FRISCO — Highland Park already knew that the road to a state championship repeat wouldn’t be easy. A reminder was issued on Saturday.
The Scots held off a second-half rally by Texarkana Texas High for a 56-49 win in a Class 5A Division I Region I bi-district game at the Ford Center at The Star.
HP extended its winning streak to 10 games and advanced to an area round matchup against McKinney North at noon Friday at AT&T Stadium in Arlington.
Even if this didn’t have the same level of prestige as the memorable 2005 bi-district meeting between the same two teams, which the Scots won 38-31 en route to an unbeaten season and state championship, it was thrilling nevertheless.
In a shootout with 1,090 yards of combined total offense — split evenly with 545 for each team — plenty of players stuffed the stat sheet. HP quarterback John Stephen Jones topped the list with 466 passing yards and six touchdowns. He also ran for a score.
Three of those touchdown passes went to Cade Saustad, who finished with a team-high 171 yards on six receptions. He now has eight scores in his past three games.
Paxton Alexander tallied 202 all-purpose yards (not including kickoff returns) and caught a 70-yard touchdown pass from Jones on the second play from scrimmage.
Texas High quarterback Riley Russell also was sensational, throwing for 371 yards and six touchdowns while also rushing for a game-high 125 yards and a score. His primary target, TCU commit Tevailance Hunt, recorded nine catches for 201 yards.
It was a 64-yard connection from Russell to Hunt midway through the first quarter that tied the game at 7 and foreshadowed the abundance of big plays to come.
On the ensuing snap, Texas High’s Jaqualin Brown picked off a pass deep in HP territory. It was only the third interception thrown by Jones this season, and the first in more than two months.
That set up a 19-yard touchdown pass from Russell to Chris Sutton that gave the Tigers a 14-7 lead late in the first quarter.
However, the Scots (10-1) responded with authority, marching on three consecutive touchdown drives. Conner Allen tied the game with a 6-yard scoring run. Then Jones connected with Saustad for two long touchdown passes to give HP a 28-14 lead midway through the second quarter.
The Tigers (7-4) squandered an opportunity when a drive that reached the HP 6 ended with a missed field goal.
HP stretched its advantage to 35-14 with a terrific series in the final minute before halftime. The Scots drove 74 yards in just four plays, beginning with a 48-yard pass from Jones to Alexander and finishing in the end zone with a 6-yard Jones toss to Scully Jenevein.
Texas High battled back valiantly with two lengthy scoring drives in the third quarter. Russell dove into the end zone from 2 yards out, and later found Vonderick Stanley on a 22-yard touchdown strike.
The Tigers closed the gap further after a short punt by the Scots, which led to a 46-yard scoring pass from Russell to Mason Jones that cut the margin to 42-35 late in the third quarter.
But every time Texas High closed within seven points, HP always seemed to have an answer that prevented the Tigers from getting on level terms. Jones hit Allen for a 19-yard scoring pass. He hooked up with Saustad again from 39 yards, and surged for a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:27 remaining to again boost the lead to two scores.
That forced the Tigers into desperation mode, and they simply ran out of time. By the time Russell and Sutton connected on their second touchdown pass of the game, only 10 seconds remained, and HP only needed to recover an onside kick to preserve the victory.
The HP defense became fatigued late and allowed its most points since a season-opening loss to Rockwall. Yet there were some standout plays, including a pair of sacks by Prince Dorbah. Plus, the Scots limited the dynamic Hunt to just three catches for 30 yards after halftime.
On Saturday, Jones eclipsed 3,000 yards passing for the season, and surpassed his yardage total from all of last season. He also has 44 touchdowns, compared to 29 a year ago. That’s in five fewer games.
In addition, Saustad surpassed 1,000 receiving yards on Saturday, becoming the first HP receiver to reach that milestone since William Morris in 2011.