Against the most unconventional of opponents, Highland Park relied on conventional means to remain unbeaten on Friday night.
The Scots scored 35 straight points to come back from an early deficit, then held off a late rally by Pulaski Academy to win 48-42 at Highlander Stadium, extending the Scots’ home winning streak to 80 games.
The Bruins, of course, are best known for their unorthodox offensive approach that includes no punting and no traditional kickoffs. They didn’t disappoint in either area on Friday, with mixed results.
Stephen Dieb was the offensive hero for HP with 118 rushing yards and three touchdowns, including two in a span of less than two minutes late in the first half to give the Scots a lead at the break.
On defense, Mitchell Kaufman provided the biggest play with a 33-yard interception return that tied the score with 3:54 remaining before halftime. In all, HP scored 21 points in a two-minute span to turn a 28-14 deficit into a 35-28 advantage.
“It’s a game that we’ll learn from and a game that will make us a better football team. Our guys learned a lot about how to line up against a lot of different formations and play when they were tired,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “We had to make some big plays at the end. Those are signs of a good football team. You just have to find ways to win when you’re a little out of sync.”
By virtue of its fast-paced system, Pulaski – a private-school powerhouse from Little Rock, Ark., with an unorthodox system that has generated national media coverage – accumulated some gaudy offensive numbers in the losing effort. Will Hefley, who has verbally committed to Tulsa, completed 36 of 54 passes for 443 yards and two touchdowns. Will Hastings was his primary target with 13 receptions for 154 yards and two scores.
The statistical advantage was due in part to seven failed onside kicks, which gave the Scots (2-0) favorable field position for much of the night.
That became especially critical after halftime, with the Scots opting for more of a ball-control attack. Burgin scored on a 7-yard run late in the third quarter to put HP ahead 42-28. Dieb’s 9-yard run, combined with a blocked extra point, stretched the lead to 48-28 early in the fourth.
But Pulaski wasn’t finished, striking twice in the final minutes, including an 8-yard scoring pass from Hefley to Myles Fells with 1:38 to play that trimmed the margin to six points.
After the ensuing onside kick went out of bounds, Dieb helped HP gain two first downs to run out the clock.
“Our guys got a little fatigued, but I was proud of the way they fought back,” said Pulaski head coach Kevin Kelley. “We’re playing the best teams around, and trying to get ready for a playoff run. We never want to lose a game, but we sure want to take something out of a loss.”
Both offenses dominated at the outset by trading touchdowns. Hefley found Hastings on a 2-yard touchdown pass on Pulaski’s first possession. HP responded a minute later when Burgin connected with Mitchell Kaufman on a 59-yard scoring pass. It was Kaufman’s fourth scoring catch so far this year.
After a fumble recovery by HP’s Michael Linehan, Matthew Barge scored on a 1-yard plunge on the Scots’ next possession. But the 14-6 lead was short-lived thanks to three straight touchdowns by the Bruins, resulting in part from two first-quarter turnovers by the Scots.
Pulaski’s unusual strategy paid dividends early in the game, as the Bruins converted on five of their first six fourth-down tries. But they were 0-for-5 after that, partially because they were faced with more difficult scenarios.
Three times in the second half, Pulaski went for it on fourth down and at least 8 inside their own 35-yard line – including once on fourth-and-19 from their own 31. All three tries failed, but only one of those led directly to an HP score.
Meanwhile, the Bruins (0-1) managed just 19 rushing yards as a team, primarily due to HP sacking Hefley seven times.
Allen said he was pleased with the way the Scots’ inexperienced defense toughened after struggling in the first quarter to slow down Pulaski’s breakneck offensive pace. It presented a different challenge than Frisco Centennial, which HP shut out 47-0 in the season opener.
“They’ve got a great quarterback and they moved the ball,” Allen said of Pulaski. “A lot of our guys were tired and cramped up, and we had some second-team guys in there who did a great job. We got three touchdowns up, and there were some big plays on defense to give us the ball back.”
The Scots will close out the nondistrict portion of the schedule next Friday when they host Prosper.