Big stakes, bigger history on line in Highland Park-West Mesquite matchup

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Photo: Lauren Landes/Texas HS Football

DALLAS — When state-ranked, one-loss Highland Park and undefeated West Mesquite High Schools meet Friday at Highlander Stadium, it will be a conflict and contrast of styles.

West Mesquite will look to make history the first Texas team to beat defending state champion Highland Park at home since 1998 and trump one of the best offenses in Texas high school football regardless of classification.

Senior quarterback John Stephen Jones and the (4-1, 2-0 District 15-5A) Scots’ offense averages 45.6 points and 487.0 yards — including 304.2 through the air — per game. The Wranglers’ defense allows less that 15 points and 300 total yards per game.

HIGHLAND PARK MAY HAVE TOO MUCH ‘SAUS’

John Stephen Jones and Highland Park have one of the most prolific offenses in the UIL 5A classification (Lauren Landes/Texas HS Football).

While 6-foot-5 Lacrosse superstar-turned-deadly receiving option Cole Saustad may be on Jones’ radar early and often, it could be the slot and secondary options that may have the most bang for the Scots’ collective — and, more importantly, balanced — buck.

Paxton Alexander (10 rec, 281 yards), Finn Corwin (9 rec, 232 yards), Scully Jenevin (17 rec, 171 yards), Carson Bryant (9 rec, 112 yards) each have at least 100 yards receiving this season. One other, senior Conner Allen, is five shy of the century mark with 12 catches on 2017.

Jones, both through the air and on the ground, has been equally as brilliant as the plethora of weapons at his disposal. Entering the game he is 69-for-102 (67.6 percent completion rate) for 1,369 yards, throwing 15 touchdowns against a single interception and running 177 yards on 39 carries.

Jones is currently on pace to finish with 2,281 yards and 25 touchdowns and two interceptions by the end of the regular season. He and his six receivers, however, will face a West Mesquite team in the throes of a revival of sorts.

WELCOME TO THE SHATTER MACHINE

Courtesy HUDL

With a ball-hawking defense that’s created seven turnovers (4 INT, 3 FF) and offensive weapons like senior quarterback-running back duo Connor Neil (61-103, 781 yards, 11 TD, 2 INT) and Curtis Williams (73 rush, 837 yards, 6 TD), West Mesquite may be more equipped than any in the past to halt a historic streak.

Under Head Coach Jeff Neill, the Wranglers’ improved both their record and points per game defensive averages in the past two seasons and since holding opponents to a touch over 18 points per game during a run to the area round in 2014.

Drake Cheatum, Dayven Coleman, Logan Jackson, and the Wrangler’s top-10 scoring defense, too, have been instrumental in the streak, allowing an average of 11.0 points in their five matchups. West Mesquite allowed 29.2 points per matchup in 2015 and 22.6 in 2016. This season, only Rockwall Heath (5-1, 3-0 in District 11-6A) score more than 20 points.

The Wranglers beat the Hawks 34-21 on the road Sept. 8.

While Cheatum, a 5-foot-9 cover corner, has a bulk of the team’s turnovers via a pair of interceptions, Coleman (1) and Demarcus Crockett (1) each have a pick despite playing only four games this season. Fumble recoveries by opportunistic defenders Paul Christopher (1) and D.J. Jackson (2) round out the Wranglers’ turnover gallery.

The defensive line, too, may be as proficient in flustering opposing quarterbacks. In five games, West Mesquite has dropped signal callers in the backfield 10.5 times and hurried them 16 with eight different pass rushers.

Only Jackson (3) and Matthew Ugbeche (2) have multiple sacks.

THE STAKES

Aerial View of Highlander Stadium in Dallas (Courtesy of Highland Park ISD).

Highland Park and West Mesquite are locked in a three-way tie with Mesquite Poteet High School for first place in the district. A loss by either the Scots or the Wranglers — coupled with a loss by Poteet’s Pirates to North Forney on Friday — could propel the winner into a temporarily uncontested position atop the standings.

A win could potentially thrust West Mesquite into the Associated Press’ Top 25 poll for the first time this season and create another legitimate contender to the Scots’ state crown.

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