Highland Park has had its share of thrilling comebacks among the 118 playoff wins in program history, but Friday’s win over McKinney ranks right up there.
The Scots scored 16 unanswered points in the second half, capped by a Nicholas Rigas field goal on the final play, to stun McKinney 22-21 in a Class 6A Division II area round showdown at SMU’s Ford Stadium.
HP advances to the Region I semifinals to face perennial power Southlake Carroll at 3:30 p.m. on Nov. 24 at Choctaw Stadium in Arlington.
The Scots (11-1) are in the third round in the 6A classification for the first time. They extended their winning streak to nine games by blanking the Lions (9-3) after halftime — when they trailed 21-6.
The HP defense “shut down an outstanding offense in the second half,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “We came up with deflections on deep passes and stopped their power running game. Our guys were all over them.”
HP didn’t score its first touchdown until 2:23 remained in the third quarter on a 3-yard run by Keller Holmes. That brought the Scots within striking distance, and gave them momentum they never relinquished.
HP’s offense might have gotten a late start, but it finished strong, thanks in part to favorable field position. McKinney’s next possession ended at its own 10-yard line with a sack by HP’s Wesley Winfield.
Midway through the fourth quarter, the Scots engineered their best drive of the game, covering 87 yards. That included consecutive long pass plays — a 35-yarder from Parker Thompson to Wilson Axley, and a 31-yard hookup on a trick play from Axley to Brian Rapp,
Holmes plunged across the goal line three plays later. A two-point conversion attempt fell incomplete, but the Scots trailed only 21-19 with 5:33 remaining.
That meant the defense needed just one more stop, which came after two offensive penalties on the Lions, leading to a punt that gave HP the ball near midfield with 3:09 left.
“They kept giving us field position and we made enough plays,” Allen said. “We just decided to run the football inside and we got some yardage there. Our linemen were blocking well.”
None of the nine plays on the climactic possession gained more than 5 yards, but HP was helped immensely by a McKinney penalty for roughing the passer that moved the Scots into field-goal range.
Rigas split the uprights on all three of his attempts, accounting for all six first-half points for HP and — most importantly — the final three.
“He did great,” Allen said of his senior placekicker. “You can’t get more in a panic than two kick a field goal with two seconds left to win a game like this. Everything had to be perfect. It was ugly, but it went right through the middle.”
Earlier, the Lions rallied from an early 6-0 deficit with three touchdowns in a span of just seven minutes to take control.
McKinney’s first score came on a 58-yard pass from Jeremiah Daoud to Khristian Mackintrush. They extended that 7-6 advantage with the help of two special-teams miscues by HP.
After a muffed punt at the HP 10, Bryan Jackson rumbled into the end zone on the next play. The came a sack and a shanked punt, setting up the Lions at the 28.
They needed just two snaps to capitalize with a 23-yard touchdown strike from Daoud to a leaping Makhi Frazier to make the score 21-6.
However, the HP defense seemed to strengthen during a physical game on a wet field in which both teams mostly tried to control the clock on the ground. McKinney had just 60 yards of total offense after halftime and punted on its final six possessions.
The Scots had an opportunity early in the third quarter after a bobbled snap led to a scuttled McKinney punt attempt at midfield. But HP’s ensuing push resulted in a fourth-down interception by Zadian Gentry.
Holmes led HP with 97 yards of total offense on 19 touches, and Axley tallied 89 yards on 15 touches. Both were heavily involved in both the rushing and short passing attacks. Thompson connected on 10 of 18 throws for 148 yards.
Jackson, who is verbally committed to USC, accumulated 84 yards on 20 carries for the Lions. After shining in the first half, sophomore quarterback Daoud was just 2-of-9 passing after halftime, when his team struggled to sustain drives.
Meanwhile, the winning kick sent the HP sideline into a frenzy. Among those congratulating Allen on the field via phone, amid the chaos, was his father, who turned 100 on Halloween. What was the halftime secret?
“It was more about adjusting our chinstraps than anything else,” Allen said. “They’ve got an outstanding team and our guys just fought and found a way to win.”
PHOTOS: Chris McGathey