FRISCO, Texas — Texas High seemed geared up and ready for the task of trying to take down the defending 5A DI State Champions.
Though Highland Park entered the half with a 35-14 lead, Texas High would not go down quietly and staged a second-half rally that put the Scots on their heels Saturday at The Star.
With a Riley Russell touchdown pass to Chris Sutton with 10 seconds left to go in the game that whittled down the deficit to a seven-point margin, Texas High was an onside kick recovery away from having the chance at tying the game and finishing off what would have been a spectacular comeback.
Highland Park (10-1) held true to form, however, and did what state champions are expected to do — win close games. The Scots were able to recover the onside kick and leave Frisco with a hard-earned 56-49 victory over Texarkana Texas High (7-4) that showcased Texas high school playoff football at its best.
“I’m just so proud of our football team for coming in here and in the first round playing a great team like Texas High, that was even better than what I thought they were and coming up with plays when you had to have it,” Highland Park Head Coach Randy Allen said.
Both teams were even tilted in the total-offense column with 545 yards and Riley Russell and John Stephen Jones battling it out in a gunslinger’s duel. Both quarterbacks finished with seven total touchdowns with each throwing six touchdown passes and rushing for a score. Both Highland Park’s John Stephen Jones and Texas High’s Riley Russell also had at least one receiver earn more than 170 receiving yards.
Texas High’s Tevailance Hunt finished with nine receptions for 201 yards and a score while Highland Park’s Cade Saustad counter-punched with five receptions for 171 yards and three touchdowns. Saustad’s first two came in the second quarter, which helped Highland Park distance itself from a 14-14 tie to a 28-14 lead with 7:22 left in the first half.
Texas High was able to match blow-for-blow with Highland Park in the first quarter and have the game tied at 14 at the conclusion of the first but by the time the second quarter rolled around, it looked as if Highland Park was beginning to shift gears and leave Texas High in the rearview mirror as they scored 28 unanswered points after finding themselves down 14-7 with under six minutes to play in the first quarter.
Even with the 35-14 deficit at half after Highland Park began rolling on offense, Russell rallied his team and went on a tear and began to carve up the defense of Highland Park in the second half. Russell was 21-of-34 on passing for 371 yards with four of his passing touchdowns coming in the second half. Russell also had a rushing touchdown which was Texas High’s first score of the second half to cut the lead to 35-21.
As good as Russell was, Jones had an answer each time Texas High scored as he responded on the ensuing drive with 19-yard touchdown pass to Conner Allen to extend Highland Park’s lead to 42-21.
Texas High was able to inch within a score after 9-play, 88-yard scoring drive brought the score to 42-28. The defense then stepped up for Texas High by forcing a three-and-out and Texas High only needed a 2-play, 46-yard scoring drive to pull the game within reach with a 42-35 deficit heading into the fourth quarter.
The fourth quarter would be a tit-for-tat scoring affair with John Stephen Jones connecting with Cade Saustad for the third time on the afternoon from 39-yards out to have the scoreboard read 49-35.
Texas High responded with a 10-play scoring drive that was capped off on 3rd & 9 from the 18 with Russell hitting Chris Lyles for his 5th passing touchdown of the afternoon and once again closing the gap.
Following a return to the 28 and defensive penalty, Highland Park began the drive at their 46 clinging on to a 49-42 lead with 4:25 left in the game. Nine plays later, Jones hurdled over some goal line traffic from one yard out on 3rd and goal that put Highland Park at their final point total. The score was set up by a nice 17-yard reception up the seam from Paxton Alexander two plays earlier that put Highland Park on the 1-yard line.
“It was a classic high school football game between two explosive offenses and defenses that were playing their hearts out…nowadays,” Allen said. “You better be able to score points and you better have some explosive players that can make plays when you got to have it.”
With Highland Park’s opening round victory, the defending state champions are set to play McKinney North (8-3) in an area playoff game at Noon on Friday inside AT&T Stadium.
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