where they would have been (on average) after a regular kickoff return, so we can begin to understand the logic behind the madness.
On defense, Pulaski blitzes 80 percent of the time. On punt returns, they have nobody deep … and they don’t try to block the kick. On offense they average 520 yards per game. Next week they play against a high school team in Florida. None of this is conventional, folks.
The Scots coaches have not been able to scout the Bruins. The HP game is their first game of the season. The HP coaches have film from last year but most of those players have graduated.
I don’t think that Pulaski never punting is going to throw off the Scots defense but I do think that the Bruins onside kicks can be damaging because of their expertise at it. The best way to negate that possibility is to keep them from scoring in the first place.
Keep a team averaging 50 points a game from scoring? Yes, if the Scots defense can keep them out of the end zone each quarter, then the percentage chance of Pulaski scoring becomes zero.