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.
Last Friday the Scots played their most complete game of the year as they slashed McKinney North, 73-20. The offense was unstoppable, a good position to be in halfway through the playoffs. The Scots scored on every possession except one before running out the clock to end the game. The HP defense was strong against another high-powered offense. The Bulldogs had averaged 59.5 points per game the over their previous four games. Holding them to 20 points was impressive. Matteo Cordray was seven-for-seven on PATs and eliminated several Bulldog scoring threats by sending his kickoffs out of the end zone. For a high school kicker, he is amazing. Like McKinney North, Mansfield Summit was the #4 team to out of their district to make the playoffs. Unlike McKinney North, the Jaguars are still alive. There are now four teams still standing in Region II. What do we know about Summit?. First, they are from a very competitive district, but then again, so are the Scots. Second, they are faster and more athletic than McKinney North. They are coming off a 69-0 win last Friday so we could be in for an offense fireworks show. I think the Scots defense will slow down the Jaguars offense and I have no reason to believe that the Jaguar defense can slow the Scots offense. They do have a cornerback named William Jones (#2) who had three interceptions last Friday and also ran back a punt for a touchdown. The Jaguars run four defensive linemen, four linebackers, two corners and one safety. On every play one or two of HP’s receivers will be covered by a linebacker. I have a hunch that Mr. John Stephen Jones will know how to handle that. That’s why he was just named the Dallas Morning News Offensive Player of the Week. On offense the Jaguars line up in a spread … then run the ball. They’ve got fast, shifty running backs who will have the space they need to break past the line. But the way Jack Jurgovan, Elliott Newsom and Prince Dorbah performed last week, the Jaguars may not get past the line. That should be the quest because, as Randy Allen said about the Jaguars, “They’ve got speed at every position.” This will be the first outdoor playoff game for HP since 2015. The Scots should have something of a home-field advantage for two reasons. First, Ford Stadium is in University Park, just like Highland Park High School. And second, on Nov. 2 Randy Allen was honored as a 2017 SMU Distinguished Alum, so there should be plenty of good karma on the Hilltop Friday night. Last thought: If there are three interceptions Friday night, my score is Folts 1, Herring 1, Khetan 1 and William Jones 0.
Many Highland Park fans who braved the Tollway construction traffic to see the Scots battle Texas High last Saturday in Frisco are still having nightmares about the ghost of Trevailance Hunt rising up above the Scots secondary to catch a 50-yard Hail Mary to beat HP as time expires.
That scenario might have played out if Scully Jenevein had not recovered a Texas High onside kick with 10 seconds left in the game.
Hunt had burned the Scots for 171 receiving yards in the first half. Safety James Herring was switched to shutdown corner to disrupt Hunt in the second half and he did. It was an epic battle of two great athletes, with a healthy dose of pushing, shoving, hand-checking and a couple of pass interference penalties. But Herring held Hunt to 30 second-half yards. To me that was the difference in the game.
Randy Allen calls the game a classic. He said it was the best Texas High team he’s ever seen since he’s been at HP – even better that the Tigers of the Ryan Mallett days.
This was a game of big plays. The two teams fought each other like prize fighters who won’t go down. It’s a good thing the Scots came out of the chute hot. John Stephen Jones hit Paxton Alexander with a 70-yard touchdown pass on the second play of the game. Cade Saustad caught three TD passes, Conner Allen scored twice and Prince Dorbah had two sacks. Both teams combined for 1,090 yards of total offense and 105 points.
Had Texas High quarterback Riley Russell attempted a Hail Mary pass to Hunt as time expired, it would have been a high-percentage pass for the Tigers.
But Hunt wouldn’t have been in the end zone. He would have been around the line of scrimmage still trying to get past the physical Herring.
So the Scots advance to play McKinney North in the area playoff round at AT&T Stadium. Like HP, the Bulldogs scored 56 points last weekend. The key to stopping them is not complicated, but it’s not easy either. Quarterback Cameron Constantine runs a deadly read-option with running back Lamar Lucas. Last Friday they had a combined 279 yards rushing … in the first half alone.
Constantine completed 10 of 14 passes for 138 yards last week. But passing was an afterthought for a team that ran for 428 yards. This week the HP defensive line (Jack Jergovan, Elliott Newsom and Prince Dorbah) and all four linebackers (Marshall Ballard, Ryan Coxe, Cole Bohner and Noble Nash) will be trained to slow the lethal Bulldogs read-option. The game itself will be determined by that battle.
On one hand the Scots defense faces another huge challenge. On the other hand they just need to hold Constantine and Lucas to under 56 points.
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.