Neither Highland Park nor Temple will likely be fazed by the big stage of the Class 5A Division I state championship game on Saturday.
Both tradition-rich programs already have knocked off unbeaten opponents on the same field at AT&T Stadium during this year’s playoff run, and both have earned enough close victories to prove their mettle under pressure.
Under longtime head coach Randy Allen, the Scots (12-3) will make their first appearance in a title game since 2007 and are seeking their first crown since 2005. They have overcome two losses during the regular season and numerous injuries during the postseason.
Perhaps no victory for HP this season has been as impressive as the 31-24 triumph over previously unbeaten Denton Ryan in the state semifinals last week. In a reserve role, Paxton Alexander had 205 all-purpose yards and scored all four touchdowns.
Meanwhile, junior quarterback John Stephen Jones needs just 42 passing yards to surpass 3,000 for the season. He has 29 touchdowns and just seven interceptions, and he’s also rushed for seven scores.
The punishing HP defense seems to have improved as the season has progressed, allowing just 12.6 points per game in the playoffs. Eight of 15 opponents have scored seven points or fewer against the Scots. Two linebackers — John House and Bennett Brock — have more than 130 tackles apiece.
After falling to College Station 17-16 on Oct. 28, the Wildcats (12-3) finished second in District 19-5A during the regular season. They also fell in back-to-back weeks during nondistrict play to Waco Midway and Round Rock Cedar Ridge.
However, like HP, Temple has worn the underdog label well. The Wildcats are playing their best in December, after rallying in the second half to post consecutive upset wins over previously undefeated opponents Manvel and Richmond Foster during the past two weeks.
Under first-year head coach Scott Stewart, Temple also has a stout defense anchored by lineman Taquon Graham (who has verbally committed to Texas) and defensive back Ashton Logan, who has four interceptions this season.
On offense, the Wildcats are led by quarterback Reid Hesse, who threw for 360 yards and two touchdowns on just 11 completions against Foster. His top targets are D’Yonte Heckstall and Zaccheus Johnson, while Anthony Jefferson is the leading rusher.
Temple previously won state titles in 1979 and 1992 under legendary coach Bob McQueen. More recently, the Wildcats lost to Aledo in the 5A Division I championship game in 2014.
Note: Saturday’s game will kick off at noon as the first segment of a state-championship triple-header on Saturday at AT&T Stadium, and a $15 ticket is good for all day. The other two games will feature DeSoto against Cibolo Steele at 4 p.m., and Lake Travis against The Woodlands at 8 p.m.