by Kirk Dooley
So the Scots thrashed Mansfield Timberview last Thursday, 42-7, and go into the playoffs 10-0 and ranked second in state in 5A. How is this team different that the previous two HP teams, both state champs?
The first thing that comes to mind is that there has been no drop off at quarterback since John Stephen Jones became an HP legend and then left to call the Hogs. He left huge shoes to fill and Chandler Morris has filled them well and has the chance to make those shoes even bigger.
This year’s version of the Scots is 10-0 going into the playoffs, something that neither of the past two state champs did. There’s some swagger in that but I still believe that the 2016 loss to Wylie East in the last district game forced those Scots to hit a re-set button and enter the playoffs on fire.
Last year’s team was the defending state champions and that can make a difference when your team walks out onto the field. This year’s team is a two-time defending state champion, which can unnerve some players and motivate others. They know they have to come at Highland Park with their A-game and the Scots have learned to compete with a giant target on their backs.
Injuries have decimated the Scots the past three years but the next man up has been impressive each time he steps into the game. Depth is Highland Park’s 12th Man.
And this team has been battle-tested. Of the 10 teams they’ve beaten this season, six are in the playoffs and there’s a good chance they could see Frisco Lone Star, Mansfield Legacy or Lancaster later in the playoffs.
Independence is 6-4 and has an solid quarterback in sophomore Braylon Braxton (#12), who has thrown for almost 1,400 yards and run for more than 500 more. He’s got 21 touchdowns on his resume. The Knights also have a punishing 1,000-yard rusher in Logan Brungardt (#7). Those are the two Knights to contain.
On defense Independence boasts strong middle linebacker Jalen Freeman (#21) and fast free safety Princeton Ferguson, who both lead the team in tackles. Defensive backs Kendrick Price (#23) and John McGraw (#14) have three interceptions each. Defensive ends Ashton Larza (#44) and Colby Blatnik (#22) create pressure from the edges.
The only common opponent the Scots and the Knights have faced this season is Frisco Lone Star, who beat the Knights, 27-6. The Scots defeated Lone Star, 10-7, on a clutch field goal on the last play of the game.
Going into the playoffs the Scots are without linebackers James Lightbourn or Andrew Bonnet, both of whom are out for the season. The next man up, Cal Hirschey, is also injured and will be out for a couple of games. Colby Hopkins moves back to inside linebacker and Gus Vincent steps up on the outside, joining Hopkins, Chris Read and Patrick Turner as starting linebackers. Cornerback Hudson Clark is hurt and is not expected to play this week. Sam Sloan fills in for him. Punter Andrew Stanzel is back from a minor injury and he hopes to blow up a punt return man if he gets the opportunity.