Photo: Joseph Nguyen/TexasHSFootball

ARLINGTON — Failure dangled above Highland Park High School like a proverbial Sword of Damocles, seemingly primed for Manvel to cut it and sever any tie to a second consecutive title and history.

The Scots would have been cut by its blade — if not for a pair of records, an improbable comeback, and a program-defining defensive stand during a 53-49 win against Manvel on Friday at AT&T Stadium.

The win, too, flew in the face of a near-Herculean defensive effort by a Maverick team that accounted for 640 total yards and had sacked Highland Park quarterback John Steven Jones eight times — including a 5A state title game record seven in the first half.

“It’s all about heart, about knowing you’re never out of it if you keep believing you have a chance,” said Head Coach Randy Allen, who watched his grandson Conner Allen barrel into the end zone for a 2-point conversion in the middle of Scots’ rally.

Garrison Johnson scored the game’s first touchdown on a controversial 1-yard lunge. Joseph Nguyen/TexasHSFootball

Before Manvel sack artist DePriest Taylor and the six other Maverick defenders set the edge and the tone, though, senior quarterback Kason Martin and the offense struck first via a 1-yard rumble by feature back Garrison Johnson.

Highland Park found the end zone and its first touchdown of the game at the 6:55 mark of the first quarter via Jones’ 63-yard bomb to Cade Saustad, tying the game at seven points.

It took Manvel exactly 21 seconds to erase the tie after Martin’s 73-yard strike to Jalen Preston and less than six minutes into the second quarter to extend its lead to two touchdowns. In between those scores, Taylor, Brian Johnson, and Kam Pedescleaux had each dropped Jones in the backfield for sacks during the first 24 minutes of play.

Manvel’s defense sacked John Stephen Jones seven times in the first 24 minutes. Joseph Nguyen/TexasHSFootball

There are, however, two halves to the game of football.

In classic Highland Park fashion in a title fight slugfest of championship proportions, the Scots saved their best for last. Highland Park landed a jab with Matteo Cordray’s 32-yard field goal to end the first half and a combination via Paxton Alexander’s 10-yard run and Conner’s 2-point conversion to open the second.

The proverbial “hit parade” and Scot flurry didn’t fade despite Manvel’s counter punch.

“It’s the craziest game I’ve ever been a part of. It really is. There were a lot of plays that could have gone wrong and we would have lost the game,” Connor, who finished his senior season with 39 total yards, said of the rally. “But they didn’t and we kept making clutch plays. We kept getting stops. We didn’t panic. We were ready for controversy, ready for conflict and fought back.”

Following a Martin 7-yard pass to Preston — his second of three score touchdowns — it took Highland Park less than two minutes to drive 59 yards and weave its way to a field-goal tying deficit — courtesy of a Jones scramble and throw and a Jay Smith reception. The Scots had one more haymaker left in its back of tricks, though, in the form of senior linebacker Marshall Ballard’s strip a Maverick ball carrier and fumble recovery, handing the reigns to Jones and his offense.

Maverick quarterback Kason Martin (12) threw for nearly 500 Yards in the state championship loss to Highland Park on Friday night at AT&T Stadium. Joseph Nguyen/TexasHSFootball

Two drives later, Jones logged his 391st yard passing — third all-time time in 5A state history via a touchdown set up by 80-yard pass to Paxton Alexander, the third longest in 5A state history. Highland Park rallied twice more at the end of the third and midway through the fourth quarter, using Benner Page to bash its way back into the game and Saustad to keep it close.

Manvel staged its own rally, scoring on a 95-yard pass play from Martin to Preston and a 97-yard Cam Scott kick return that stretched the Mavericks’ lead to 10 points on two separate occasions.

“We took some knock out punches tonight and I mean some knockout punches,” Randy said, blinking back tears threatening to burst forth and pausing to craft his words before continuing. “When you go 95 yards and then almost 100 yards on a kick return and have [to face] a quarterback that was that accurate, the only thing you can do is drive down, keep scoring and hope you get a break. That’s what happened. I still don’t believe it.”

Highland Park, Randy said, had been in that situation before. It had Jones, whose 564 yards and four touchdowns set a UIL 5A state passing record, and Saustad, whose 220 yards tied Preston for a UIL 5A state title game receiving record.

John Stephen Jones kneels, exhausted, after breaking UIL 5A state title game records in completions and passing yards and winning his second consecutive state title — the first time it had been done in Highland Park history. Joseph Nguyen/TexasHSFootball

The Scots also had a significant amount of James Herring magic hidden up their sleeves.

“This is just the best group of guys I’ve ever been around. I’ve never been around a more resilient group of guys in my life. It didn’t matter if it was our offense or defense, we weren’t giving up. We weren’t giving in,” Highland Park defensive back Zak Folts effused, wiping a bead of sweat from his forehead and casually brushing back of hair as if adversity was commonplace in Scot-land. “We went into the locker room down 21-7 and told ourselves, ‘Two quarters for the rest of your life.’ We came together to win like we always do, like a team, and every single person played a part it.”

And an onside kick heard throughout Texas.

He said Herring’s deflection of Martin’s would-have-been go-ahead touchdown pass, the daring desperation kickoff dive, and Highland Park’s championship-caliber defensive stand showed that. So did Finn Corwin, whose 4th and 15 tip-toe reception — instead of a Cordray 51-yard field goal — minutes before set the stage for Saustad’s 16-yard catch and the comeback’s finishing touches.

They were final brush strokes on a masterpiece that negated Martin’s 483 yards passing and five touchdowns, including 71 yards that helped the Mavericks march down the field and nearly turn the tide for Manvel on the game’s final drive — if not for back-to-back stops by the Scot defense.

“This one was one for the ages,” senior receiver Scully Jenevin said with a smile. “We’re going to talk about this night for years to come.”

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Marcus Matthews-Marion is the managing editor of TexasHSFootball, covering prep football throughout the Lone Star State. Follow him on Twitter, @TheMJMatthews, and read more of his content here.

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