In the weeks leading up to Highland Park’s season opener, John Stephen Jones won a three-way battle for the starting quarterback job.
On Friday, the junior justified the confidence of the coaching staff by throwing for 325 yards and four touchdowns in his varsity debut as the Scots surged to a 43-21 win over Rockwall at Highlander Stadium.
If there were any season-opening jitters, it didn’t show on the HP sideline, as the Scots opened up a 22-point lead in the first eight minutes against a Class 6A opponent that has made deep playoff runs in each of the past two seasons.
A big reason was the poise and efficiency of Jones, the grandson of Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones, who completed 18 of 22 passes. Despite standing just 5-feet-10,he was accurate from the get-go, finding Scully Jenevein on a 52-yard strike on the second play from scrimmage to set the tone.
“John Stephen had an outstanding game,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “He clearly won the quarterback battle. He had made a lot of progress over the summer, as far as improving his skill and throwing the ball. He was very confident.”
Jones capped the opening drive with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Paxton Alexander. On the ensuing kickoff, John House fell on a loose ball and Alexander scored again three plays later on 1-yard dive. Just like that, the Scots were up 15-0 before the Rockwall offense saw the field.
“We made some mistakes that I don’t think are characteristic, but it’s the first game of the year,” said Rockwall head coach Rodney Webb. “Highland Park had a bunch of guys who this was their first time under the Friday night lights, and we did, too. Their guys handled that first experience better than our guys did.”
Rockwall’s first drive was impressive, covering 83 yards in 11 plays, before a bad snap on third-and-goal from the 2-yard line was scooped up by HP’s James Herring, who returned it all the way to the end zone. An unsportsmanlike conduct penalty nullified that score, but the Scots responded with a 22-yard flea flicker from Jones to Jenevein on the next play to make the score 22-0.
The Yellowjackets (0-1) turned the momentum in the second quarter. Jones’ only major blemish came on an interception by Rockwall’s Blake Garrett to end a scoring threat.
Later in the quarter, the Yellowjackets scored twice in a span of 12 seconds to trim the deficit to 22-14. Sam Crawford scored on a 9-yard run to finish a long drive, and Abbas Bell recovered an onside kick. Then A.J. Blacknall scampered into the end zone from 28 yards out on the next snap.
However, HP responded again with its best possession of the game, covering 89 yards in just over a minute. Jones found Alexander on a 66-yard pass, then found Cade Saustad on third-and-goal to increase the margin to 29-14 at the break.
The Scots (1-0) put the game away by capitalizing on more Rockwall miscues early in the third quarter, stopping fake-punt attempts by the Yellowjackets on consecutive possessions. Jones took advantage of the favorable field position with a 25-yard touchdown pass to Hudson Wood to make the score 36-14.
A few minutes later, HP again took over in Rockwall territory and scored when offensive lineman J.D. Beverly fell on an offensive fumble in the end zone. The Scots led 43-14 and Rockwall never recovered.
“We made some big plays on some fumble recoveries and stopping those fake punts,” Allen said. “They’re a physical football team. We didn’t want them to keep the ball and wear us down. We had big plays and took advantage of our opportunities.”
Alexander led a balanced receiving attack with five receptions for 101 yards, while Jenevein caught four passes for 93 yards and Saustad tallied five catches for 88 yards.
Blacknall was the workhorse for Rockwall with 22 carries for 161 yards, but the Yellowjackets had just 52 rushing yards after halftime.
After passing its first nondistrict test, HP will carry some early momentum into its first road game next week at Waxahachie.