ARLINGTON — Make some room in the trophy case and reserve a spot in Highland Park lore. The Scots are state champions again.
In a scrappy performance that exemplified the grit and tenacity of this year’s HP squad, the Scots rallied to defeat Temple 16-7 on Saturday in the Class 5A Division I title game at AT&T Stadium.
It is the fourth state title for the program with the most wins in state history, marking a season that will be immortalized alongside those from 1945, 1957, and 2005.
“We have a great football tradition,” said HP head coach Randy Allen, who also helmed the 2005 squad. “They set themselves apart by the way they performed. To bring a state championship home will mark these guys forever.”
It was another true team effort that allowed the Scots (14-2) to shift the momentum after an early deficit and roll off 16 unanswered points. Once again, the HP defense was stellar against another high-powered offense, shutting out the Wildcats (12-4) during the final three quarters.
“Our defense has gotten better as the year progressed. They were just hustling on every play. When the chips are down and they’ve got to make a play, they came up with a play,” Allen said. “They’ve been a great defense throughout the playoffs, and today put the icing on top of the cake for how great they really are. Temple got that tempo offense going, and they found a way to stop them.”
John Stephen Jones rushed for both HP touchdowns and earned offensive MVP honors. Paxton Alexander was a workhorse as the Scots protected their slim lead in the second half, accumulating 144 yards on 26 carries.
On defense, Turner Coxe claimed MVP recognition by sacking Temple quarterback Reid Hesse in the end zone early in the fourth quarter for a critical safety. The play came after a Michael Clarke punt pinned the Wildcats at their own 1-yard line while HP was nursing a 14-7 lead.
“That was a great punt and they were pinned back down there,” said Coxe, who also recovered a fumble on Temple’s opening drive in the first quarter. “I was thinking pass rush and they pushed him up in the pocket, and I got him.”
Temple put HP on its heels early with a 70-yard drive midway through the first quarter that culminated in a 38-yard touchdown run by Jemiyah Franklin, who finished with 86 yards on 20 carries.
Meanwhile, the HP offense was sputtering, with its first four possessions resulting in six total yards.
Momentum shifted in the second quarter, when the Wildcats saw a 16-play drive stall on downs at the HP 22-yard line. Seven plays later, Jones broke free for a 36-yard run on a quarterback draw that tied the score.
“We put ourselves in real bad field position several times. If we didn’t make plays, they’re going to get away from us,” Allen said. “Those early defensive stops were critical to us winning the football game.”
It became a defensive struggle from there, with the importance of small mistakes and little breaks becoming magnified. Jones gave the Scots the lead with 1:46 left in the third quarter when he scored on a 1-yard plunge on fourth-and-goal.
The Wildcats appeared as though they would bounce right back with a long drive, but the HP defense came up with another huge play. Bennett Brock stuffed Temple’s Zion Leach on a fourth-down rushing attempt at the HP 5.
“Just from a technical standpoint, those guys are phenomenal,” said first year Temple head coach Scott Stewart. “We didn’t run the ball well, and they did a great job.”
After that, the Scots were content to milk the clock and play keep-away. They drove to midfield and punted, which led to the safety. In all, the Scots held the ball for almost 10 minutes in the fourth quarter, thanks largely to Alexander moving the chains.
“He was a real slippery kid,” said Temple linebacker Rogers Franklin. “Everything he got, he basically earned.”
Hesse was effective in the short passing game for the Wildcats, completing 21 of 31 throws for 177 yards. But Temple failed to produce many big plays against the HP secondary, with Alex Walzel intercepting a pass late in the second quarter.
“I knew we were going to have to make plays on the ball,” Allen said. “Three or four times, our guys found a way to keep a good receiver from getting the ball. They played the ball well in the air on deep balls.”
The Scots punted six times and connected on just 10 of 24 passes for 127 yards. Those are hardly the kind of numbers for which HP has become known, but on this day, with this team, it didn’t matter.
“It was a very unusual way to win. It’s not the kind of game we usually play,” Allen said. “It was a hard-fought game, and it wasn’t smooth, and I never felt like we had a lot of rhythm. But we just had to take what we could get. They made plays to win it.”
So for the HP players who were in first or second grade the last time the Scots hoisted the trophy, it couldn’t have been sweeter.
“We dreamed of this, especially in Highland Park. Ever since you’re a kid, you go to these Highland Park camps, and they show you a video of the 2005 team winning state,” Jones said. “Just to be able to do that with your team and your brothers, it’s an incredible feeling.”
Notes: The announced attendance was 35,089. … Hudson Wood was the only HP player to catch more than one pass in the game. He finished with three receptions for 38 yards. … Marshall Hammack recorded a game-high 7.5 tackles. … The Temple defense had three sacks in the first quarter and none in the final three quarters. … Former HP defensive coordinator Mark Howeth is now an assistant coach at DeSoto, which won its first state title later Saturday against Cibolo Steele.