WYLIE — The good news for Highland Park is that playoff positioning wasn’t affected by Friday’s regular-season finale. The bad news is pretty much everything else.
The mistake-prone Scots were held to three field goals, while Wylie East rallied behind standout running back Eno Benjamin for a stunning 20-9 upset of HP.
The loss ends a seven-game winning streak for the Scots (8-2, 6-1), who will have an extra day to regroup prior to their Class 5A Division I bi-district playoff game against Mount Pleasant (3-7), slated for 1 p.m. Nov. 12 at The Star in Frisco.
HP, which will share the District 15-5A title with Mesquite Poteet, suffered two losses during the regular season for the first time since 1998 — a mark that’s as incredible for its longevity as it is for the way it ended against the Raiders (7-3, 5-2).
The Scots were plagued by miscues on offense, including two blocked punts, multiple untimely penalties, costly drops by receivers, and a consistent lack of execution in the red zone. It certainly looked out of character for a unit that has scored more than 40 points five times.
“It just seemed like it was always something that kept us from getting in [the end zone], and it was things that we could control. We just didn’t execute,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “When we didn’t score in the red zone three or four different times, or came out with field goals, that was the difference in the game.”
Meanwhile, Benjamin rushed for 186 yards on 38 carries and two touchdowns, and almost practically took over the game by himself in the fourth quarter.
The Raiders claimed a 13-9 lead in the final minute of the third quarter on a 14-yard run by Corbin Johnson, set up by a 43-yard scamper by Benjamin — his longest of the game — and a critical HP penalty for roughing the punter deep in Wylie East territory.
Following a short punt by the Scots, Wylie East held the ball for more than eight minutes and scored an insurance touchdown on an 11-yard run by Benjamin with just 1:20 to play. The drive consumed 17 plays, 15 of which were rushing attempts by Benjamin, and covered 69 yards.
“We played a good football team with a great running back, and they kept our defense out there long enough to wear us down toward the end,” Allen said. “They ate up a lot of clock. We let them stay in it long enough to where they got excited and realized they could win it.”
Benjamin, who was verbally committed to Iowa and has offers from several major college programs, gave Wylie East an early 7-0 lead with a 4-yard plunge in the first quarter.
However, the HP defense stabilized after that, and the Scots slowly clawed back with field goals. Jackson Hubbard made two in the second quarter to trim the deficit to 7-6 at halftime. After Hubbard exited with an apparent injury, Matteo Cordray put HP in front 9-7 with a 32-yard effort midway through the third quarter.
Yet while it didn’t technically commit any turnovers, the HP offense just couldn’t find a rhythm. John Stephen Jones completed just 12 of 29 passes for 115 yards, including 5-of-15 in the second half, but some of the blame lies with his receivers. Jack Kozmetsky tallied 84 rushing yards on 10 attempts.
The Raiders completed just two passes for eight yards, although their offense awakened down the stretch behind Benjamin, who had 144 yards on 24 rushes after halftime.
In two previous meetings against Wylie East in 2010 and 2011, albeit with completely different personnel, HP scored a combined 124 points and 17 touchdowns.
“We learned some things tonight that will be good lessons for us in the future,” Allen said. “Next week is a new season. Right now it hurts, but maybe it took something like this to get our attention. We’ll put it behind us and play harder next week.”
The Scots were held out of the end zone for the first time since a 44-3 loss to Aledo to open the 2013 season. HP wound up advancing to the state semifinals that year.