Fast Start Lifts Scots Over Lake Ridge

Paxton Alexander scored three touchdowns as Highland Park held off Mansfield Lake Ridge for its third playoff win on Friday. (Photo: Chris McGathey)
Paxton Alexander scored three touchdowns as Highland Park held off Mansfield Lake Ridge for its third playoff win on Friday. (Photo: Chris McGathey)

FRISCO — The hurdles might be getting higher for Highland Park, but the Scots keep clearing them to extend their season.

The Scots opened up a big lead and held off a late rally by Mansfield Lake Ridge for a 41-27 win in the Class 5A Region II semifinals on Friday at the Ford Center at The Star.

HP advances to meet either Frisco Wakeland or Mansfield Legacy in the Division I state quarterfinals at 5:30 p.m. Dec. 2 at AT&T Stadium in Arlington. In other words, they’ll look to continue their postseason run while moving from the practice facility of the Dallas Cowboys to their game-day home.

On Friday, the Scots (11-2) made some big defensive plays against the high-powered Lake Ridge offense, and controlled the tempo on offense with a rushing attack that accounted for five touchdowns.

Jack Kozmetsky rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns — including a 48-yard scamper on the first HP play from scrimmage — before leaving with an arm injury at the end of the first half. Kozmetsky, who has 915 yards and 14 rushing scores this season, will likely miss the rest of the playoffs.

Paxton Alexander scored three times for HP — twice on the ground and once after catching a short pass from John Stephen Jones.

The emphasis on the running game was intended to keep the potent Lake Ridge offense off the field as much as possible. The Scots completed only one pass after halftime. Jones was 7-of-10 for just 88 yards, which statistically was his lowest output of the season. But it didn’t matter.

“Our backs ran hard and our offensive line was opening up some big holes. That’s why were able to control the game the way we did,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “We scored when we needed to. We were able to rest our defense.”

The Eagles (8-5) had an aggressive game plan that backfired early. They failed to convert three times on fourth down, and HP took advantage of the resulting favorable field position each time by driving for a touchdown.

After an incompletion on fourth-and-11 near midfield, Kozmetsky burst up the middle and into the end zone from 48 yards out. The next Lake Ridge possession ended the same way, and HP capped another short drive with a 3-yard Kozmetsky run later in the first quarter.

“Our defense has been really banged up, so we felt if we could get those we could keep our defense off the field. It didn’t work out for us,” said Lake Ridge head coach Kirk Thor. “Highland Park capitalized. They took advantage of mistakes that we made.”

The Scots extended the advantage to 21-0 late in the second quarter on a 19-yard run by Alexander, while the HP defense didn’t allow a touchdown for the first 10 quarters of the playoffs.

That remarkable streak came to an end in the third quarter, but not before the Scots opened up a 28-0 lead. Jacob Urbanczyk ran for 40 yards on the first play of the third quarter, leading to a 1-yard scoring plunge by John Stephen Jones.

Lake Ridge, which reached the 5A Division I state title game last season, broke through with a 7-yard touchdown pass from Jason Bean to T.J. Graham midway through the third quarter. But the Eagles were unable to seize the momentum.

Although Lake Ridge’s Zach Jackson recovered the ensuing onside kick, HP’s Matt Gahm fell on a fumble when Bean was sacked on the next play.

However, the next HP possession ended on an interception by Lake Ridge’s Elijah Calhoun. The Eagles scored a few plays later after a fourth-down conversion at the HP 31 followed by a 23-yard connection from Bean to Jackson.

With the lead cut to 28-13, HP put its foot on the gas pedal again. Alexander scored on a screen pass on the opening play of the fourth quarter. The Scots drove for a final touchdown—on an 11-yard Alexander run — after Walker French recovered a muffed punt by the Eagles.

Eventually, the HP defense began to tire late in the game under pressure from the Lake Ridge spread attack. Bean found Tory Mitchell for a 40-yard score and rushed for a 9-yard touchdown in the final three minutes, with a successful onside kick sandwiched in between.

“They did the up-tempo, no-huddle stuff on us, and it made it real difficult on our guys when they got tired,” Allen said. “Then they were throwing and catching the ball so well. They made some plays.”

Bean found his rhythm as the game progressed, completing 22 of 38 throws for 277 yards and three touchdowns. Jackson posted eight receptions for 103 yards. As the Eagles tallied 302 total yards in the second half, they tested HP but never seriously threatened the lead.

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