Less than halfway through the District 10-6A schedule, Highland Park might already feel as though it has run the gauntlet.
For the second time in the last three weeks, the Scots made some clutch plays down the stretch to slip past a likely playoff contender. On Friday, HP stifled a late Mesquite Horn rally for a gutsy 24-17 win at Highlander Stadium.
The victory is the fourth in a row for the Scots (5-1, 3-0), who remain tied for first place in the league standings with Lake Highlands, who HP will face next week. In the meantime, the Scots knocked defending 10-6A champion Horn off the pedestal, and avenged a 42-27 loss from last season.
“Our defense was outstanding. They’ve improved the most of any phase of our game,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “They made three stands at the end of the game, when Horn could have tied it. I couldn’t be more proud of them.”
After taking a 14-point halftime lead, HP managed just three second-half points but held off the Jaguars (3-3, 2-1) thanks to some big plays on defense.
A 29-yard field goal by Horn’s Mark Reyna with 3:36 remaining cut the HP lead to 24-17, and the Jaguars recovered an onside kick. The ensuing drive reached the HP 19-yard line before a sack and two incomplete passes — one of which was the result of a big hit by Scots defensive back Joseph Sweeney on Horn receiver Jared Atkinson at the goal line — ended the threat.
Horn had one more chance in the final two minutes but couldn’t get out of its own territory, again because of a swarming HP defense that recorded some key sacks.
“They made the plays down the stretch, and when we needed a big play, we just couldn’t muster one,” said Horn head coach Mike Overton. “It was a great effort in the second half when we fought back. They battled hard.”
In the first half, the Scots were more efficient on offense, finding the end zone on three of their final four possessions.
The first touchdown followed an interception by HP’s Hayden Schnieders that set up the Scots at the Horn 38-yard line. Three plays later, Stephen Dieb scored his 10th touchdown of the season on a 6-yard run.
The Jaguars started their next drive at their own 12, but knotted the score on a big play, when Chris Robison found Atkinson — who has verbally committed to Baylor — on a 61-yard touchdown pass.
One week after scoring 76 points against Richardson Pearce, the Scots effectively used a more methodical approach versus Horn. The next drive was a perfect example, covering 78 yards in 14 plays, and capped by a 10-yard scamper by Jack Kozmetsky (who scored four times in the Pearce victory).
HP stretched the lead to 21-7 when Henry Allen connected with J.T. Dooley on a 14-yard touchdown pass with four seconds left before halftime.
Robison, Horn’s dual-threat standout quarterback, left the game with a leg injury midway through the second quarter when he slid into a wall on the HP sideline. He didn’t return, and was replaced by sophomore Ivory Martin, whose highlight came on the opening drive of the second half. That’s when Martin threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Cassian Foreman on fourth down to trim the Scots lead to 21-14.
HP held on to the lead despite a couple of key mistakes later in the third quarter. The Scots used their resurgent rushing game to drive into the red zone before being stuffed on fourth down at the Horn 16. Moments later, HP was called for a penalty for having 12 men on the field on a Horn punt, giving the Jaguars a first down.
Yet neither miscue wound up critical, as HP kicker Will Moore extended the advantage back to 10 points with a 25-yard field goal with 6:41 remaining. It was the first field goal for the Scots this season.
“Anytime you play a good football team, they’re going to make some plays, but our guys are resilient,” Randy Allen said. “They had to fight hard to keep the lead and get the momentum back.”
The Scots managed just 76 yards of total offense in the second half, and didn’t have any statistical standouts, although five receivers posted multiple catches. For the Jaguars, Elton Taylor rushed for 105 yards and Atkinson finished with four receptions for 96 yards.