As the opponents have gotten tougher, Highland Park seems to have gotten better. That’s how you reach a state championship game.
For the second straight year, the Scots find themselves playing their best football in December, and competing for the Class 5A Division I championship.
Their quest to repeat will be decided on Friday night against unbeaten Manvel at AT&T Stadium.
HP has won 14 consecutive games since a season-opening road loss to Class 6A Rockwall. The Scots (14-1) have defeated every 5A team on their schedule.
They’ve checked off almost every box during that streak. They avenged last season’s loss to Waxahachie. They survived a subpar performance and held off Mansfield Timberview.
HP swept through District 15-5A by winning games by an average margin of 28.3 points. And in five postseason games, the Scots have scored more than 52 points per game — all with the pressure of being the defending champions.
During the past two weeks, against Mansfield Lake Ridge and previously undefeated Denton Ryan, HP appeared as if it might stumble, only to rally and make big plays at key moments to win.
The Scots have backed up their lofty record with statistics that surpass those from last season’s title team. John Stephen Jones has put together a season that ranks with the most impressive in school history, in a program whose alumni include Bobby Layne and Matthew Stafford.
On Friday, Jones — whose record as a starter is 28-3, including 11-0 in the playoffs — can become the first quarterback to lead HP to multiple state titles.
But he hasn’t gotten the team this far by himself. Cade Saustad has been one of the top receivers in the Dallas area all season, headlining a typically deep and talented HP corps of pass catchers such as Scully Jenevein and Finn Corwin. In the backfield, Paxton Alexander and Conner Allen have consistently kept the chains moving.
Meanwhile, the defense has steadily improved as the season has progressed behind playmakers such as linebackers Ryan Coxe and Marshall Ballard, lineman Prince Dorbah, and defensive back James Herring. Plus, kicker Matteo Cordray has been solid on special teams.
Most of them have rings from a year ago, and will look to add to their collection this weekend — just in time for the holidays.