By Michael Finnegan / Special Contributor
It took four quarters, but Highland Park finally broke open a close game to beat Richardson Berkner 31-17 on Thursday at Highlander Stadium, ensuring itself at least a share of the District 10-6A title.
Not until Henry Allen’s 7-yard touchdown run in the closing seconds of the third quarter did the Scots (8-1, 6-0) take the lead for good against the pesky Rams (3-6, 1-5).
“This was a wake-up call,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “We made some mistakes in the first half but knew if we played our game coming out in the second half we would have better results.”
To do that, HP turned to its reliable rushing game, led by Stephen Dieb. One of several seniors playing in their last regular-season home game, Dieb carried the ball 20 times and led all rushers with 141 yards and two scores.
“He had a great night,” Randy Allen said “He’s a complete player, very consistent and always finishing his runs forward.”
Dieb opened the contest with an 80 yard kickoff return before punching it in from the 7-yard line to put Highland Park ahead 7-0.
Berkner (3-6) answered with a 38-yard field goal by Tanner Lange. Then, after another long return by Dieb on the ensuing kickoff, this one a 70-yarder, the Scots again set up their offense with favorable field position but had to settle for a field goal by Will Moore to take a 10-7 lead.
Berkner again responded quickly. Faced with third and long at their own 27-yard line, Rams quarterback Kris Castillo broke loose for a 60-yard run. Hassan Badaway, a 238-pound converted defensive lineman, plunged up the middle for a touchdown to even the score at 10-10.
“I told them at halftime that we needed to start all over,” Randy Allen said. “Go back out in the second half and play Scot football for the final two quarters.”
On its first possession of the second half, Highland Park capped a 92-yard drive when Henry Allen scored on a 19-yard keeper to give his team a 17-10 lead. It was the first of his two second-half scores.
“They were covering our stacks on both sides and applying pressure on me all night,” Henry Allen said. “So we knew in the second half we were going to keep the ball on the ground and expose them right up the gut.”
But the Rams didn’t go away. Badaway ate up yards between the tackles on Berkner’s next possession before Castillo took a bootleg 32 yards to once again tie the score at 17-17 with just over two minutes remaining in the third quarter.
“Badaway is a load,” Randy Allen said. “We did not even prepare for him and didn’t see him on their depth chart. He filled in for Chris Douglas (one of the area’s leading rushers) who was not on the field tonight.”
Berkner failed to convert on an onside kick after tying the game, and the Scots capitalized, chewing up 44 yards on the ground before Henry Allen scored from seven yards out to put HP up for good, 24-17, with four seconds left in the third quarter.
Down by a touchdown midway through the final quarter, Berkner was forced to punt on fourth and long and pinned the Scots back to their own 1-yard line. Mostly on the ground, the Scots drove the ball 99 yards before Dieb took a dive up the middle from the 4-yard line to increase the lead to 31-17 with just over six minutes left in the game.
HP can win the district outright with a victory over Richardson next week. Regardless of the outcome, the Scots will host a bi-district playoff game on Nov. 13 against either Irving Nimitz or W.T. White.