The highly anticipated matchup between the Highland Park offense and the West Mesquite defense wound up to be a lopsided one.
The Scots surged to an early lead and held off a mild rally by the Wranglers for a 38-17 victory at Highlander Stadium on Friday in a showdown between first-place teams in District 15-5A.
With its fifth consecutive win, HP takes over sole possession of the league lead heading into a key road game next week against Mesquite Poteet.
It took two long touchdown drives for the Scots (5-1, 3-0) to establish control against the previously unbeaten Wranglers, who hadn’t allowed more than 21 points in any of their first five games.
John Stephen Jones completed 16 of 19 passes for 226 yards and three touchdowns. Two of those went to the versatile Paxton Alexander, who tallied five receptions for 89 yards out of the backfield. Jones also ran for a score.
“We were very efficient on offense,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “We had some timely passes and we were moving it on the ground. When you can balance your offense, it puts a lot of pressure on them.”
As part of the fast start, the first HP possession went for 75 yards in 11 plays, capped by a 17-yard touchdown run by Conner Allen.
On their next drive, the Scots committed a miscue on an ill-conceived fake punt near midfield, giving West Mesquite favorable field position. The Wranglers (5-1, 2-1) drove to the HP 12-yard line before an errant snap led to a 21-yard loss and a punt.
HP grabbed that momentum with an impressive 98-yard drive, finishing with three straight completions from Jones to Alexander. The scoring strike covered 36 yards after a Jones scramble.
After a three-and-out, the Scots extended the lead to 21-0 with another time-consuming drive capped by an 8-yard touchdown reception by Alexander.
“John Stephen made a lot of plays scrambling early in the game and kept the chains moving,” Randy Allen said. “His mobility was really important in the first half.”
The Wranglers trimmed their deficit to 21-10 just after halftime on a 33-yard touchdown run by Curtis Williams, who finished with a game-high 119 yards on 23 carries.
But HP bounced back quickly, taking advantage of favorable field position on back-to-back scoring drives later in the third quarter. Jones threw a 22-yard scoring pass to Cade Saustad, and later plunged into the end zone from 1 yard out to make the score 35-10.
West Mesquite responded immediately after that second touchdown on a 75-yard touchdown scamper by speedy sophomore Ty Jordan, but the Wranglers never got any closer.
“We had quite a few missed tackles in the first half. That caused some problems, and allowed [Jones] to move around more and make some plays,” said West Mesquite head coach Jeff Neill. “He’s done a good job against everybody with that, and he did it against us.”
The HP defense, which allowed only 61 total yards in the first half, reasserted itself in the fourth quarter with two interceptions. Noble Nash picked off a fourth-down pass deep in HP territory and returned it 84 yards to the West Mesquite 7, leading to a short Matteo Cordray field goal.
On the next West Mesquite drive, Hudson Clark intercepted a pass to stop the final threat by the Wranglers. Overall, West Mesquite quarterback Connor Neill was just 9-of-18 passing for 115 yards.
“Our defense has really improved,” Randy Allen said. “When the game might have been closer, they came up with some big plays.”
The Scots were balanced and efficient on offense throughout the game, despite netting just 88 total yards after halftime. Conner Allen finished with a team-high 53 rushing yards, while Saustad grabbed three receptions for 52 yards.
Perhaps more importantly, HP has played all three of its district games without committing a turnover.