ROCKWALL — Highland Park hopes the lessons from Friday night’s heartbreaking loss will pay dividends in the future, because they sure sting in the present.
Rockwall rallied from 11 points down in the final two minutes to stun the Scots 53-49 in the season opener at Wilkerson-Sanders Memorial Stadium.
With big plays and special-teams heroics, the Yellowjackets scored 46 points in a second half that turned into a shootout, negating a valiant effort by the HP offense that deserved a better fate.
Rockwall’s Cameron Crayton caught four touchdown passes from Jacob Clark in the second half, including the game-winner with 1:22 remaining after the Jackets recovered an onside kick.
More than eight months after leading HP to the Class 5A Division I state title, John Stephen Jones picked up right where he left off on Friday. He passed for 379 yards and five touchdowns, including three to Cade Saustad, who finished with 269 receiving yards on 10 catches.
“We had them on the ropes, and we just couldn’t finish them,” said HP head coach Randy Allen. “It’s something to learn from. We’ll regroup and we’ll be better.”
In a seesaw second half, the Scots appeared to take control when Jones found Conner Allen on a 6-yard scoring pass with 3:21 left in the game, giving HP a 49-38 advantage.
However, Rockwall quickly drove down the field, with Zach Henry catching a 55-yard scoring strike from Clark. The two-point conversion made it 49-46.
After the Scots were assessed a 15-yard penalty, Henry emerged from a pile of players to recover the onside kick. Three plays later, against a fatigued HP defense, Clark found Crayton in the end zone from 16 yards out for his fifth touchdown throw of the game.
“The order of the day was to play a lot of fast tempo, but we didn’t take as many shots in the first half as we really intended to,” said Rockwall head coach Rodney Webb. “We talked at halftime about taking a few more shots.”
Earlier, the teams traded touchdowns on their opening possessions. HP scored on a 30-yard pass from Jones to Saustad, and Rockwall bounced back with a 4-yard scoring run by Lo’yer Bailey.
The Jackets didn’t score again until the opening play of the second half, when Clark found Crayton on a 62-yard bomb to give Rockwall its first lead at 14-13.
Conner Allen’s 4-yard scoring plunge, along with a two-point conversion, allowed the Scots to reclaim the advantage.
However, Rockwall quickly followed with 17 straight points, 10 of which were set up by HP miscues. Anfernee Orji intercepted a pass near midfield and returned it to the HP 13-yard line, which led to a field goal.
After a Scots punt, Clark and Crayton struck again on a 62-yard scoring connection, putting the Jackets in front 24-21. HP misplayed the ensuing kickoff, Rockwall pounced on the ball, and another Crayton touchdown was the result.
“We got one turnover, and they got multiple turnovers. It’s hard to beat a good football team when that happens,” Randy Allen said. “I knew they were going to wear our defense out. That’s why they’re up-tempo. They just had a receiver that we had a hard time covering.”
The Scots showed some resiliency of their own to regain the lead. Jones and Saustad combined on a 75-yard touchdown on the next play from scrimmage. The HP defense forced and three-and-out, and Jones again needed just one play to hook up with Finn Corwin from 46 yards out. Just like that, the Scots were back in front 35-31.
Before the hectic finish, the teams again exchanged touchdowns early in the fourth quarter. Bailey put Rockwall in front with a 2-yard plunge, and Saustad caught a 25-yard pass from Jones for his third trip to the end zone in the game.
Conner Allen scored twice in his debut for the Scots. He saw the bulk of the snaps in the backfield after starter Paxton Alexander exited with an injury in the first quarter.
Clark, who completed his first 11 pass attempts in the first half, finished 24-of-32 for 399 yards in his first varsity start in Texas. The junior moved to Rockwall from Kansas prior to the season.
In total, Crayton caught 12 passes for 214 yards. Bailey accumulated a game-high 76 rushing yards and two touchdowns. Jaxon Smith added 112 yards on eight receptions, which doesn’t include the sensational grab on the two-point conversion down the stretch.
The Scots will try to bounce back next week when they return home to face Waxahachie at Highlander Stadium.