MESQUITE — The Highland Park defense earned plenty of preseason hype. Now it’s earning some midseason hype, as well.
On Friday, the Scots shut down West Mesquite 25-3 in a lopsided matchup of co-leaders in District 15-5A. It was the third time in the past four games that HP surrendered seven or fewer points.
Perhaps more importantly, the defense came up big on a night when the offense and special teams needed its help the most.
“They got stingy down around the goal line, got lots of turnovers, and created positive field position for our offense,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “They’re really starting to hit their stride. They were sharp tackling tonight on two explosive running backs.”
To put the defensive effort in perspective, the Scots (5-1, 3-0) were able to roll past a quality opponent on a night when they completed just one pass after halftime, failed on all three of their two-point conversions, averaged less than 30 yards per punt, and gave up a fumble deep in their own territory.
That’s not meant to diminish the efforts of the HP offense, which didn’t produce many big plays but still extended the lead with touchdowns in each quarter. With the passing game sputtering, the Scots pounded away on the ground after halftime.
John Stephen Jones scored on a pair of 1-yard runs for the game’s only second-half points. Earlier, he threw a short touchdown pass to Jack Kozmetsky, who added a team-high 77 rushing yards with a score.
“We were just making four or five yards and keeping it consistent,” Allen said. “We were more patient tonight. Our line wanted to do it and our backs ran hard.”
It was the fourth straight victory overall for the Scots, who looked refreshed following their bye week. Friday’s win also provided a worthwhile tuneup for next week’s showdown against Mesquite Poteet at Highlander Stadium, in which the winner claims sole possession of the 15-5A lead and the inside track to a district title.
Meanwhile, after a furious fourth-quarter rally to beat Lovejoy in their previous outing, the Wranglers (3-3, 2-1) were unable to replicate those heroics against HP.
West Mesquite scored its only points on a 30-yard field goal by Angel Chavarria in the final minute of the first half. D.J. Jackson provided favorable field position when he recovered a bad snap at the HP 20-yard line.
The Scots started fast with a 7-yard Kozmetsky scoring run to cap their opening possession. The lead became 12-0 on an 11-yard touchdown pass from Jones to Kozmetsky to start the second quarter, again polishing off an impressive drive.
The Wranglers followed with arguably their best drive of the game, reaching the HP 5 before missing a short field-goal attempt against a stiff breeze.
HP had a chance to stretch the advantage early in the third quarter after an interception by Luke Blanton deep in West Mesquite territory. But the Scots missed a field goal.
However, the Scots found redemption later in the quarter, taking the ball near midfield after a punting miscue by the Wranglers. Jones capped a drive consisting of nine straight running plays with a 1-yard plunge into the end zone.
The final touchdown was set up by the second HP takeaway, when James Herring picked off a pass in Scots territory. The ensuing drive started near midfield, and also consisted of nine consecutive rushing attempts culminating in a Jones dive to paydirt.
The Scots attempted 20 passes in the first half but just four after halftime. Jones finished 10-of-23 for 135 yards. By contrast, HP ran the ball on 47 plays.
West Mesquite relied almost exclusively on the speedy duo of Curtis Williams and Damarcus Crockett. Williams totaled 138 all-purpose yards, but the Wranglers managed just 3.4 yards per rushing attempt overall.